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Falcon football works hard in off-season

April 29, 2016

Coming off their best season in years, Falcon football is now attacking the spring season to make a difference before training camp and their season opener on Sept. 3.

The Falcons have been practicing at Ramer Field three times a week for the entire month of April.  Division III allows sixteen practices over 5 months in the off-season, but UWRF is only trying to get in twelve practices before finals week and when academics take precedent.

Head Coach Matt Walker said, “We can’t use pads or even wear helmets in these practices.  Our goal is to improve on the little things and tinker with our schemes because of players being in new positions.”

Beyond just making technical decisions, the coaching staff uses spring practices to build up team chemistry.  Working in transfer players and new recruits can have major benefits when training camp comes around.

“These practices bring a new team dynamic and gives leadership roles for new guys.  This revolves around building relationships, even if the guys don’t even realize it, because it kind of just happens,” Walker said.

The Falcons have great leadership and veteran presence returning for the spring season.  Only seven players are gone from the 2015 team, with numerous starters returning on both sides of the ball.  For the first time in years, numbers aren’t an issue for UWRF.

Walker said, “Big numbers is a good sign for our program and shows it’s going in the right direction.  Having too many capable players is a nice problem to have, with depth not being much of an issue.”

The Falcons now focus on working in new players and coaches into the mix through their spring practices.  The Falcons strength in 2015 was definitely their defense, which held opponents to negative rushing yards on three separate occasions last season.  A few games got away from the team at the tail end of the season, but injuries kept the Falcons from finishing strong.

With four-year starting quarterback Ryan Kusilek lost to graduation, the offense will look for a new leader under center.  Freshman quarterback Ben Beckman received important experience down the stretch against UW-Oshkosh and UW-Whitewater after Kusilek suffered an ankle injury.  Only time will tell if this experience can lead to big results in the upcoming season.  No matter what, the coaching staff will look to work in every player where they can make an impact.

Walker said, “I’m a big believer in having equal emphasis on both sides of the ball and altering your schemes to fit your personal.  We try to get the best players and fit our schemes to work to their strengths.”

Leading rushers Rance Ashley and Michael Diggins also bring depth to the backfield for next season, with Nicholas Studer returning as the leading receiver with four touchdowns.  On the defensive side of the ball, eight of the ten leading tacklers return for the 2016 season.

This returning core of Falcon players has had to deal with adversity in the past, with many outsiders questioning the team’s direction after a 0-2 start last year.  But the team responded by winning four of their next five games and reaching as high as second place in the WIAC.  A difficult finish left the team at 4-6 and fourth in the WIAC, but the experience will only strengthen this team and make them hungry for more.

Walker said, “You’re going to find a lot of disappointed players if we’re not playing meaningful games in November.  We took a big step from last year and would be awfully disappointed if we’re not playing for something big.”

UWRF will have to come up with answers for the big three in the conference of UW-Oshkosh, UW-Whitewater, and UW-Platteville to make a run at a WIAC title.  But if there’s a team that may be able to do it, Walker believes it may be this one.

“This is the best team I’ve ever had here on paper and definitely the best recruiting class.  There’s not a lot of people on the outside who give us a great chance, but there are a lot of people here who believe we can win this thing.”

With spring practices almost over, the team will next turn its attention to the season at hand.  The Falcons report to camp in August, and have their season opener at Coe College on Sept. 3.  UWRF opens up their season at home when Southwestern University travels from Texas to take on the Falcons on Sept. 24.

Expectations may be higher than they have been in years at UWRF, but the team seems ready to step up to the next level.  When fall comes around, expect the Falcons to push hard to achieve their first winning record since 2000.