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Football: Cougars preparing for any obstacle

Zumbrota-Mazeppa junior Jacob Forrey (left) fights off a block during defensive drills Wednesday in Zumbrota. The Cougars open the season on Thursday against Byron. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

ZUMBROTA – Zumbrota-Mazeppa was snake-bitten in 2012. 

Losing starting quarterback Nathaniel Rauen for the entire season due to injury, as well as various injuries to players like Jordan Thompson and Kevin Niebuhr, the Cougars could never get their full complement of players on the field at the same time.

“I think all of the captains were hurt during the season last year,” said senior quarterback Kurt Gadient.

Thanks in part to last year’s injuries, as well as low numbers, Z-M’s players and coaches are preaching preparedness and adaptability as the team prepares for the 2013 season. 

“We’re going to have to have a lot of guys who will need to know the different positions,” said Cougars’ head coach Willie Rauen. “There may be times where we throw someone out there who has never played at that spot, but we’ll need them to go out there and play their best.”

Z-M starts the season Aug. 29 at home against Byron.

Even as the Cougars dealt with adversity last season, the team remained in the hunt for the Hiawatha Valley League Gold division title, going 4-2 in conference play and 4-5 overall. 

To stay in contention in the newly formed Southern Football Alliance White division, Z-M has to do everything it can to keep everyone on the field.

“We had a really bad string of injuries that depleted us all the way through the year (last season),” Rauen said. “If we have that repeat this year, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

“We’re going to have a lot of guys who will be playing both ways, so the biggest thing for us is to be in shape and be in a position to play all four quarters.”

With last year’s rash of injuries, linebacker Collin Carney was forced to learn how to play in both the middle and outside. Though his hand was forced last year, the experience has paid off for his senior year.

“Last year, I was backup for all of (the linebacker spots), so it’s been kind of a recap so far,” said Carney, one of the Cougars’ senior captains. “We have less people this year, so we need to learn every position, and we all just have to help each other out and have everyone learn the whole defense.”

With a few scattered injuries through the first two weeks of practice, senior Jacob Tschann has moved around from safety to linebacker during practice. Fortunately, the transition hasn’t been as tough as anticipated.

“There’s a little more run support (at linebacker); there’s a couple different reads and different shifts,” Tschann said. “But most of the time, I’m in coverage anyways so it works out.”

Last year’s injuries forced Z-M’s hand last year, but it allowed for the team to find a solid signal-caller in Gadient, who will be charged with leading the Cougars’ offense again this season.

“Kurt was forced into action with Nathaniel getting hurt at the scrimmage last year,” Willie Rauen said. “Kurt fell into it right away and he really grew as a quarterback and started to really understand what was going on. He felt really comfortable with it at the end, and he’s started out this season where he left off last year.”

With the move to the SFA White, the Cougars believe they can be contenders, just as long as everyone stays on the field.

“Getting through the scrimmage and our first game with Byron healthy would be huge for us,” Rauen said. “I think we should be competitive with the kids we have as long as we stay healthy.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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