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Football building strong program off field

October 24, 2013

The UW-River Falls football team has had its struggles on the field, but continues to make steps toward building a strong program.

“We are making a difference in the community with service projects, and are better academically than we have ever been,” said third year Head Coach Matt Walker. “Games control what you feel and how people think of you, and I want to win more than anybody, but I am proud of the steps the program has taken in all the other categories it takes to build a football program.”

Third year player Will Jensen who started the same year as Walker, echoed what his coach said.

Freshman running back Kywon Cartwright carries the ball in the homecoming game against UW-Platteville.
Freshman running back Kywon Cartwright carries the ball in the homecoming game against UW-Platteville. (Kathy M. Helgeson/University Communications)

“With Coach Walker it is more than just football. We strive to help the community and be good people. He (Walker) talks about winning the day, not just on the field, but in the classroom and on the weekends,” Jensen said.

Freshman Tyler Ledbeter said he noticed right away how good of people everyone on the team was. “They are all good guys and role models for me. I was accepted right away.”

On the field UWRF had higher expectations coming into the season than in the past couple of years. Despite being in games early in the season, the team is sitting 0-6 overall.

“My first year no one knew what to expect and my second year we were still behind a bit at a talent standpoint, but this year the team worked their butts off and expectations were high, so it has been rough. We are good and have nothing to show for it,” Walker said.

The first game of the year UWRF fell 17-14 to St. John’s University despite having a late game lead. A week later they fell 25-7 to the University of St. Thomas, who came into the season ranked in the top 10 in the nation. The third week the team was down early, 17-0, to Simpson before scoring 28 unanswered points. Late in the game the Falcons would allow a last second touchdown and lose 35-34 to fall to an 0-3 record.

“The Simpson game was a tough gut wrenching loss, but we felt like we had something going and found some highs and positives out of a frustrating first three weeks,” Walker said.

The last three games for UWRF has been a different story. They have given up a combined 137 points to UW-Stevens Point, UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh, and with four games left on the season are still searching for their first win.

“It has been challenging at times with a lot of ups and downs. At some points we have looked good, but are struggling at playing a full game,” Jensen said. “We are more competitive, but we just need to get over the hump and find a way to overcome.”

One area that has affected UWRF the past three games has been the health of sophomore quarterback Ryan Kusilek, who has been struggling with a knee injury. The first three games of the season Kusilek was in the top two for passing and rushing numbers in WIAC by a quarterback, according to wiacsports.com. His production has declined as of late but he still has thrown for 1,313 yards and 10 touchdowns, and has ran for a team high 340 yards, according to uwrfsports.com.

Another strong performer offensively for UWRF has been Jordan Christianson who has 36 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns.

“We have not had a lot of standout performers other than what Kusilek did the first three weeks, leading the league in some categories and with Christianson having made some big plays offensively,” Walker said.  “By our design we do not have a stand out at tailback stats wise this year. We have four quality tailbacks. That whole group is exciting.”

On defense, the Falcons are under the direction of first year defensive coordinator Matt Ebner. Nick Zimmerman has been the top performer with a team high 40 tackles and 10 pass breakups.

UWRF will play against bottom half WIAC opponents, record wise, in three of the last four games. UWRF will play next at 1 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 26, against UW-Eau Claire who is the only other team in the WIAC not to win a game so far this season.

“We are upbeat still and know we have a good chance at these next three games. We are trying to get wins one game at time,” Jensen said. “We have games still left against Eau Claire and Stout who we recruit against so showing we can win and getting to three wins would be huge at this point.”

Ledbeter echoed when asked what the teams expectations were. “Wins, we cannot expect anything else. We are young but will get better with experience.”

Walker said even though the team might have lost some bandwagon fans along the way he still knows there is a core group of people in the community, on campus and in the athletic department that continue to support the team.

This has been shown in attendance with the home games ranging from 2,917 in the St. Johns game, a season high, to 635 against Oshkosh, the last home game, a season low.  Both of these numbers are up from last season when the high was 2,375 and the low was 552.

“As a team we want to win and appreciate the support. Football will turn around here; we have a young staff and a young team with a new stadium being built,” Jensen said. “Only nine players are seniors so we are on the way up.”