“I think we can have a winning record, and get into the playoffs, and beat Antigo. I think we can do all those,” Rhinelander head football coach Jim Moore said in looking forward to the 2012 season this week.
The first goal hasn’t happened in 16 years. The second, it’s been since 1989. But tangible goals aren’t the only focus for the Hodags.
“If we base our success on our outcome goals, we’ve been losers for eight years. But the effort that a lot of people have been putting in has not been a losing effort,” said Moore.
Rhinelander’s depth chart will be drastically different from years past. For the first time under Moore, there will be no two-way starters in what he’s calling a platoon system.
“We’ve got a lot of depth, which is a first for us, in this platoon system,” he said. With no player starting on both offense and defense, Moore hopes to eliminate fatigue in the second half of games.
“We found so many times we were being competitive in the first half, but winning the first half doesn’t count,” he said.
Nonetheless, moving to the platoon system is a radical change for a program Moore has led for eight years.
“One of the biggest challenges is, with the two-platoon, they wanted to be two-way starters,” he said. “For the kids to buy into (the system) has been one of the challenges.”
The coaching staff hopes two main themes will pervade for the Hodags program: continuity to turn the program around and enduring mental fortitude.
“I’ve never been a really big mental preparation guy. It’s always been this room right here. You work the heck out of it,” Moore said, motioning to the weight room.
But that’s starting to change. Hodag coaches want football’s mental aspects to be just as important to the team as the physical side. The team is taking inspiration from this year’s Summer Olympic Games, particularly the women’s volleyball team.
“They think about the three B’s – breathe, believe, battle,” he said.
In terms of program continuity, Moore talked about getting younger classes involved earlier. Part of that is mixing junior captains with senior captains. The team named Mitch Reinthaler, Connor Johnson, Luke Linsmeyer and Jon Konz as junior captains to go along with seniors Richard Klaver, Josie Schaffer, Dylon Wilmot and Levi Haskins.
“We’re going to work with them a lot closer on being a leader,” Moore said. “Being a captain is powerful, but it’s more work for you. It’s more responsibility for you.”
In terms of on-field units, Moore is optimistic on both sides of the ball.
“Our defense, I believe, will be one of our strengths,” he said.
After employing a 3-5-3 defensive alignment under departed defensive coordinator Blaine Obey, the Hodags will move to a 5-3-3 look under new coordinator Tyler Johnson.
“We thought we had some guys that were a little bit better on the line of scrimmage, closer to the action,” Moore said.
The coach is particularly excited by prospects for stopping the run. Second-team all-conference selection Josie Schaffer is expected to lead the front as a “Hodag” backer.
“He’s tough. We’re thinking they’re going to have to run away from him,” Moore said.
The three-man linebacking corps could count on Adam Woebbeking as a standout.
“Woebbeking was reading so well that I thought he was blitzing in our scrimmage,” Moore said.
Because the front eight is expected to be stout against the run, the Rhinelander coaching staff expects teams to try to move the ball through the air. A mediocre secondary should be challenged.
On offense, Jon Konz will take the reigns at quarterback. Both the junior and Alec Baumgarter are quality options, but in the platoon system, Baumgarter will start at safety.
“I’ve had good backfields, solid guys, but I’ve never had solid backfields two or three deep,” Moore said of his running backs.
Connor Johnson will start at fullback in Rhinelander’s fullback-based offense, but Codie Knapp should plenty of snaps as well. Three good tailbacks include Klaver, Luke Linsmeyer and the fastest of the group, Chris Connors.
Moore also highlighted good personnel on the offensive line. The Hodags will mix man-blocking and zone schemes.
Rhinelander will take its positive outlook from its coaches into what should be another tough Great Northern Conference race. Mosinee comes off of an undefeated conference season, outscoring GNC opponents 231-52 in five conference games. Antigo and Merrill each have strong program histories, but each are dealing with losses of their head coach. Jeff Lund resigned amid drug ring allegations in Antigo, and Tom Tourtillot moved from Merrill to Rice Lake. Medford could also challenge for a league title after making the playoffs for the first time last year.
Rhinelander opens the season with three home games, against Superior, Mosinee and Kingsford.