Bob Hyland’s quest for a 13th state championship, including a third in a row, starts now.
However, the St. Mary’s Springs football is without 16 seniors from a year ago — all whom earned all-Flway Conference honors — so Hyland knows this season will be a challenging one.
“We had a lot of seniors and a lot of those seniors were two- or three-year starters,” said Hyland, who returns for his 43rd season as the most winningest coach in Wisconsin history with 387 victories. “Those kids were our skilled positions, too.”
The Ledgers finished 13-0 last season and wrapped up a Division 6 state title, beating Eau Claire Regis 24-14.
While those seniors had a couple years of experience under their belt prior to the season, this class doesn’t.
“You talk about a lack of inexperience, we have that in a lot of positions,” Hyland said. “It’s not that we don’t have the kids — they just don’t have game experience.”
Senior Zach McLaughlin will take over as the new quarterback, filling the shoes of Evan Hendersan, who threw for conference best in yards (1,491), touchdowns (24) and least interceptions (2). McLaughlin sat out his junior year after tearing his ACL.
“If we’re running the ball a lot he’ll do a good job,” Hyland said. “He still has to work on picking out the correct receiver. A lot of times it’s a pre-snap read that he’s missing or just doesn’t see the adjustments very well, but he does have a very good arm and has been throwing the ball really well.”
Hyland hinted that Springs probably won’t throw as much as it did the last couple of years because it lost a lot at wide receiver.
“We lost probably our two fastest kids from a year ago in Ryan Grandlic and Eric Feldner,” Hyland said. “It’ll take some time to get going and get things straightened away.”
Feldner grabbed 40 receptions for 604 yards and 12 TDs a season ago while Grandlic had 307 yards and five scores.
The top three prospects who will share the rotation at wide receiver this year include juniors Collin and Brennen Ottery and senior Ryan Mas.
Three back set
Losing Darin Ward (1,234 yards, 15 touchdowns) is tough, but the Ledgers return senior Ike Floyd. He was second-team all-conference with 1,075 yards on the ground and 22 TDs.
Hyland said Floyd will get double the touches this season now that he is the feature back.
“He’s catching the ball so much better than he did a year ago. He feels more relaxed,” Hyland said of his running back. “We plan on giving him the ball more and he could possibly get the ball 20 times a game. He needs to carry the load for us.”
Floyd said he’s improved a lot over the offseason and feels ready to lead the team.
“We have a big line this year and that will make up for a lot of it, and it will be easier for me I think,” Floyd said. “I did track this year, which I haven’t done before to help my speed and I lifted more and got stronger.”
Hyland also felt confident in two new backs to follow Floyd in sophomore Sam Spranger and junior Alec Strigenz.
Offensive line domination
The main reason Hyland feels confident so far is because of his offensive line. The Ledgers return four out of the five starting linemen from a season ago — with the new guy having potential to be all-state material.
The four returners include seniors Chris Anderson, Andrew Riehl, Tony Schmitz and Sam Schrauth.
“Anderson lost 20 pounds and is ready to go at left tackle, while Schmitz is a good-looking center for us,” Hyland said. “Schrauth should be an all-state, division 1 (college) player and we have Andrew Riehl at right tackle.”
Springs will also start junior Dominic Belisle, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound guard whose brother was an all-state player for the Ledgers in the past.
New look defense
Only a few players who have varsity experience will play defense, as all starting linebackers and defensive backs from a season ago graduated. Hyland said that senior Devin Halbach and junior Mark Austin are a couple who have little experience and will play linebacker.
Dan Zacherl brings the most experience in the Ledger defense as the senior earned first-team Flyway honors at defensive end. He was fourth on the team with 62 tackles.
“We’re going to be pretty big. The secondary won’t be as good as last year but we’ll come together and we have a good line, so we’ll be good,” Zacherl said.
Junior Zach Hintze, who played soccer the past two seasons, made the switch to football and will play in the backfield.
“It’s really new for him,” Hyland said. “It’s going to be tough. I know he can do it physically but it’s all mental right now.”
One game at a time
Hyland said another state championship isn’t on his or the players’ minds, but just taking one step at a time is.
“We don’t even talk about it,” he said. “We have to get through our first game. We have good kids, and if we can stay healthy, the sky is the limit.”