After a tough season was cancelled, number spike suddenly causes experienced group

Tom Aldrich (left) is in his 27th season as head football coach, and he still loves showing the basics to his players, including Reid Muellenbach at a recent practice. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

The long-standing tradition of Catholic Central varsity football simply couldn’t be broken.

But it did tear at the seams and cause quite the rare situation in 2017.

As a refresher, the Toppers began the season 0-6 in the grueling, talent-rich Metro Classic Conference only to fall victim to multiple injuries to key players.

The body toll increased to a point where head coach Tom Aldrich, now in his 27th season, had no choice but to waive the white flag.

The result was the first cancellation of Topper football in program history, and though coaches were confident it was the exception, a bleak rule became reality.

But have no fear, upperclassmen are here.

A lot of them, to be exact – a strong crop of 17 juniors and seniors lead 30 total football players this fall, a number that doesn’t jump off the page by any means but will certainly suffice at the small division school.

On Tuesday night, Aldrich was simply happy to have a team again, and he can’t wait to open another season Friday night at home against University School.

“Football’s back again,” Aldrich roared during a telephone interview. “We’re going to make a go of it. We were planning to have a team from Day 1, and we knew pretty early it was going to happen.”

Camaraderie and team building are perhaps more prevalent in football than many other sports, and the Topper staff knows that.

So for one of the five offseason contact days this summer, the boys were treated to a day at the pool to beat the heat, while coaches chopped it up on a picnic table.

While some would see last year’s unprecedented ordeal as a negative, Aldrich said it has helped his players grow strong.

Lincoln Street, home of the St. Mary’s Practice Field, is buzzing with the promise of 20 players who saw varsity playing time last season.

While the losses of athletes like Chad Zirbel, Frank Koehnke and Charles Robinson stung, Aldrich said his boys should be able to handle the rigors of a stacked conference.

“Our biggest strength is we have a lot of experience,” he said. “We dealt with adversity. They’re going to be able to handle it.”

An offensive line that’s been together for three years features seniors Luke Sassano, Simon Pedone, Tyler Shaw and Doug Januszewski, while senior quarterback Todd Suchomel could be a difference maker both through the air and by land.

“Todd understands the game, can run and pass and will keep teams honest,” Aldrich said.

A running-back-by-committee approach will see who emerges from the pack, but Aldrich likes his talent in the backfield.

Right now, Tristan Welka, Cade Dirksmeyer, Payton Meinholz, Michael Labicki and Reid Muellenbach should all see carries.

As for the receiving corps, junior David Doerflinger brings speed and size at 6-foot-2, 166 pounds, while fellow juniors Nick Aldrich, Tom’s nephew, and Brandon Pum, should also provides talented targets.

Defensively, Aldrich likes the overall amount of athletes. He added that defensive ends Chas Miles and Januszewski could make immediate impacts.

Overall, Aldrich hopes to work the short game via run and pass and limit opponents’ opportunities. Hopefully, a dink-and-dunk consistency will open things up downfield when the moment arises.

“We want to have balance and play keep-away,” Aldrich said. “Right now, we need to be more disciplined and learn our scheme.”

“But we hope to be in enough games to have a chance to make the playoffs.”

Aldrich said the MCC is “loaded,” especially Racine St. Cat’s and Greendale Martin Luther.

“It’s a great conference, you can’t let your guard down,” he added.

There’s also a new face in the coaching staff.

Along with Joe Vrchota and Rob Hintz, Aldrich welcomes longtime football assistant coach Wally Sebuck, who brings a ton of experience and a good personality, Aldrich said.

Welka is the team’s leading returning performer, with 200 yards from scrimmage last season.

Also, Doerflinger passed for 159 yards.

 

Schedule

(HOME GAMES CAPS, all games 7 p.m. unless noted)

August – 17: UNIVERSITY SCHOOL. 25: at Living Word Lutheran, 1 p.m. 30: RACINE ST. CAT’S. September – 7: at Shoreland Lutheran. 15: at St. Thomas More, 2 p.m. 21: MARTIN LUTHER. 28: at Dominican. October – 5: KENOSHA ST. JOSEPH. 11: at Racine Lutheran.

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