Parker football needs fewer mistakes in 2014
Eric Skrzypchak saw his football program take baby steps in his first two years at Janesville Parker.
The Vikings won two games in 2012 and two last year, but were much more competitive in 2013.
Will 2014 bring another step in the right direction?
“We're head and shoulders ahead of where we were last year at this time,” Skrzypchak said. “Heads were spinning a little bit last year, and even moreso that first year because I took over the program so late in the process. But there is a definite comfort level this year.”
Parker finished 2-7 last season and missed the playoffs for only the third time in the last 19 years.
The Vikings open the Big Eight and regular season Friday night at Middleton. The Cardinals have won the last seven meetings.
“A very, very tough opener, especially having to go up there to play,” Skrzypchak said. “But our kids have put in the work and will be ready.”
Parker struggled to score points last season. The Vikings averaged 15 points per game and were held to 10 or less in five of nine games.
While Parker continued its strong tradition of running the ball by averaging more than 200 yards on the ground per game, the passing game was non-existent. The Vikings passed for 314 yards total—yes 314—for the season, for an average of 34 yards per game.
Skrzypchak knows the offense can't remain one-dimensional if the Vikings are to return to prominence.
“We've got to find a balance,” Skrzypchak said. “And if we can do that by having better success throwing the ball, it's only going to make our running game that much better.
“Last year, turnovers and penalties killed us. Our offense has got to eliminate the mistakes.”
Logan Coulter will be in charge of righting the ship on offense. The senior started the last three games of 2013 at quarterback and will start under center Friday.
“Logan's athletic and strong and coming off a very successful baseball season in the spring and summer,” Skrzypchak said. “We hope that success carries over.
“The one thing about Logan that sets him apart is his competitiveness. He brings it each and every day.”
Junior Darin Empereur is a capable backup to Coulter and will see playing time.
Jovanni Sanchez starts at tailback. The senior rushed for 486 yards last season and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
“Jovanni probably should've had 600 or 700 yards rushing last season, but so many of his runs were called back because of penalties,” Skrzypchak said. “He's got experience and is an explosive runner, and we're expecting big things from him this season.”
Junior Dayton Jensen gets the nod at fullback, while senior Chase Coleman returns in the backfield after missing last season with a broken thumb.
Coulter's favorite targets figure to be senior Brock Welch, junior Austin Zane and junior Vernon Davis.
Seniors Bryce Hall (6-4, 245) and Josh Ryan (6-3, 232) are returning starters on the line, with seniors Michael Marquez and Alex Miller also expected to start.
Parker allowed 31.44 points per game last season. Skrzypchak said third-down conversions were to blame.
“We just couldn't get our defense off the field on third down,” Skrzypchak said. “And when we couldn't get the three-and-out, or failed to step up and make a play on third down, our opponents took advantage.”
The Vikings will continue to play out of the 4-4 base defense. Senior defensive linemen Martin Whitwam (6-0, 186) and Matt Combs (6-2, 256) are two of three returning starters, along with Coulter at cornerback.
A wild card in the mix defensively for the Vikings could be transfer student Juan Harris. The massive 6-foot-5, 350-pound sophomore, who is the nephew of former three-time All-Pro Chicago Bears defensive lineman Tommie Harris, came to Parker in January after attending Notre Dame Prep School in Niles, Illinois. Harris is being heavily recruited by several major Division I colleges, including Wisconsin, Clemson, Utah, Virginia and North Carolina. Due to transfer requirements, Harris must first be cleared to play by the WIAA.
“He's freakishly strong, and from a football standpoint, you can tell he's been well-schooled up to this point,” Skrzypchak said of Harris.
Skrzypchak labels Sun Prairie as the clear-cut Big Eight favorite but said five or six other teams are playoff contenders.
“You've got to go 5-4 to make the playoffs, and in our conference, that's awfully tough to do,” Skrzypchak said. “We'll take it one game at a time starting with Middleton in the opener.
“If we can eliminate the mistakes and cut back on the penalties and turnovers, we've got a chance to be a very much-improved football team.”