The Winnebago Lutheran football team is playing a kind of numbers game as the season approaches.
Whether they are good or bad depends on what number you focus on.
Only having seven seniors on the roster, two returning full-time starters on offense and no returning all-conference players provides plenty of concern.
“Depth is a problem, so we need to get guys in real good shape and guys that are inexperienced get themselves ready to get their playing time,” WLA coach Bill Heinkel said, adding that about seven guys will start on both sides of the ball.
There are some good numbers too: five wins in the final seven games last year, four juniors who started as sophomores, a defense that returns six starters and a string of 11 straight seasons of at least four conference wins.
Heinkel hopes the young talent on defense helps lead to a ninth WIAA postseason appearance.
“The biggest strength is we have a number of guys who played a lot of snaps last year on defense,” Heinkel said. “So we’re banking that they’re going to do a real acceptable job stopping the football.”
The Vikings are moving from a 3-5 defense with blitzing linebackers to a more standard 4-3 defense. But the linebackers will still be key to the defense’s success with Dan Mose and Dylan Sook slated to start on the outside and Brandon Schilling inside.
Schilling and Sook were two of those sophomores, now juniors, who came on strong at the end of the year.
“Our linebacking corps is really nice,” senior Drew Stroede said. “They’re looking really good, looking really fast and aggressive.”
Stroede and Ryan Freiberg will anchor the secondary.
Heinkel said he feels his defensive line is going to allow those three to make plays.
Thomas Bates (5-11, 285) will be the nose guard looking to take on a couple of blockers, while Brian Gliszinski (6-2, 240) and Kyle Benson (6-4, 230) won’t be pushovers either. Tim Anderson and Ben Wolff will be charging off the ends.
“Physicality is all about mentality and we definitely have the guys who want to hit and we have the size,” Stroede said about the battles in the trenches. “It’s all about who wants it more.”
The defense is a known quantity for the most part. The offense is a mystery heading into the season.
Stroede got plenty of time at running back last year and was more of a change of pace back as graduated Brandon Bump plowed ahead for most of the team’s yards. Stroede will likely be the workhorse this year while replacing Bump will be a carousel of four juniors: Schilling, Lucas Muche, Anderson and Mitchell White.
In WLA’s veer option running attack they will be taking hand offs from senior Matt Edwards. He spent most of last season as a wide receiver, but had the unenviable task of playing against Appleton Xavier in last season’s opener. It was a real learning experience for him.
“That Xavier game was an eye-opener,” he said. “That game opened my eyes to how hard these guys hit, how fast they get off the ball, and how fast I have to get to the hole to hand off that ball; (and) how many times I have to get out of the way of hits I shouldn’t be taking.”
Stroede said he’s been impressed with Edwards’ progress so far and his leadership abilities.
For either player to avoid spending time with the trainer, WLA’s offense line will need to show its strength. Sook is a returning center, and Bates and Benson will be manning the tackles, but it’s still a raw group even with good potential.
“I think we’re the biggest of my four years here. I know most of the guys are over 230 so I’m looking forward to running behind them,” Stroede said. “If they can get a push it will really help the running backs out.”