2020 saw the Jasper Wildcats swim with the sharks, posting a solid first season in the S-I-A-C. Now they look to show their teeth in 2021.
When exploring unchartered territory, it's a good idea to have an experienced tour guide. And that's what Jasper has in head coach Tony Lewis. In the Wildcats first year in the always-tough SIAC, the former Reitz bench boss led his squad to an impressive 7-and-2 regular season mark. However an opening round loss to eventual sectional champ Central soured an otherwise sweet season.
"Overall we had a pretty good season," says Jasper senior running back/strong safety Isaac Day, "first year coming into a tough conference. We really embraced it."
"We had a record of 7-and-2," says Jasper senior wide receiver Jack Ahlbrand. "I think coming into the first year in that conference is pretty good. For being in the SIAC for the first year, we were pretty successful. Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it. But I think we did pretty good, but we knew we had a little more left in us."
"A tough loss in the sectional to a really good Central team," Jasper head coach Tony Lewis. "We didn't play well enough. And as a coaching staff, we need to do a better job of getting our kids prepared at that time, because we want to be playing our best football at a tournament time."
And that has been the driving force for this team throughout the off-season.
"After that loss last year, some of us juniors sat down," says Ahlbrand, "knew it was our turn and knew we had to turn things around. We didn't want to have that feeling again. Every time we're in practice or in the weight room, we just had that thought in the back of our head and ut motivated us."
"That's going to be in the back of our heads all season," says Day. "It was a great learning experience. We had a lot of new guys, a lot of young guys coming in. First sectional game. We played the best team in the sectional in our first game. Playing that competition definitely makes us better."
Now those juniors are seniors, and they'll have to step up, with the exodus of several key weapons. It begins on offense, at the most vital position, quarterback. Will Weinzapfel, a converted tight end, is battling sophomore Carter Holsworth for the right to take over the diverse "flexbone" from Blake Mann, who rushed for more than one thousand yards last year.
"The things we need to do this year is to get certain guys the football," says Lewis. "Connor Foley should be a big part of our offense this year. He's 6-4, 225 pounds and can run well. We've got some running backs back. Isaac Day had a good year for us last year. Ashton Schuetter, we moved him from center position to fullback. We have Ian Giesler back on offense and Jack Ahlbrand as a wide receiver."
"If you're a running back and a quarterback you're going to get a lot of reps with the ball," says Day. "You're going to need breaks, so we're not going to have one set running back. We're going to switch things up a bit. Keep people fresh."
"What I kind of like, being a receiver in this," says Ahlbrand, "is that we run a lot, so, it kind of sounds weird, but the run sets up the pass, so we run so much, then when we pull out a play action pass, we're usually pretty wide open."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats have made the move to a more diveres defense as well, looking to take advantage of their greatest asset, team speed.
"Our big emphasis every year is to put guys on the field who can run," says Lewis. "We'll sacrifice size for guys who have more speed. Ashton Schuetter's coming back at a linebacker position. Isaac Day is moving from linebacker to free safety. We've got some great defensive lineman back as well. Michael Beekler, Jacob Potts, Connor Foley. Those are some important cornerstones up front."
The Wildcats open the season on the road at Memorial, August 20th.