A new season, A new attitude, A new opportunity by The Hawkeye
MOUNT PLEASANT — A new season, a new attitude, a new opportunity.
That is the approach the Iowa Wesleyan University football team is taking to this season.
Coming off a 3-7 season, the Tigers have a newfound team chemistry. Thanks in large part to a senior group hungry to win and a freshman class bent on turning the program’s fortunes around, Iowa Wesleyan comes into the 2017 season with a renewed hope.
Now, the Tigers need to carry that over onto the playing field.
“We’ve got a pretty young team, but we’re hoping that we can get through some growing pains early on. We do have some veteran experience at particular spots, especially defensive line, linebackers and secondary. We’re hoping we can mesh together those returning guys with some new, young guys and kind of grow as the season goes on and see if we can improve on last year’s 3-7 record,” said IW second-year coach Mike Richtman. “It’s hard to put your finger on it, but already it seems like we have some pretty good attitudes. We don’t have to say things to guys to make sure they’re doing things the right way. The attitudes have been great so far.”
“The Tigers are going to bring a lot of heart this year. That’s something we haven’t had a lot of in the past, but the team has really come together very well thus far this year. Everyone is all about the team, which is really nice to see,” said senior quarterback Alex Payne. “The freshman class this year … the coaches did a really good job of recruiting. The freshmen this year are very talented and they’re ready to win. They know they’re going to come in here and compete for some jobs. They’re ready to come in and see what they can do.”
“We’re expecting a really good year this year. We’ve really come together as a team. I think this is one of the best teams, in terms of chemistry, that I’ve been a part of since I first got here,” said senior defensive lineman Christian Henriksen, a Central Lee High School graduate. “I’d say one of the differences is we’ve talked a lot about our strengths as a team. We’ve incorporated some deeper talks as a team together. I think that has been an ice breaker for us. It’s gotten us to this point. We’re going to come together and do some great stuff.”
Payne gives the Tigers someone to build the offense around. He completed 6 of 18 passes for 81 yards in limited playing time last year. Now, the Tigers’ spread offense will run through him. He has stepped up to his new role as a team leader.
“Being my last year, I pushed myself that much harder this year. Being in the weight room as much as I could. Throwing whenever I could. Everything I possible could to get ready for this year,” Payne said. “We’ve got a few leaders on the team. I’ve been more of a leader by example. I’m not as vocal as some, but I like to take responsibility for my actions. Be a leader in the classroom. Show guys how to do things the right way on and off the field.”
“At the quarterback position we have Alex Payne, who played a little bit for us last year. He played a little bit as a sophomore, as well. We’re looking for him to take the job and run with it,” Richtman said.
Also back are a trio of receivers who will have to fill the void left by the graduation of Jeremy Gomez, who led the Tigers in receiving last year with 53 catches for 867 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We’ve got a pretty solid receiving corps back. We’ve got three or four who played significant time last year. We’ve got a lot of production to replace. We lost our all-conference receiver, Jeremy Gomez. We’ll be looking for Rudy Amezcua, Tanner Holder and Tyree Thomas, who all played quite a bit last year, to kind of pick up some of that slack,” Richtman said.
Jacquez Hall, the Tigers’ leading rusher last year with 431 yards on 76 carries, is expected to lead the ground attack.
It all starts on the offensive line for IW, which brings back a pair of starters from a year ago.
“We’re bringing back a couple guys who started for us last year in Josh McPherson, who started the season at tackle and we moved him to guard later in the season, which was a lot better fit for him. We also have Kendrick Woolsey, who started at guard. The guards will be the anchors there,” Richtman said.
Henriksen, a pre-med student, will anchor the Tigers’ defense, which returns plenty of talent., including senior linebacker Julian Carabajal, who had 16 tackles a year ago. The Tigers also return cornerbacks Adrian Walker and Corice Spann.
“Defensively, Christian Hendricksen will be starting his fourth year for us on the line. We’re looking for him to be the anchor on the defensive line. The linebacker corps we’ve got Julian Carbohol, who played quite a bit for us last year who we’re kind of looking to there to kind of lead that group,” Richtman said. “In the secondary we’re bringing back two guys who started quite a bit for us — Joe Mosley, who started at corner last year, and Adrian Walker, who also started at corner. We’ll be looking to those guys. Corice Spann, as well. He played some for us last year. We also have quite a few young guys with some talent and skill. We’ll just have to see how quick they pick up on our schemes.”
One area the Tigers are seriously looking to upgrade is the kicking game. The punters averaged just 31.6 yards per attempt. They were just 2 of 6 on field-goal attempts and 19 of 28 on PATs. To address that problem, Richtman brought in Kelly Ray, one of the best kickers in program history. Already he is making a huge impact on the kicking game.
“Kelly Ray is working with our kickers. It’s nice to have him back, coming in and giving his expertise. He’s helped us out a lot already. We definitely have to be better in the kicking game. We were pretty poor last year and that cost us. Already I’m seeing some improvement in practice. Hopefully that translates to Saturdays, too,” Richtman said.
Iowa Wesleyan was picked ninth in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and faces tough road trips to conference favorites College of Saint Scholastica and University of Northwestern in back-to-back weeks in early October.
But the Tigers it’s A new season, a new attitude, a new opportunity.
“The freshman are new to this. They’re away to college. They’ve never been away from home. They don’t have their parents to show them what’s right and wrong. My freshman year there were a couple seniors, but there weren’t too many guys to show the ropes. I wanted to make sure I was the guy that shows the freshmen what to do,” Payne said.
“One of the things we learned about was looking at the finer things we do, the details, the little things that we even do in our day-to-day lives that affect the bigger picture. Even on the practice field. Simple things like jogging on the practice field, make sure you’re not walking. Listening to the snap count. Things like that. Those are little things that, while they may seem insignificant at the time, ultimately they pay off hugely in the big picture,” Henriksen said.
“Our schedule shapes up we start off at Cornell and then we’re home against Crown and then on the road against Martin Luther. It’s a good start for us. We had some difficulties with Cornell the last couple years, so we’re hoping to improve on that quite a bit from last season. Then we get into the tough part of our season where we go up to Minnesota back to back weeks against a couple of the better teams in the conference picked to be one and two. That will be a challenge. We’ll see how we do. Hopefully we grow a little from those first two weeks especially,” Richtman said.
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