Players look back on the 2016 Football season

Members of the Blugold football team reflect on their first season under head coach Dan Larson

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Players look back on the 2016 Football season

The 2016 Blugold football season was filled with many ups and downs, but through it all, the player’s feel that the program has taken a step in the right direction.

The 2016 Blugold football season was filled with many ups and downs, but through it all, the player’s feel that the program has taken a step in the right direction.

Photo by Kelsey Smith

The 2016 Blugold football season was filled with many ups and downs, but through it all, the player’s feel that the program has taken a step in the right direction.

Photo by Kelsey Smith

Photo by Kelsey Smith

The 2016 Blugold football season was filled with many ups and downs, but through it all, the player’s feel that the program has taken a step in the right direction.

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Change in attitude. Those are the words that sophomore UW-Eau Claire linebacker, William Cooley, feels most accurately describe the 2016 Blugold football season.

Eau Claire’s first season under head coach Dan Larson was filled with many peaks and valleys. The team increased their win total by two from their previous season; but that was not satisfying enough for senior wide receiver, Matthew Knapp, and his teammates.

“From a wins and losses standpoint it is obviously not where we wanted to be at the end of the year,” Knapp said. “But as far as building a program, it feels like we took a step in the right direction. Hopefully we will be able to do that over the next few years as well.”

Cooley echoed Knapp’s thoughts, praising the mental development of his teammates.

“We knew this season was all about growth, and developing a new type of attitude for this program,” Cooley said. “I think with the guys we have in this program, at the end of the season we are all carrying that new attitude forward. We will just continue to grow through the offseason through workouts and keep changing the mentality around this program.”

The Blugolds had a solid offensive year, averaging 13.9 points per game, rushing for 106.1 yards and passing for 156.9 points per game.

However, the defense tended to struggle allowing 34.6 points per game, and allowing 157.6 rushing yards and 253.1 passing yards per game.

The team’s overall record ended at 2-8, and 1-6 in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) play. The team also produced an identical home and away record of 1-4, an improvement from last year’s winless season.

Sophomore quarterback, JT Denhartog, said there were a few standout moments over the course of the season.

“Beating La Crosse was one of the best games,” Denhartog said. “That was really cool to get that conference win. Even that play at the end of the game last week where we had a touchdown on a long play was pretty great and pretty weird. Moments like that are just awesome to experience.”

Many players echoed each other’s statements that the top points of the season came during the team’s two wins. The first came on Sept. 24 against Wisconsin Lutheran, where Eau Claire came out with a dominating 40-14 victory; and the other came against UW-La Crosse on Oct. 22, where the Blugolds pulled out a nail biting 20-14 conference win against a talented team.

When the final seconds ticked off of the scoreboard in their last game against UW-Oshkosh, the reality dawned on the team that they had to say goodbye to the nine graduating seniors for the last time. Cooley said emotions ran high as soon as the game ended.

“After the game we all shared hugs with all the guys and thanked them for all that they’ve done for us,” Cooley said. “For the rest of the offseason it is almost like a sendoff for them. Every time we see them, we just let them know how much we appreciate their hard work. They’ll never be forgotten.”

One of those graduating seniors is star wide receiver Knapp, who ended his final season with 642 yards receiving along with eight touchdowns. Knapp said that the reason he enjoyed his time on the team so much was because of the men he shared the field with.

“It was definitely fun,” Knapp said. “It was a great group of guys to play with. They are the ones that had me coming back each year week in and week out, even after a loss. Just being able to play with the group of teammates that I had, it just makes it really easy to come back every week.”

Now that the 2016 season has come to a close, members of the Blugold football team are already preparing for the 2017 season. The team’s coaching staff will be heading out very soon to begin recruiting new talent, and the players will be hitting the weight room to try and grow physically stronger before spring ball starts up in a couple of months.

Denhartog said the team hopes to “get those wins up a little more” next season, and that they want to develop into a “top competitor in the conference.” The men that make up the Eau Claire locker room believe that, with continued progress, they can continue to make strides towards achieving their ultimate goal.

Junior wide receiver, Brody Diggins, believes the team just needs to refine their thought process to improve even more next season.

“I think we need to come together more as a team,” Diggins said. “Everyone needs to have the same mindset for us to be successful.”

Knapp said he is proud of the resiliency of his team.

“Whether it was in the Lacrosse game, getting down early and fighting back and coming out with a W or even against Wisconsin Lutheran and being able to come out strong in that game too and prove that we can put up some points and play well against good teams,” Knapp said. “I’m proud that we were able to fight through the tough times and continue to play hard.”

The belief that you can be successful is the first step to achieving success, and the Eau Claire football team took a big step forward towards that this year.

Even though statistically the season did not end how they would have liked it to, the players have started to change the fans’ minds about the Blugold football program.

The Blugolds will take the moments they have experienced this year, and use them to become better football players in the offseason. Their hope is that, through working together, they can become an even better football team. Eau Claire will see if that comes to fruition when they return to Carson Park next September.

 

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