Nicolet football program energized as varsity returns
Active offseason yields optimism after program scrapped 2014 season
"We have a lot more freshmen and sophomores out this year and we want to show them what it takes to be a varsity football player.
"What it takes to be a Nicolet varsity football player."
That rallying cry came from Knights senior quarterback Adam Plotkin, who will likely be running an up-tempo version of the wing-T offense for the team on Friday nights this fall, in varsity football games.
It's something he and the rest of his 30-something juniors and seniors currently did not have an opportunity to do last fall, when low levels of participation in the junior and senior classes forced the cancellation of the varsity schedule.
That was a hard decision, but the 10-2 record the combined junior varsity/varsity squad turned in last fall was validation of what the administration and the coaches felt they had to do.
"It was a huge shock last fall," said Plotkin, "but once we took a step back, we realized it was the right decision and we backed it 100 percent. It was the right decision for safety reasons, and it really brought the team together.
"It brought a lot of passion back to Nicolet football."
Slowly but surely
Already, signs of progress have been made. Head coach Dave Quam reports an impressive number of 27 freshmen have tried out.
Further, the combined youth program with University School, which sponsors teams on the fifth through eighth grade levels, is showing encouraging signs, with at least 21 players on each grade level. Plans are to keep each grade level a separate team, whereas in the past, they have had to combine grades.
The team, like other athletes in the school, is taking full advantage of the revamped, upgraded and upsized weightroom. The group Athlete's Performance has been brought in to help out in the weightroom and aid with other training needs for all the school's athletes.
"We fundraised like heck for it," said athletic director Kirk Krychowiak. "Raised a ton of money and completely overhauled it. We tripled its size and tripled the amount of equipment. There are new mirrors, new posters, new paint."
"They're super knowledgeable," said Quam of the Athlete's Performance people, "and they're great with the kids. We've really appreciated what the administration and the parents have done. They've done a great job in encouraging us to keep it going."
It's part of an affirmation process, a reinvestment in the athletic plant, said Krychowiak, and it starts with the football program.
"We want the kids to recognize what we're trying to do," he said. "We don't want them going to Le Club or other private clubs in the area to work out. We want them to come here and take pride in their school. We had to do this, because it's hard for them take pride in their school if the school doesn't take pride in them."
Rebuilding began early
Like the offense the Knights plan to run this fall, everything has been moving quickly as the 2015 Nicolet varsity looks to open formal action on Friday, Aug. 21 at Waukesha South.
Quam said the new season got started with the 2014 season finale against Messmer/Shorewood
The Knights lost the contest to the rebuilding Greyhounds' varsity, which was only the second defeat for the underclassman Nicolet squad for the fall, but Plotkin said it served as a great jump-start to 2015.
"Right after the season, we got 40 or 50 guys involved in the weightroom," he said. "Got them there everyday. Last year, I can remember only about 10 (who came everyday)."
"What we did (in canceling the season) was the right thing," said Quam, "In the beginning, it was hard not having the varsity, but after that, it was fun. What happened afterward confirmed our decision. If we had thrown our 15 and 16-year olds (freshmen and sophomores) against other schools' 17 and 18-year olds (juniors and seniors) and they had struggled, would they had come out again?
"We played that JV schedule and we had success and that did a lot of good things for the program. We developed skills against kids who were of like age and skill level. The kids liked the competition and the chance to be successful. They showed they were willing to work hard and commit themselves and compete."
Early contact days late last month were also a huge success, and the early practices were held at UW-Oshkosh's Titan Stadium, the site of many state playoff games. The Maccabi World Jewish Youth Games were being held at many sites in the area that same week, including Nicolet, so the football program took advantage of the situation.
"The Oshkosh trip was a great bonding venture," said Krychowiak. "The kids were so excited. They got to play on the (artificial turf) field, stay in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria. They had a lot of team bonding exercises, too. They felt like real football players, and they were elated."
And though everyone is being positive right now, no one is fooling themselves. The Knights haven't had a winning season in the North Shore Conference in decades, and so they're keeping the goals realistic.
"We had a lot of meetings last year and we set some goals," said Plotkin. "We know we haven't been to the (state) playoffs since 1989, and that's always a long-term goal. We know we're a smaller team (in size and numbers) than the others in the conference, so we're aiming at getting two, maybe three conference wins this year. Help hold the program up."
With that being said, the first steps towards real legitimacy have been taken, added Quam.
"We're Nicolet, we know we have a long ways to go in developing the program," he said. "We'll try to do it the right way. Work in the weightroom, focus on good technique. A lot of good things have already happened. We have a good staff and we have a good group of kids who really want to play."
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