By Dan Truttschel~Sports Correspondent

The 2011 season was deemed a success on several fronts for the Wilmot football team.

And why not? The Panthers had 10 wins, captured its first playoff victory in several years and brought home a share of the Southern Lakes Conference championship.

How Wilmot follows up that effort in 2012 remains to be seen – but it’s safe to the expectations haven’t changed.

One key to a repeat, according to fifth-year head coach Mike Greinke, lies with the team’s senior class and their ability to lead the Panthers.

“Numerically, we have a large senior class, but they are also a physically large group of kids to boot (who) worked hard to get that way in the off-season,” he said.

“This is definitely the biggest and strongest offensive and defensive line that we’ve had at Wilmot in my five years, so that’s definitely going to keep us in games.”

Wilmot needs to replace graduated quarterback Chris Nelson, who now is a freshman quarterback at NCAA Division 2 Northern Michigan.

One of the first steps toward that end is a new offensive scheme that is being installed by first-year coordinator Keiya Square.

Greinke said he’s been pleased with the early-season progress of that offense under Square’s tutelage.

“We are excited about our new offense under coach Keiya Square,” he said. “It will reintroduce the tight end to our spread attack and feature multiple formations, motions and shifts.

“Coach Square’s offense also uses many shallow and intermediate routes, something that we had not used much in the past.”

Senior Noah Strasser enters the season as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, and he will be one of the players Wilmot will count on to lead the way, Greinke said.

But it’s also important that Strasser makes his own mark on the team at the same time.

“The main thing he knows and we’ve talked about is that he does not need to be Chris Nelson,” Greinke said. “They were entirely different styles of quarterback.

“If Noah stays within the system and listens to coach Square, he should have a great season and lead one of the top offenses in the league.”

Joining Strasser as captains in 2012 are seniors Matt Christensen (wide receiver-defensive back), Bennett Kothe (running back-wide receiver-defensive back), Justin Schweitzer (running back-linebacker), Paul Swartz (lineman) and Stephen Zeczkowski (wide receiver-defensive back).

Christensen was a first-team, all-state receiver a year ago, while both Swartz and Schweitzer also garnered all-conference recognition.

Another of the top players back this year for the Panthers is junior defensive tackle Zach Dodge, who was a first-team, All-Southern Lakes Conference pick a year ago.

Looking at the SLC race, Greinke said he expects Waterford, which was a state runner-up in Division 2 last year, and Badger to be among the top teams to watch in 2012 – but others could follow.

“Every year that I’ve been in this conference it seems to get better and better,” Greinke said. “To say who I think is the top three is difficult because just about any team in the league has shown a propensity to surprise everyone and beat the other.”

Wilmot opens the season Friday night when it travels to Notre Dame Prep (Niles, Ill.) for a 7:30 p.m. non-conference matchup. The Panthers return home for a key early test Friday, Aug. 31, when it hosts Waterford at 7 p.m.

 

 
 

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