Change is a good thing.
Many people have heard that over the course of their lifetimes. This year the Ripon Tigers football team, who finished last year 2-7 and missed out on the playoffs for the second straight season after being a perennial playoff team, heard that there would be a change.
A new head coach.
“Coach Yoder is a good guy,” senior quarterback James Vander Galien said. “He knows how to take what’s inside and put it on the field.”
That new head coach is Mike Yoder, who will be taking over the program with the hopes of returning it to past glory. Or, at the very least, a playoff berth once again.
And with the team he has in place, he thinks that the Tigers have a good shot at doing that.
“We always want to look to get into the playoffs,” Yoder said. “Our main goal is to get better each and every week.”
The players, too, are looking forward to the season in the hopes of getting back to the playoffs once again.
“After talking a lot with the seniors, we have common goals,” wide receiver Landon Fenner said. “The playoffs is definitely the top one. We want to work hard and get back there.”
The hardest process for the Tigers will be getting used to Yoder and how he coaches.
Being a first-year head coach for Ripon, the players had to get used to his coaching style and how he ran things in practices and games.
The players said the transition has been smooth for the most part.
“I thought he eased himself in,” senior lineman Trevor Robichaud said. “He didn’t jump in right away and tell us what to do. He just eased himself into our system and brought a few new things to it.”
But not all is unfamiliar to the Tigers. Many of the assistant coaches are back and last year’s head coaches Marty Moldenhauer and Al Schraeder are sticking around with the program as well.
Yoder says having those familiar faces around has helped the kids ease into the transition more smoothly.
“There is a lot of familiarity there that the kids are used to,” he said. “But it’s taken some time. Hopefully, they’ve learned to trust me and know that I’m here to help.”
Another thing that will ease the process is that Yoder won’t be completely dumping last year’s playbook and going with something new.
Rather it will be just little tweaks here and there to get the most out of the systems that are already in place.
“We changed it up a little bit,” Yoder said. “Not tremendously to where it’s going to confuse (the players).”
That makes the playing part easier on the players, especially those who are returning. They know the terminology and the basics of both the offensive and defensive playbooks from years past.
And those little tweaks should be able to put players in positions to succeed this season.
“It’s taken some time to get used to it,” Fenner said of the new things. “I think once we get it in, it’s going to be very effective.”
One thing that the Ripon offense will have is plenty of speedy playmakers all over the field.
Returning in the backfield are quarterback James Vander Galien and running back Peter Vander Galien.
On the outside are Marcus Hill and Landon Fenner, who are also returning and look to be good threats for Vander Gailen down the field.
The players are excited about those skill position players who are returning.
“We have so many athletes and so many people that can be effective,” Fenner said. “We’ve got the big play people.”
“They’re fast,” Vander Galien added. “Just have to get on the outside. We are going to put up more points than we did last year.”
To supplement those skill position player, Ripon returns a fair amount on the offensive line, including Robichaud to anchor it.
The players know that both units need to mesh together to produce the best results.
“We just need to learn how to get everybody to click at the same time,” Robichaud said. “I think if we all click as a team we are going to be fine.”
Yoder has high expectations for Ripon’s offense this season.
“We’re experienced (on offense),” he said. “We’ve got some older kids and I’m expecting a lot from all of them. Those are the guys that I think are really going to do some things for us.”
Ripon’s defense should be noticably better from last year’s club that allowed 36 points per game last year, if only because they return nearly every single defensive starter from last season.
“We had all juniors on that side of the ball last year,” Fenner said. “We lost one of our top guys but we’ve got veterans on the defensive side of the ball.”
The players who are returning have a year under their belt and they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Yoder hopes that the defense can be one of the stronger parts of his team this year.
“They are coming together and they’re excited,” he said. “They want to get out and hit people. I like the enthusiasm.”
There was a general buzz about Ripon’s practice. That buzz comes from excitement for the season and the chance to prove people wrong.
All of the players are looking foward to making this season a better one than last year, and hopefully a playoff trip to boot.
“I can speak for the whole team, we are so excited,” Fenner said.
“Beyond excited,” added Robichaud.
It will most definitely take a lot in the tough Eastern Valley Conference, especially starting out with powerhouse Waupaca.
But if Ripon can pull off some stunners, the whole conference will take note.
And that’s exactly what the players hope to have happen this season.
“We have a good shot and we want to set our limit high,” Vander Galien said. “Whatever happens happens. We are ready for the ride.”