MILACA – As a player, Nate Hass has improved a lot since taking over the starting quarterback job at Milaca as a sophomore two years ago.
The 6-foot-1, 150-pounder threw for 1,662 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. And just this summer, his performance at the Football University Chicago Camp earned him an invitation to FBU’s Top Gun High School Showcase held in July in Dublin, Ohio.
“I’m a lot calmer now,” said Hass, whose older brother Alex played college football at Division II Bemidji State. “I understand the game a lot better. My sophomore year I started on JV, then moved up to varsity. And the game was just moving really fast.
“Last year, it slowed down. I got used to the speed at this level and I felt like I played a lot better.”
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But if Hass has improved personally, his team’s record has not. Milaca — which reached the Class 3A state tournament in 2010 — has gone 2-7 and 1-8 the past two seasons.
Yet Hass sees signs things could be getting better.
“We had a lot more kids taking part in offseason stuff this summer,” he said. “Guys have been a lot more dedicated.
“Last year was rough at times, losing so much. But we still had fun and stuck together. Everybody wants to improve.”
To do that, the Wolves will be relying on a number of new faces.
Just three starters return offensively in Hass, senior running back Teddy Blenkush and senior offensive lineman Dylan Nelson.
Defensively, only Blenkush returns at middle linebacker. Senior Dru Kuchenbaker, who had 28 solo and 25 assisted tackles a year ago, is unlikely to play this season because of knee problems, said head coach Cory Anderson.
“Nobody likes losing,” said Blenkush, who rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. “But it’s still fun being out there playing football with your boys. We have a lot of guys who have been working hard and are ready to step up. So it will be exciting to see what we can do.”
Of course, things will still start with Hass, who has thrown for around 2,800 yards in his prep career and has set a goal of reaching the 4,000-yard mark before he’s done.
Getting there will require the help of an almost entirely new crop of receivers. Senior slot receiver Luke Manoleff is perhaps the most experienced member of that group. Juniors Jimmy Kragt, Sawyer Shepard and Bryce Kohlgraf could also be in the mix.
“Nate has the experience to make those guys better,” said Anderson, who is beginning his second season at the school. “He’s good enough to be a difference-maker. He’s such an accurate passer. He’ll put those guys in position to make plays.”
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Across the line of scrimmage, Blenkush and fellow senior Hunter Daluge bring experience at linebacker. Daluge saw some playing time a year ago.
And the coaching staff is excited about what they’ve seen so far from 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior Brody Sather at nose guard.
The defensive backfield remains wide open. But Anderson knows his team has talent.
“We only had one win last year, but every team had to game-plan for us,” Anderson said. “We were competitive almost every time out. We were a better team than our record indicated.”
Hass is hoping the record will better reflect that this fall.
“Ever since (the state tournament appearance in 2010), things have kind of gone downhill,” He said. “But we’re more dedicated now. This year’s offseason turnout showed that. We’re excited.
“We have the talent to go out and win some games.”
Follow Frank Rajkowski on Twitter at @rajko1973 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimesfrank.