2009 Football Season Preview: Doherty, upperclassmen ready to challenge NAC
Athletics - posted on 8/31/2009
The Lakeland College football team enters 2009 looking to avenge a disappointing end to the inaugural season of the Northern Athletics Conference.
Third year head coach Kevin Doherty leads a talented group of freshmen and an experienced group of upperclassmen after finishing second in the NAC last season with a 5-2 league mark and 5-5 overall record. A 24-6 loss at conference champion Aurora in the last week of league play ended any hopes of an NCAA playoff run.
Despite losing the NAC offensive and defensive players of the year from last season, the Muskies were voted to finish third in the 2009 NAC coaches' pre-season poll and are ready to make another run at a conference championship.
The Muskies return plenty of experience on offense as seven starters are back from a unit that averaged 27 points per game in conference play last season.
Junior quarterback Jake Dworak enters the season the unquestionable starter under center. Dworak (Denmark) threw for 1,872 yards and 22 touchdowns in eight games last season. Named to the NAC honorable mention squad in his first year as a starter, Doherty believes he is ready to make the next step.
"From last year to this year, he knows our system and is more comfortable back there," Doherty said. "He can make reads better without having to be coached as much on the little things, and that lets us put more on his plate with how we can utilize the offense."
Dworak will be backed up by junior Nic Horstmeier (Random Lake) and freshman Brock Henke (Saukville).
Sophomore Jeremy Williams (Zion, Ill.) will look to get the Muskie running game back on track after two straight injury-riddled seasons. Williams gained 215 yards on the ground in seven games last season, and Doherty is impressed with how Williams has performed in camp this season.
"Jeremy came into camp this year in better shape and with more of a mental focus on what he wants to accomplish, and it shows in his running," Doherty said. "He's doing a good job of getting second-effort yards."
A pair of freshmen will back up Williams this season. Pete Lawlor (Rudyard) brings a power running game, while Justin Laack (Sheboygan Falls) is a utility-type back with an explosive burst of speed.
At fullback, a combination of junior Antonio Humphrey (Evanston, Ill.) and freshman Adam Miller (Marion) will be used to supplement the running game and protect Dworak.
The strong point of the Lakeland offense will likely continue to be at wide receiver. Starters Jake Heinemeyer (senior, Shiocton) and Roberto Flores (junior, Milwaukee) will be tasked to replace the production of 2008 NAC offensive player of the year Matt Pawlyk.
Heinemeyer was second on the team in receiving yards and touchdown receptions last season. A quarterback in high school, he gives Lakeland the ability to line up in difference formations before the snap.
"I think we're going to use him in different situations as needed," Doherty said. "If we need to switch up the tempo or we need some explosiveness, he comes into play. If we get some running back depth issues, I can always go to the wildcat formation and put a spark into our running game because it changes the dynamics of how we run the football when he's in there."
Behind Heinemeyer and Flores are junior Travis Skarda (Manitowoc) and sophomore Steve Olderburger (Machesney Park, Ill.), a pair of players Doherty said know the system and have improved steadily every year. Joining them is a strong freshman group of receivers that Doherty believes will see playing time as the season progresses.
Junior Eric Zuelsdorf (Cedar Grove) and Miller will both see the field at tight end this season.
The Muskie offensive line will continue to be strong with four upperclassmen returnees, fronted by senior Ben Stellmacher (Waukesha) and 2008 first team All-NAC selection junior Aaron Kraemer (Oshkosh).
"Aaron Kraemer and Ben Stellmacher anchor our left side of the line and they gel
well," Doherty said. "We should be able to control the ball more and establish a more consistent run game."
Junior Jared Martin (Manistique, Mich.) makes the transition this season from tackle to guard on the outside. He will be replaced at right tackle by senior Joe Janisch (New Glarus), a former defensive lineman moving to offense for his last season.
"We moved Jarred Martin from tackle to guard and I think that benefits him more," Doherty said. "He's a big guy and more apt to play guard, he's very smart. Joe is still learning, but I really like what he does. He's got a tenacious attitude and is very coachable."
Sophomores Rocky Schmidt (Sheboygan) and Jaryn LaBine (Crandon) will split time at center this season. Schmidt saw time at the position last year, and LaBine joins Janisch as players moving to the other side of the ball this season.
"With the players we have returning, along with our freshmen, we should have a solid group," Doherty said. "The freshmen have to do a good job of learning as a unit, and that is the hardest thing to do on the offensive line. But, as they get better, there may be a guy or two that can rotate in as the season goes on."
Lakeland returns the most experience and talent in the secondary as the Muskies shift full-time to a 3-5-5 defensive configuration. Junior First team All-NAC cornerback Keith Woodson (Evanston, Ill.) returns as one of the top defensive backs in the conference after collecting a team-high six interceptions in 2008.
"Keith Woodson is one of, if not the best, cornerback in the conference," Lakeland defensive coordinator Colin Bruton said. "He's a kid with great cover skills and is a great physical player. He'll draw the other team's top receiver at all times. In our man coverage schemes, he's the guy we're going to tell our safeties to not worry about helping."
The other cornerback spot is a battle between senior Brandon Wolff (Shawano) and freshman Derryon Smith (East Chicago, Ind.) Both will see time this season as Wolff plays to his strengths and is quick to the ball, while the coaches are excited about Smith's quickness and athleticism.
Nickelback Tony Faller (Oostburg) played in all 10 games last season. The hard-hitting sophomore recorded 51 tackles and three interceptions, and the Muskies are counting on his leadership this season.
"With the loss of John Wagner and Brent Miller as our emotional leaders last year, he's stepped up and been that guy for us," Bruton said. "We rely on him to get us up when we're a little flat and bring that intensity every day."
Junior Bryan Groshek (Cudahy) and senior Joey O'Brien (Cary, Ill.) are the two starting safeties. Groshek started seven games last season at free safety, and Bruton is excited for what he is capable of doing.
"We're going rely on Bryan to quarterback the defense, to make sure we're lined up and make adjustments," said Bruton. "His job is to be around the ball at all times, in the running game or in the secondary. He's also got to be a guy that can play man coverage. I'm expecting big things out of Bryan in his second year in this position; we should see the development that we saw at the end of last year continue."
O'Brien, who moved to defense last year after dealing with injuries on the offensive side, will be expected to provide emotion and be a physical player.
Possibly the toughest position for Lakeland to replace this season will be at linebacker, where the Muskies will be looking to fill holes left by Wagner, Miller and Stephan Johnson. The trio combined for 236 tackles last season, and Wagner was named NAC defensive player of the year.
Senior Jamie Schramm (Cuba City) is the lone returning starter at linebacker.
Schramm, who received honorable mention honors in the NAC last season, will be expected to set an example for an inexperienced group of players.
"Jamie is a very steady player," Bruton said. "He's not going to be the guy to make a ton of highlight real plays, but he's always going to be in the right place and will make his share of plays. He does the right things all the time and he is a great leader for our defense as a whole and for our linebackers."
Senior Blaine Hornes (Neenah), junior Ray Diven (Saint Francis) and sophomore Matt Peroutky (Neenah) will be competing for the other outside linebacker position opposite Schramm.
Will Baldwin (Waukegan, Ill.) will be manning the middle linebacker position. The junior has made great strides this off-season and has raised expectations from the coaches.
"Will has made the biggest improvement out of anyone on either side of the ball," Bruton said. "He improved his footwork and lateral quickness and he's been the one guy our offense has had a tough time blocking in camp. He's big and physical, and at the end of the year I think people are going to look at him and wonder where the heck has he been the last two years."
Freshman Bruce Romagnoli (Iron Mountain, Mich.) is expected to see significant time as the year goes on. A solid tackler with good football awareness, he is still adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game.
The Muskies return a trio of defensive lineman from last season. Seniors Kellen Grott (New Holstein) and Josh Gordon (Pontiac, Mich.), along with junior Tyree Curry (Pontiac, Mich.), all saw playing time last season in a supplemental role. This season, they will be counted on to play a majority of the snaps as they transition to the starting lineup.
"They're guys that have played for us in the past and know what we expect," Bruton said. "Last season they were playing three to four plays at a time, where now they're playing 50-60 plays a game. The biggest change for these guys is the conditioning it takes to be a full-time player. We're going to play anywhere from five to nine guys on the defensive line, but we want three to four of them taking the majority of the snaps.
"Josh is trying to learn how to play with the same motor all the time. We saw glimpses of his tremendous ability last season, but only in small bursts. He can be a great player. Now we're starting to see more of a continued effort from him.
"Tyree Curry has a big frame at noseguard, is quick and athletic and is also figuring out what he needs to do to be a consistent playmaker at this level.
"Kellen is very strong and looks more athletic than he did last year. He led us in sacks for the first few games of the season last year. He's going to have to play both on passing downs and rushing downs."
Junior Nic Horstmeier takes over punting and kicking duties for the Muskies this season. His strong leg will be key in helping improve field position and present more options on offense.
Heinemeyer will continue to handle punt and kickoff returns this season. With an average of 20.6 yards per return on kick returns last season, Heinemeyer is a threat to take it to the end zone every time he touches the ball.
The Muskies open the 2009 season with a challenging non-conference schedule. Lakeland opens the season Saturday at home against Central College. The Muskies struggled in Pella, Iowa, last season, dropping the 2008 opener 41-0.
"It's good that we open up at home, but they are a challenge," Doherty said. "They're a big, physical team with a lot of speed that will be a nice test for us at home to see how we measure up with a team of that caliber. It will also set the tone for the rest of the year, so our expectations can be raised as far as where we need to be."
The following week finds the Muskies in Cincinnati, Ohio, as Lakeland travels to Mount St. Joe's on Sept. 12. The Lions knocked off Lakeland 21-0 in the Muskies' home opener last season. Lakeland concludes its non-conference slate on Sept. 19 with a 7 p.m. start at Carthage.
"We always have good match ups with Carthage," said Doherty. "Last year, 30 seconds didn't go our way and that's when the game changed, but playing down there at night will be a great atmosphere. Playing three of our first four on the road will make us more focused. It's not as relaxing, especially on game day, but I think that'll make us more focused as a team."
After a bye week, Lakeland opens its conference schedule at Rockford on Oct. 3, and have an Oct. 10 Homecoming date with Wisconsin Lutheran. The Muskies finish the regular season with a pair of key dates: a road game at rival Concordia Wisconsin on Nov. 7 and a home showdown against 2008 NAC champion Aurora on Nov. 14.
"Everyone is trying to fast forward to the end of our schedule, and tradition shows that those are the big games on our schedule, but our team has to maintain focus because there is a lot of improvement in our league," Doherty said.
"There are some NAC teams traditionally in the middle of the pack that can knock off the top teams. Those games can't be overlooked and we need to play well in those games. If we don't, those last two games aren't going to mean a whole lot."
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