HOLCOMBE — Rookie head coach Andy Lorenzen isn’t intimidated by the amount of talent the Lake Holcombe Chieftains football team loses from last season’s playoff squad.
And his team loses a lot.
Gone is starting quarterback and second team All-Chippewa County all-purpose player Jake Gjelhaug, who threw for 663 yards, ran for 225 yards and accounted for 10 total touchdowns in 2011.
Jyle Jones, who ran for 735 yards, eight touchdowns and was also a second team all-county linebacker, is gone as well.
Finally, Gunner Grigar, a first team all-county defensive lineman, is departed too.
No, the Chieftains may not have lost many players numbers-wise — only seven letterwinners in total — but they were the offensive and defensive leaders for a solid squad.
But Lorenzen isn’t worried about that. He’s expecting his 10 returning letterwinners to step up and is hoping his squad will stay competitive in 2012.
“We’ll be shorthanded a couple of games, but I think we’ll surprise people when they come back,” Lorenzen said.
After working as an assistant baseball coach for Lake Holcombe, Lorenzen was hired over the offseason as the football coach, replacing Matt Flater. Despite the challenges that could come with being a new coach and with his team losing many key contributors, Lorenzen and his squad haven’t experienced a difficult transition thus far.
“It hasn’t been a problem at all,” he said. “We had a group offseason camp in July and the kids were firing on all cylinders as soon as they showed up.”
While replacing the contributions of players like Gjelhaug, Jones and Grigar won’t be easy, Lorenzen knows a lot of his returning players have game experience and should be prepared to step in.
“The kids that we have have varsity experience,” Lorenzen said. “But that’s the nature of a small school. They pretty much have to play when they’re underclassmen. They all have experience and our senior group is a great group of leaders. They’re stepping up big-time in the leadership role. They’re like another set of eyes for us coaches.”
One of the seniors Lake Holcombe returns is first team all-county defensive back Tanner Gulich. Along with his role on the defense, Gulich will also be taking over as the starting quarterback — a position he played part-time last year.
Gulich threw for 444 yards and six touchdowns last season while splitting time with Gjelhaug and will be the catalyst for the Chieftains’ offense in 2012.
Also back is Hunter Allard, who will be Gulich’s main target downfield, having caught 22 passes and two touchdowns last year. Allard will also figure to get some carries, seeing as he was the team’s third-leading rusher a season ago with 127 yards on 21 attempts.
Preston Strzok will be the Chieftains’ starting running back after rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown last season.
“We’re going to run a lot of different things (offensively),” Lorenzen said. “But these first couple weeks will be rough because we’ve had some issues with commitment, grades-wise from last spring.”
Chase Jones, a second team all-county defensive lineman, will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines.
As far as expectations for the season, Lorenzen isn’t hoping for anything out of the ordinary. He’s simply hoping for improvement as the year goes along.
“I think our main goal now is just to get better week to week,” he said. “We’ll take one game at a time. We’re in a tough conference and we’re a small school in our conference. So our goal is to compete every game and obviously make it to the playoffs. ... We’ll surprise people. We have a good group of core seniors that are stepping up big-time.”
Lake Holcombe hosts a scrimmage against Shell Lake and Suring on Saturday afternoon. The Chieftains open their regular season on Saturday, Aug. 25 against Augusta in a game on the campus of UW-Stout in Menomonie. Lake Holcombe hosts its first home game on Friday, Aug. 31 against Cornell.