Talent plus experience: A winning combination
The Spencer/Columbus Rockets return multiple starters and all-conference selections from a team that made a deep playoff run last year
By Paul Lecker
SPENCER — In the ever-changing landscape of high school football, where one group of seniors graduates and everyone else moves up a notch, it is always nice to go into the season following one of the best in program history with a wealth of experience.
That is what the 2015 Spencer/Columbus Catholic football team has going for it as five two-way starters and five other starting players return to the lineup for the Rockets after they finished 8-4 and made it all the way to Level 3 of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs last season before falling in overtime to Little Chute. It marked the first time in the 13-year history of the Spencer/Columbus co-op that the Rockets went as far as Level 3 of the playoffs.
Among the returnees are two first-team and five second-team all-Cloverbelt Conference selections, giving the Rockets not only experienced but quality players coming back on both sides of the ball.
Senior Calvin Lenz is one of the two-way starters returning for Spencer/Columbus. Lenz, a second-team all-conference quarterback and also a starter at defensive back, threw for 886 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for another 11 touchdowns and 240 yards on the ground, and also had five interceptions to lead the team defensively.
While Lenz is penciled in as the starter at quarterback, he will see some competition from junior Noah Zastrow, who may find his way on the field in some exotic packages throughout the season.
“We always open up every position (to start camp) to keep them with an edge,” said Jason Gorst, who is entering his fifth season as the Rockets’ head coach. “Calvin will be playing quarterback, and we’re also going to have some stuff that involves Noah Zastrow, who played a little bit last year. We like multiple packages, and we’re doing some different things with that.”
While last year’s leading rusher and receiver Mitch Susa has graduated, as has fullback Tyler Voda, the Rockets do boast a wealth of depth in their offensive arsenal as Hunter Hildebrandt is back after rushing for 535 yards and three touchdowns. Zastrow, Hunter Luepke, and Elijah Welsh all ran for more than 200 yards as well last season.
The returning skill position players, end Tim Bauer, tight end Ryan Busse, and offensive linemen Dakota Andreae, Max Johnson, and Brett Loveland should put the Rockets in a good spot when they have the ball.
On the other side, Hildebrandt also returns to his linebacker position, where he earned first-team all-Cloverbelt honors and is one of eight returning starters on defense. Zastrow, a safety, is the other first-team all-conference selection returning.
Andreae, at defensive end, Welsh and Luepke at linebacker, and Bauer at defensive back also return after earning spots on the all-conference team in 2014.
The depth the Rockets have been able to build, over the past few seasons in particular, starts at the beginning of camp, giving players equal opportunity to shine and move their way up the depth chart.
“We split into Red and White, two equal teams, to try to create competition,” Gorst said. “We did that last year, and we feel it creates depth. Instead of having 13 or 14 kids take the bulk of your reps, you have 24 kids do it. We run our offense against our defense and won’t even run a scout team until we get into the season. We felt it was beneficial.”
Gorst said he expects Stanley-Boyd and Eau Claire Regis to again be among the top teams in the Cloverbelt Conference with the Rockets and Colby right behind them.
Spencer/Columbus opens its season at home with a Cloverbelt Conference matchup against Fall Creek on Aug. 21.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.