Warhawks kick off season Saturday
Last season, for the first time since 2004, UW-Whitewater football coach Lance Leipold's entire focus in mid-November was on recruiting and not coaching his team.
When the 2012 regular-season ended in La Crosse on Nov. 10, Leipold and the Warhawks were through playing. During the previous seven seasons, the Warhawks went on to the NCAA Division III playoffs, advancing to the championship game all seven seasons.
The Warhawks won four national championships. That ended last year when Whitewater went 7-3, an admirable season, but not nearly up to the amazing 100-5 record Warhawk teams had compiled during the previous seven seasons.
The Warhawks open this season Saturday at home against nonconference foe Washington (Mo.) University, and are not picked to win the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
The favorite's tag, according to conference sports information directors, goes to UW-Platteville. The Warhawks play the Pioneers in the Homecoming/Hall of Fame game Nov. 2 at Perkins Stadium.
“We've always tried to put the focus on ourselves, on getting better each week,” Leipold said Tuesday. “If there were an external pressures, those are probably off.”
The Warhawks feature five USA College Football Division III preseason All-Americans, including Whitewater High graduate Loussaint Minett. The senior lineman earned first-team All-WIAC honors last season when he had 13 solo and 10 assisted tackles.
The defense also features two preseason All-America linebackers in seniors Cole Klotz and Kyle Wismer.
Leipold considers the defense one of the strengths of the team, along with special teams.
Evansville High graduate Andrew Keister will start at safety, with Delavan-Darien High graduate Marcus McLin starting at left cornerback.
This year's offense has a new coordinator in Andy Kotelnicki, and a new offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa.
Former offensive coordinator and line coach Steve Dinkel left the Warhawk program to take an administrative job in the Jefferson High School district.
The Warhawk line, which has been a strength throughout Dinkel's tenure, is about as young and inexperienced as a traditional powerhouse can have.
The two-deep chart for Saturday's opener includes one junior, six sophomores and three freshmen.
“It's just one of those things,” Leipold said. “We lost a couple of young players to injuries last year, and a couple of others who were on the depth chart in the spring, decided they didn't want to play college football anymore.”
That is one of the dangers of having a program as strong as Whitewater has had over the past eight years, Leipold said. Players discover the amount of commitment it takes and sometimes have to wait several seasons to see the field.
“It's disappointing,” Leipold said of the defections. “We are awfully young, but it is a talented group. They are going to get on-the-job training.”
The lone junior, Luke Skibba, started games at both right guard and right tackle last season.
The offense does feature a deep receiving corps, led by preseason All-America pick Tyler Huber. The senior missed last season due to an injury after earning first-team All-WIAC honors the year before. He ranks second in season-receiving yards and fourth in career receiving yards.
Junior Matt Behrendt is the starting quarterback, after starting the final three games of last season.
Junior Ryan Givens and sophomore Nick Patterson are the top two tailbacks.
“We have to see who emerges at the tailback spot,” Leipold said.
Senior Ryan Kindler, who is a Sporting News DIII Preseason All-America pick, will handle the kicking duties. Kindler made 17 of 25 field-goal attempts and averaged 41 yards in 28 punts.
2013 UW-Whitewater football schedule:
7—Washington (Mo.) University, noon; 14—Bye; 21—At Buffalo (N.Y.) State, 11 a.m.; 28—Waldorf College, 1 p.m.
5—At UW-La Crosse, 1 p.m.; 12—UW-Stout (Family Fest), 2 p.m.; 18—UW-Eau Cliare, 7 p.m.; 26—At UW-Oshkosh, 1 p.m.
2—UW-Platteville (Homecoming/Hall of Fame), 1 p.m.; 9—At UW-Stevens Point; 16—UW-River Falls, 2 p.m.