Young Augustana football players had a lot to work on going into the 2018 spring season. Head coach Jerry Olszewski said his foci during spring ball are threefold: player development, scheme development and building blocks toward the next season.
After ending the last season with a less-than-desired record of 4-7, the men went back to working hard to fix the issues that gave them trouble in the fall.
According to junior defensive back Michael Kloza, spring ball is a chance to get ready for the fall.
“The redshirt freshman didn’t play this last year so the coaches really want to get the younger guys caught up on all the plays, so they know all the plays for this coming fall,” Kloza said.
Kloza said that the team faced adversity during the 2017 season, mainly due to injuries that led to setbacks in games.
“There are just some things where we kinda shut down if there was something that happened during the game or outside of the game, whether it be injuries or anything,” said Kloza. “It just felt like we weren’t able to overcome [them] as we should have. And there were some close games where we could have gotten past that adversity just a little bit more. I think it would have been a better season for us.”
The team will have a fresh chance to succeed with new starters in the fall. Offensively, the Vikings are stacked with experience although they are graduating one offensive lineman and two wide receivers. On the defensive line, the entire defensive backfield is graduating and there will be one starting returner, although a few players have experience from stepping in when injury struck.
Olszewski is optimistic about the young team and looking forward to the next season.
“We’re fast defensively, we’re very athletic defensively,” Olszewski said. “So I think that we’ll be more of a movement defense than we’ve been in the past, eliminating some gaps, forcing offenses to do certain things. I’ve noticed that already.”
Olszewski also noted that though the offensive line had many returners, there was still room for improvement.
“Offensively, we didn’t put a ton of new things in. We took some things out, and cleaned up some other things that needed better definition,” Olszewski said.
The team had 15 practices to prepare for last Saturday’s game.
“As wide outs, we’ve been working on playing physical and making sure everyone knows what’s going on in every position so we can just fill in wherever. You don’t only learn one spot,” said junior wide receiver Nickel Meyers.
The Vikings also hope to avoid the injury problems they had last season. Olszewski said he’s never had a season in twenty-five years with as many injuries as last fall.
“We had 14 different starters out at various times throughout the season last year,” Olszewski said. “We were playing a lot of guys that probably weren’t ready to play yet. But needed to step up and that adversity, I think, caught us at the end of the season, where it was just a lot of injuries, and now we have some more experience out of those guys that did step in. A lot of them are returning, so we hope that plays into addressing those areas a lot better. When adversity hits the next time, they’ve already lived through it once and they know how to succeed and thrive through it.”
Throughout the spring season, the team has focused on increasing its depth, and sophomore defensive lineman Logan Swanson believes the team has accomplished exactly that.
“Our threes can do exactly what the starters can do. If injury were to strike next fall, we’re more prepared, compared to last year,” Swanson said.
Kloza said the team refers to itself as a windshield football team.
“That means we’re looking forward, like when you’re looking through the windshield of a car,” Kloza said. “We’re not looking back, but we still have that chip on our shoulder about the record last year.”
Olszewski was pleased with the game play last Saturday. The defense won 37-27, making 23 points in the second half. He was very excited that there were no major injuries.
“Both sides did some good things. Offensively and defensively both sides played hard, competed,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski is most excited to continue improving to be the best version of themselves in the fall.
“If we continue growing like that and loving on the guys and getting understanding. I think we’re gonna be a pretty good football team,” Olszewski said.