NEW AUBURN — No one could blame first-year New Auburn football coach Wayne North if he had low, or at least lowered expectations for his team in 2013.
After going 8-2 last season, which included a win in the third-place game of the first WIAA Eight-Player Football Jamboree, the Trojans lost a key group of seniors from that squad — highlighted by 2012 Chippewa County Player of the Year Brett Baker.
Baker, who lined up under center but could really play just about any skill position on the field, was almost unstoppable in 2012 — rushing for 1,493 yards with 31 touchdowns, passing for 878 yards and 18 scores and picking up 102 tackles on defense with eight fumble recoveries, five interceptions and four more touchdowns.
North, who was an assistant for the Trojans before becoming head coach this year, knows that replacing a senior class that not only included Baker but two all-Chippewa County offensive linemen (Cody Bailey, Kegyn Steinmetz) and two all-county defenders (defensive lineman Mike Brandstatter, linebacker Joe Koteras) will not be an easy task.
“It’s definitely hard,” North said. “Fortunately we have a lot of players that got some playing time because of the scores last year. So far the enthusiasm and the expectation is to continue on with that winning program. I think they expect to do well. There’s been a great competition between the kids to encourage each other to be better players.”
New Auburn does have some key players coming back for the program’s second full year of 8-man football — including three all-county performers in running back Blake Miller, tight end James Elwood and offensive lineman Alex Olson. With senior Judd Plummer and sophomore Austin North expected to split time at quarterback, North hopes his team will get contributions from a variety of players in 2013.
“We’re going to have to be multi-dimensional,” he said. “We’re going to kind of have to put in different plays based on different people’s abilities. Last year with Brett, just give him the ball and let him create something. This year we’re going to have to fine tune that into ‘This play is designed for this person.’
“We’re definitely going to have to rely upon the team effort much more. Everybody’s going to have to step it up. Last year some people stepped back. ‘OK Brett, take the ball, do something with it and we’re here to support you.’ This year they’re all going to have to step it up.”
With it being the second full year that New Auburn, and the WIAA, has supported 8-man football, North expects his players to know what to anticipate and how to play the game right off the bat. While there may have been room for an adjustment period last year, that’s not the case coming into this season.
“I hope that all of them know what 8-man is all about now because it takes a different kind of football player,” North said. “Before, you could stick a bunch of your big guys up on the line and just say ‘Eat away at them.’ In 8-man, those big guys need to be fast now. I think they get that. They can’t just run three yards anymore. Now they might have to run 20 yards every play.
“Your whole conditioning strategy has had to change. I think the players know that. You don’t see the complaining like ‘Why are we running so much?’ I think they understand that this is part of the game. This is what’s changed when it comes to 8-man. It takes a much better athlete.”
Despite the departures from last year’s team, North still expects great things out of the Trojans in 2013. Without a star like Baker, New Auburn might not be as flashy this season. But with a combination of youth and experience, North is confident his squad will be a winning one and should compete for the 8-Man Lakeland Conference title.
“I think the goal is, first of all, not to lose a game. That’s the primary thing,” North said. “But even smaller than that, to play the best we can every single game. Not to look past any opponent because pretty much any school in our conference can take 8-man and put it out there and it will be a pretty good game.
“Each game has to be played to the fullest. ... The hope is that we should be pretty competitive even despite losing Brett and all of the other seniors, which played very well (together). There was a lot of cohesiveness in that group. I think we can reproduce that.”
New Auburn opens its season on Aug. 24 in Rice Lake for a game against Birchwood before hosting Luck on Sept. 6.