Team must step up after key injury

 

Junior quarterback Ben Heiligenthal fires a pass during Monday's practice at Lincoln Field. The junior looks to build on a solid sophomore season in which he threw for more than 1,000 yards with 17 touchdowns. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

Junior quarterback Ben Heiligenthal fires a pass during Monday’s practice at Lincoln Field. The junior looks to build on a solid sophomore season in which he threw for more than 1,000 yards with 17 touchdowns. (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press)

By Mike Ramczyk

Sports Editor

Entering his 23rd season, Catholic Central football coach Tom Aldrich has one of the top 10 win percentages in the state in the last decade.

So why does this Division 7 school of roughly 200 kids have success year in and year out?

“We have been blessed with a lot of great kids that work hard, and I’ve had a staff that’s been together for a long time,” Aldrich said. “The wins and losses are secondary. We’re trying to look at things from a different angle than just trying to win games. Thankfully, that stuff has spilled over, and it helps the kids succeed on the field.”

After a 7-5 season and Level 3 playoff appearance in 2013, the Toppers return plenty of talent. But a key injury has already put a damper on this fall’s expectations.

Senior Tyler Burzawa, who led the team with 47 catches for 791 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, will miss the entire 2014 season due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered during track.

The explosive Burzawa was the Toppers’ biggest threat last season offensively and in the return game. He also could pick off a pass and take it to the house on any given play.

“The biggest blow was when Tyler hurt himself in track,” Aldrich said. “He is a playmaker offensively and defensively. We’ve bounced back and shown some resiliency.”

The Toppers are hoping a transfer student from Florida, Christian Nicholls, can provide some big plays to make up for the loss of Burzawa.

“He’s got some speed and quickness,” Aldrich said of Nicholls.

Nicholls will be catching the ball from junior quarterback Ben Heiligenthal, who broke out last season with 1,296 passing yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

Also, junior Cole Kresken, last year’s leading rusher with 795 yards and 10 touchdowns, will lead the offense and the defense.

Aldrich is impressed by his seven seniors, including team captains Jeff Stemper, Spencer Wilker, Nick Seib and Shan Gill.

Nolan Girard and Karan Singh are also seniors. Both will play receiver and defensive back. Aldrich said the senior leadership has been strong.

Kresken will play safety on the defensive end, but Aldrich said he will be heavily involved in stopping the run.

Heiligenthal has improved his arm strength from last year, and he’s more comfortable under center.

“He feels more comfortable with how his peers look at him,” Aldrich said of Heiligenthal. “He’s savvy, he understands the game and he’s a competitor. He’s going to do the little things to beat you.”

Aldrich said Wilker will get some action at quarterback during the two-minute drill. Aldrich added that the staff didn’t decide on the starting quarterback until Saturday’s scrimmage.

“It was a great battle,” Aldrich said. “People might assume that Ben might get the job because he had it last year. Every year, we say every position’s open. Give Spencer a lot of credit. We know he can be a great backup.”

Wilker will play fullback and linebacker.

Aldrich said the Metro Classic Conference will be strong again. The Toppers finished third in the league last year.

Racine St. Cat’s and Kenosha St. Joe’s will both be strong, and each team is getting more competitive, Aldrich said.

He said his team hopes to win the conference championship every year.

Longtime assistant coaches Mike Vanderbeek, Joe Vrchota and Rob Hintz have been with Aldrich for many years.

“It’s worked, and we’ve been very fortunate,” Aldrich said. “We have good football minds and good people.”

What will lead the Toppers to another playoff run?

“Togetherness,” Aldrich said. “There really aren’t any ‘I’s.’ They’re a group that wants to see others succeed. They aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Aldrich said athleticism is the Toppers’ biggest strength. On the flip side, depth is the team’s biggest weakness.

“You’re an injury away from a drop off,” Aldrich said. “Also, are we going to have that killer instinct on the field? They’re nice guys, but will they have what it takes to finish a game?”

Catholic Central travels to Division 3 Whitewater in Friday’s season opener.

“Hopefully, we come out aggressive and play hard,” Aldrich said. “They’ve got some playmakers. It’s about hating to lose. If they beat us, they beat us. We don’t want to beat ourselves.”

 

Schedule

(HOME GAMES IN BOLD CAPS)

August – 22: at Whitewater. 29: LAKE COUNTRY LUTHERAN. September5: SHORELAND LUTHERAN. 12: at Martin Luther. 19: RACINE LUTHERAN. 26: DOMINICAN. October – 3: at St. Thomas More. 10: RACINE ST. CAT’S. 17: at Kenosha St. Joe’s (Carthage College).