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Football team improving greatly under Walker

September 19, 2013

The UWRF defense lines up against the St. Thomas Tommies.
The UWRF defense lines up against the St. Thomas Tommies. Seen in picture from left to right are No. 49 Cole Sirek, a junior linebacker, No. 93 Albert Itula, a freshman defensive lineman, and No. 35 Issac Neumann, a sophomore linebacker. (Alex Gajdosik/Student Voice)

In its third year under Head Coach Matt Walker, the UW-River Falls football team has continued to improve, and both the University, as well as opposing teams, are taking notice.

Walker acknowledged that the football program was not the best when he arrived on campus, “We’ve had some rough years and our numbers were down. We weren’t winning recruiting battles anywhere.”

However, things are beginning to change for the Falcons. “I think anyone that follows this close can see how this thing is about to explode, and about to happen,” Walker said. “There is clearly a lot of excitement about this program and where we’re going.”

The improvement of the program has been noticed by opposing teams already.

“One of the assistant coaches (for St. Thomas) came up to me and said ‘Man your program is turning around.’ It’s pretty cool to see other people recognizing that our program is going in the right direction,” said second year quarterback Ryan Kusilek.

Having recruits and veteran players being committed to the team is one of the reasons that the team is turning the corner. One of those recruits is Kusilek. Being committed to the team and working in the off-season is something which Kusilek said is helping the team.

“Guys have really bought into the system. We feel like a better team,” Kusilek said. “It kind of looks like a college football team, a little bigger at every position, a little stronger.”

The Falcons began the season with a 17-14 home loss to St. John’s University, a program which has the best winning percentage of any NCAA football team, in any division, of all time, according to the NCAA. The team followed up with another loss at home, this time a 25-7 defeat at the hands of last year’s runner-up in the Div. III championship game, the University of St. Thomas, currently ranked No. 2 in the country, according to d3football.com.

The schedule won’t be getting any easier once the Falcons reach conference play. The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) boasts three teams currently ranked in the top 15 in the country: UW-Platteville (No. 9), UW-Oshkosh (No. 10) and UW-Whitewater (No. 15), according to d3football.com.

Walker said the WIAC is the top conference in the country in Div. III football, “From a guy that spent time in some leagues outside of this one and looked at it from the outside, there is no question around the country. It’s an undebated topic that it [the WIAC] is the top league in the country.”

“Four of our games are against ranked teams, three of those teams are in the top 10. We can play with these guys,” Kusilek said. “It’s a challenge every week. You’ve got to bring it.”

Kusilek added that the team has a goal of winning more conference games. However, simply winning some conference games is just the tip of the iceberg for the goals the team has.
“We’ve got a lot of talent that can win ballgames,” Kusilek said. “We want to get a playoff berth. We haven’t had that here in a long time and it’s overdue.”

Walker noted that if a team is contending for the conference title, then that team is a contender for the national title as well.

In fact, every year since 2005 a WIAC team has made it to the semi-finals of the Div. III playoffs. In three of those years a WIAC school was national runner-up, and in four of those years a WIAC school won the National Championship.

The improvement of the team is something which has caught the eye of the student body as well. Large crowds showed up for both of the Falcons’ home games to start the season. This support has been noticed by the team as well.

“We all think it’s really cool that all the fans come out to support us, being loud and being wild. It gets us fired up,” Kusilek said. “The fans have been unreal.”

The Falcons will go on the road for their next two games against Simpson College, Sept. 21, and will begin WIAC play at UW-Stevens Point on Oct. 5. The team’s next home game is the Homecoming game on Oct. 12, against UW-Platteville.