Football Season Preview: New look, new focus for Ellsworth
ELLSWORTH – The Ellsworth Panthers had speed last season, but success was hard to come by.
In 2013, Ellsworth still has its speedsters. And better yet, the Panthers have some experience to boot.
“We got 16 seniors out this season, with seven starters back on offense,” said Ellsworth head coach Clair Austin. “We got experience and a lot more speed, and that’s the key.”
Add in a renewed interest in the run game and the Panthers are ready to rebound from a 2-6 campaign when they begin play Friday at home against Spooner.
“We’re closer as a team this year,” said fullback Brandon Vandermarliere. “There were times last year where we couldn’t get along, and it has gotten better this year.”
Last season, Ellsworth got off to a solid start offensively, scoring 20-plus points in three of its first four games. But the second half was unkind to the Panthers, as they managed just 11.5 ppg the rest of the year as they missed out on the playoffs.
Still, the Panthers could not close out the close ones, going 0-4 in games decided by two touchdowns or less.
“I feel like we could have won every game last year,” said guard/linebacker Adam Schuster. “But it became a struggle in those close ones. Hopefully we can change that.”
The hope this year is to build a strong running attack, led by Vandermarliere and speedy halfbacks Dennis Schutz and Dennis Giese.
“The idea is we’ll be a little better offensively, and it’s just a matter of leaving our offense on the football field,” Austin said. “Our defense was on the football field a lot last year, so we’re hoping to change that trend. … We got depth that we didn’t have, so hopefully that pays off for us.”
“We’re going back into that run mentality. We got into the habit of throwing the ball too much last year, and hopefully we can have a more stable running game to help that passing game.”
Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, the goal of Austin and new offensive coordinator Chad Whalen is to get the offense all the reps it needs before the season opener.
“The biggest thing is the reps, and we’re going against a much better scout defense this year,” Austin said. “You got to find out where your weaknesses are before you get better.”
“Adding the new offensive coordinator has definitely helped,” said linebacker Logan Kemmerer.
Ellsworth also brings back seven starters to the defense. Even without All-Area defensive back Alex Campbell, currently at Division II powerhouse Minnesota State University, Mankato, and defensive end Matt Stoetzel, the building blocks are there to help the Panthers.
“(Defense) has been our pride and joy,” Austin said. “We’re just excited right now; we’re pure speed on defense and we have a nose guard (Brody Kemmerer) who’s tough as heck. … We got a defense that is going to be pretty salty.”
And among the 16 seniors, there is a sense of duty to help the younger players get ready for the 2013 season. With state-ranked powers like Durand and Somerset waiting in Middle Border Conference play, the Panthers hope to be a surprise team in 2013.
“The juniors are asking us (seniors) what to do,” Vandermarliere said, “and so far in practice, they’ve been pretty solid.
Left tackle/linebacker Devrin Myers added, “We’re very excited to see what we can do in Week 1.”