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2011 'paper thin' at RCW

Renville County West quarterback Brett Feldman is one of just five seniors on the Jaguars' roster this season. The team expects to play out this season but knows it may have to consider forfeitting its varsity schedule, as it did last year, if the Jaguars suffer any serious injuries.

This season, to use a football metaphor, Renville County West is like a back skirting along the line looking to cut up into an open gap. And if he can get through to catch even a glimpse of daylight before a wall of tacklers swarm him, he prays he won't look back and see an injured teammate or two in his wake.

Paper thin is how one RCW coach describes the team's current situation, less than a year after the depleted rank of Jaguars had to forfeit the final three games of its 2010 schedule.

Despite efforts to bolster its roster since last fall, this year's team enters its home game Friday against Lakeview with roughly the same numbers of players it had a year ago when it finished the season playing a junior varsity slate.

Head coach Ryan Hebrink is confident the team will make it through this varsity season, and that the Jaguars' fortunes will improve in coming years when it joins the 9-man Southern Confederacy Conference in 2012.

But the fact remains RCW is just a serious injury or two from having to consider a replay of 2010.

"We're hoping to finish the full year," said Hebrink, in his second season as head coach. "The only reason I can see that we would not be able to is if we end up with three or four injuries."

The Jaguars lost their season-opener 48-0 at MACCRAY last week. A couple of guys got dinged up, but they're OK and will continue to play. It's a sign of how slim their margin is.

"It's not really the same situation as last year but we are paper thin," said assistant coach Mike Johnson. "Our No. 1 concern is can we stay healthy enough to play."

Fans of area prep football all know the story: RCW entered 2010 with just a handful of players with any varsity experience. Just a couple games in, the staff looked at a roster that included one senior, five juniors and 10 sophomores -- two of whom were playing for the first time - and concluded it couldn't risk the safety of players so young. After its Homecoming game against Fulda, RCW forfeited the rest of its varsity schedule and played junior varsity games the rest of the season.

"We pretty much had a JV team anyway," Johnson said. "We had 8th and 9th graders playing in varsity games. Junior high to varsity just doesn't work. We said, 'No more.' "

"It's a rare thing to do," Hebrink said. "If we have 11 guys who have to play both ways all the time, we'll do that. But we're not jeopardizing younger kids."

Most members of the Jaguars' coaching staff are graduates of the school or have close connections. They compare the team's current circumstances to their playing days, Hebrink said.

"When we were in 7th and 8th grade, we couldn't even imagine playing on the scout team against the varsity," Hebrink said. "Now, we're telling those kids to go in there and run the (opposing) team's offense. We have to keep this in perspective."

Last year's team didn't approach the JV games as consolation contests. The Jaguars wanted the experience. In its plan, the team would enter 2011 having lost a lone senior and would be expecting to have the five juniors and 10 sophomores back as somewhat seasoned seniors and juniors this year. The goal was to get its sophomore class experience against other players of their caliber, and maybe get a few new guys to give football a try.

In the offseason, the team had some meetings to talk about how to approach the 2011 season, and several players dedicated themselves to weight training throughout the winter and spring.

But, once again, the numbers game didn't play out in RCW's favor. Of the 10 sophomores who were to become seasoned juniors this season, one moved out of the district, one left to attend a different school and one decided to not play. By the time camp opened in mid-August, RCW had about the same numbers of players out from its senior, junior and sophomore classes that it had to start last season.

"We were hoping for at least 20," Hebrink said, "and now we're down to 14."

Despite the difficulties, Hebrink said he and his staff are committed to making it work. All but one have jobs outside the school, but they have tradition to keep them going.

"I know this for sure, if this wasn't the school I went to, I wouldn't be doing this," Hebrink said. "It's definitely worth the effort. We want the kids we have here at RCW to have a good experience. I don't know if you can measure that in wins and losses, but we want them to be proud that they played."

To that end, Hebrink said he's most impressed by the players' handling of the last two seasons.

"It says a lot for these kids to stick with a program that's not winning," Hebrink said. "It's easy to come out and have a good attitude when you're winning and you're part of a conference championship and going to the playoffs. It's not so easy when you're going through this. These guys have been great."