A new chapter
Coach Eric Custer enters his first year leading the Auburndale Apaches and their young roster
By Paul Lecker
AUBURNDALE — Close to a brand new roster awaits a brand new head coach as 25-year-old Eric Custer takes over the Auburndale High School football program.
Custer, who served as an assistant coach for Jason Tubbs at Stratford, is a former Stratford player who was part of the last four of the Tigers’ six-straight WIAA Division 6 state championship teams from 2003-2008.
He now heads the Apaches, who are coming off three-straight playoff appearances and their first postseason win since 2002.
However, this year’s team will not look much like last year’s squad. Auburndale, which finished 7-3 overall and tied Stratford for second place at 5-2 in the Marawood Conference, lost seven all-conference players, including two that earned spots on both offense and defense.
This season 20 sophomores dot the 32-man roster with only eight seniors and four juniors returning.
Among those that return is running back/linebacker Kurt Jankowski, who had 118 yards rushing in conference games last year.
“We only have two returning starters on offense and five on defense, so our biggest thing is to find those kids that can step in and then find our depth after that,” Custer said. “I’m comfortable with where we are at now, and hopefully it keeps progressing.
“We’re very young. We were picked for fourth in the conference, and the top four make the playoffs, so these guys are starting to earn the respect of their conference opponents. Though we are young, we have the mentality to compete for a playoff spot.”
Sophomore Ryan Isaacson will lead the Auburndale offense, taking over for quarterback Wyatt Weiler, who was the Marawood Back of the Year in 2014.
“He works really hard and is going to be a good leader in the huddle,” Custer said. “He played well at the scrimmage (Aug. 15 at Owen-Withee). He made some inexperienced mistakes with the speed (of the game), but I think he’s going to progress with the season.”
Auburndale was second in the conference in defense a year ago, giving up just 172 yards and 10.9 points per game. Custer said he expects the defense to be the team’s strength again as it heads into its season opener Friday at home against Tomahawk.
The defense will be led by a strong line that includes senior tackles Kaleb Bolder and Josh Gabel, who will be backed up by Jankowski at middle linebacker, Collin Hawkins at outside linebacker, and Aaron Willfahrt at defensive back.
“They were second in points allowed last year, and I’d like to see that again,” Custer said. “I’m optimistic. It’s the same scheme, the same coach running the defense. There’s going to be growing pains with a new offensive system and new terminology, so I definitely see our defense, especially our rush defense, being strong.”