Warriors to open up offense
WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College opens its nine-game schedule against Itasca College at 7 p.m. today at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud. The Warriors finished 5-4 last fall and missed the playoffs.
This year's team has 12 second-year players, plus two transfers, on a 58-player roster. The offense will adopt a wide-open spread formation.
Coach Rob Baumgarn reviewed and commented on prospects for the new season in an interview this week.
Line: Left guard Antonio Nicholas is the lone returnee on an offensive line that will miss two-year starters, center Cody Haas and tackle Tom Boike.
While strength and size are easy to assess, the other essential key is foot work. And the newcomers are still works in progress along the offensive front.
Tronn Tossel takes over at center and Ade Sobande at right guard. Tossel is out of Lac qui Parle Valley High School, near Milan, while both guards played at St. Paul Central.
Baumgarn likes another Central graduate, Sam Hansen, at right tackle, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound freshman who may also wrestle. At left tackle, Adrius Upton gets the nod, a "very physical" player, said the coach.
Jack LaPatka, who played for New London-Spicer's state tournament team, is a capable backup at all positions. Jamie Feldman of Monticello lends support at tackle.
Running back: Baumgarn is fond of saying that after the graduation of record-setting rusher Alex McLaughlin the running attack will be "by committee."
Patrick Cincinatus, out of Cross Creek High in Augusta, Ga., is first in line. But close behind are Eric Orth, 5-7, 200-pound Antonio Smoot, Brook Landmark and Donovan James.
Mitch Neubauer, a BOLD graduate, also figures in here as a "hybrid back" who is both a running and pass-catching threat.
Wide receiver/tight end: L.W. Frost returns at tight end with Travis Reed competing for time as the second end in double-tight formations. Zach Ripka is also in the mix here.
The receiver corps is "way more talented" with more speed than a year ago. The spread formation will get more athletes on the field with the chance to break a play. Other than McLaughlin's occasional breakaway runs, Ridgewater was not a "big play" team in 2008.
Justin Brown, a redshirt transfer from Northern Alabama, has been impressive. Shane Black, Pat White, James Lucas and William Ford are all getting long looks.
Quarterback: Jackson Illies, 6-1, 215, will direct the wide-open offense. Jordan Shoulders, a 6-3, 220-pound sophomore, saw spot action a year ago. He's talented but "needs to be more consistent."
Illies isn't especially fast but is smooth and has good vision. He proved his toughness while playing a summer of amateur football before his senior year at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
Line: This will be a major part of establishing a winning foundation in 2009. Rob Johnson, M'Angelo Harris and Anders Kullhem lead the front three with Craig Gartner showing outstanding potential as a pass rusher. He will rotate in at tackle. Andrew Miller, sophomore from Benson, has looked good pushing for playing time on the line.
Defensive end is a proven commodity with Mickell Brown and Joe Doubler returning. Jared Klever backs up.
Linebackers: The Warriors use four linebackers. Cleveland, Ohio, native Otimbum Wilson is a 6-1, 255-pound transfer at middle linebacker from Kentucky State.
Also competing for time at linebacker are Tyler Blomme, Phil Herkenhoff, Brennan Hagert and Ruan Maxwell.
Secondary: This is an area that needs to improve; last year's pass defenders gave up huge chunks of yardage in losses to Vermilion (55-17), Minnesota West (37-33), Rochester (41-7) and Central Lakes (24-13).
"We'll be much better here, guaranteed," said Baumgarn. "Martell Harris, at free safety, has terrific speed."
Strong safety Justin Wennerberg of Foley and cornerback Zach Posternick of Albany were each quarterbacks at their respective West Central Conference schools, as well as playing defense.
Cornerback Anthony Adams is just 5-foot-7 "but plays like he's 6-2 and he can tackle", said the head coach.
Jon Carter, Andrew Rauen and Elliot Ingram add depth. Jarrell Washington can step in at either linebacker or corner.
Doubler will kick off and Wennerberg is slated to punt and place kick. Tossel will also long snap. Martell Harris and Brown will return kicks and punts with Josh Davis also getting a shot.
Injuries: Running back Antoine Smoot and defensive lineman Dan Thieling are unavailable with injuries. Linebacker Shane Johnson of Montevideo will miss the season with a torn knee suffered in captains' practice.