Posted September 16, 2015
University of Wisconsin-River Falls head football Coach Matt Walker is in his fifth year. While the first three years were tough, Walker said he now sees a lot of promise for the future.
“This year’s recruiting class and last year’s recruiting class are the best that I’ve had in the five years that I have been here, so there is a lot of optimism,” he said.
Even though UWRF won only three games last year, the football team was extremely competitive in the tough Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. In a loss against UW-Whitewater — the eventual national champions in Division III — the Falcons had the lead with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter, but could not close out the game. Walker is confident that this year’s squad can take that next step to close out games in the fourth quarter.
“Last year we were in a lot of games heading into the fourth quarter, but couldn’t finish. This year I am confident we will take the next step to winning those games because we put in a lot of work in the offseason,” he said.
Year after year, UWRF’s schedule is among the toughest in Division III. Tough non-conference road games against Simpson College in Iowa and Southwestern University in Texas, plus a competitive seven-game conference slate, fill out the schedule.
“We have a competitive conference. UW-Whitewater, UW-Oshkosh, and UW-Platteville are always ranked in the Top 25, and we have to play them every year,” Walker said.
In order to compete with the top teams in the WIAC, younger players will have to contribute.
The Falcons are looking to replace 18 seniors and five other key players from the 2014 team. The wide receiving core took the biggest hit, losing the top four pass catchers from last year’s team. Offensive Coordinator Jake Wissing looks to rely on a set of younger wide receivers and tight ends in the 2015 version of the offense.
“We always have a lot of guys that are up and coming,” he said. “Sophomores Tony Denn and Tyler Halverson are going to see time, and senior Matt Woller will be our veteran leader.”
In the past, the UWRF offense has been spread out with four or five wide receivers, and that has been based on their personnel.
“If we have better tight ends, fullbacks, and running backs we’ll be in tighter sets. I would probably say that we’ll be in tighter sets because that is the experience we have right now, but whatever it takes to win, we will do it,” Wissing said.
A constant that has been around for the past three years is senior quarterback Ryan Kusilek. He is back for his final year to lead the Falcons.
“Ryan, as any good quarterback would be, he gets us in plays that we need to get into. He sees things at the line of scrimmage that an ordinary person does not see,” Wissing said. “He means a lot to us. When he’s going good, we’re going good. We’re going to ask him to make seven to 10 plays per game.
“Ryan is ready to take a big step this season because of the work he put in this season,” Walker added.
Defense is the name of the game for Walker. In two of their three wins last year, the Falcons did not give up more than 15 points. In four of their seven losses, the Falcons gave up more than 25 points.
“In order for us to close out games, we need to make the necessary defensive stops,” Walker said.
Having linebackers that can be solid tacklers makes it easier for the whole defense.
Walker is excited in what he has in his linebackers. Jay Robinson, Ross Wusterbarth, and Geno DeMike will have to replace Luke Radke and Zach Loos, both of whom were really sound tacklers.
The defensive backfield will have a lot of young players contributing this season.
“Sophomore transfer Kyle Narges and freshmen Alex Wood and Aric Elmore are so athletic and we expect big things from these guys,” Walker said.
Walker and Wissing are optimistic that they are going to have a competitive season if they play sound, fundamental football.
The Falcons opened up the season on Sept. 5 with a loss to Simpson College. The Falcons host South Dakota School of Mines & Technology on Saturday, Sept. 19, to open up the newly renovated press box at David Smith Stadium.