By Dennis Morgan
ELGIN — Victories came easy for the Wolfpack last season, posting an 8-3 record. Then, 10 seniors led the way as EPPJ made a run deep into the state playoffs.
On Friday night a new season begins, with new Friday night heroes waiting to bask in the glory of cheering fans.
Coach Randy Eisenhauer faces a big challenge and one of the toughest schedules in all of Class D-1 as the Wolfpack seek to remain among the elite high school programs in the state.
“After losing 10 seniors off of last year’s team we have a lot of positions to fill,” he said last week. “The kids have been working hard to improve throughout the summer and the first two weeks of football practice.”
The Wolfpack return just two starters from last year’s team. Senior Chad Bode is the lone backfield starter from a team which racked up 3,555 yards rushing last season. Bode, at 6’1” and 190 pounds, will be the featured back this season. Last year he averaged five yards per carry as he rushed for 315 yards on just 63 carries. Those numbers are sure to increase this season.
“He’s working really hard,” Eisenhauer said about Bode.
A running back is only as good as the blockers in front of him. Teammate Miles Schrage is the only other returning starter, anchoring the offensive line. At 207 pounds on a 5’10” frame, Schrage’s experience will be crucial up front. Eisenhauer said senior Liam Heithoff saw plenty of action last year and easily steps in as a starter. Another senior, Brody Hupp (6’4” and 220 pounds) will likely fill the other spot at center. This marks the first year for Hupp to play for the Wolfpack.
“With two returning starters we will have to have a lot of kids step up in the program and be a key asset to what we do. Bode will be our workhorse throughout the year as he has been starting the last two years for us.”
Another player on offense who has big shoes to fill will be sophomore Hunter Reestman who will play quarterback. Reestman saw limited action last season backing up Seth Schumacher, completing two of two passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“Hunter came in and did some real good things for us last year,” Eisenhauer said. “He does a good job of seeing the whole field. He’s very smart about the game of football.”
Last year the Wolfpack averaged 42 points per game on offense and surrendered 24 points per game.
On defense, linebacker Bode is the top returning tackler. Last season he was third on the team in tackles with 97, Schrage had 40 from his defensive end position including two quarterback sacks.
Heithoff will anchor the other defensive end position and look for Carter Schindler and Nick Iburg to see action in the line also. Aside from Bode, other linebackers will be Reestman, Ken Bush and Hayes Miller. Kyle Schumacher will see action at safety as will Cameron Nielsen.
Eisenhauer said work ethic remains one of the team’s strength, but depth and physicality are concerns heading into the season.
This year’s Wolfpack team is made up of five seniors, five juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen.
When Reestman goes to the air, expect to see split end Kenny Bush, as well as running backs Hayes Miller, Kyle Schumacher and Cameron Nielsen.
“We are going to have to be a sound football team with not a lot of mistakes and turnovers,” Eisenhauer said about the keys to producing a winning season.
The first four weeks of the season can be described in one word: brutal. Opening with Burwell followed by High Plains, Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing and Clearwater/Orchard, all four of those teams reached the semi-finals or finals in the state playoffs in their classes last season. “We’re going to need to start very strong,” Eisenhauer said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn a lot of things … We want to go out and make a name for ourselves right away.”
Looking at the district race, Eisenhauer pegged Neligh/Oakdale and Howells-Dodge (new to the Wolfpack schedule this year along with Clarkson/Leigh) as pre-season favorites.
“We want to be able to compete in all our games and get better each week,” Eisenhauer said.
Assisting Eisenhauer as coaches this year are Michael Becker, Tyler Reestman and Ben Spiegel. Student managers are Cade Heithoff, Luke Henn and Logan Henn. Doing statistics will be Andrew Heithoff, Jesse Schindler and Trent Ostransky. ©The Elgin Review