Sam Thiel/ Winonan
With classes officially underway and fall just around the corner, college football season is approaching with a full head of steam.
After finishing their 2013 campaign with a 6-5 record, the Winona State University football team looks to bounce back with a strong 2014 season.
“It feels great to be back on the field,” head coach Tom Sawyer said. “It’s only been a couple of weeks so far but the players have a ton of energy. It’s a lot of fun to be around.”
With last season headlined by injuries, the Warriors are making an effort to have an injury-free year.
“We’re extremely healthy right now,” Sawyer said. “We’ve grown another year older, and the younger guys got more experience last season which helps a lot.”
The Warriors return 25 total starters from 2013, including sophomore quarterback Jack Nelson, who was thrown into the starting lineup after John Teigland suffered a concussion in the first game of the season.
“The biggest thing I’ve improved on is just learning the offense,” Nelson said, who posted 2,715 passing yards and 25 touchdowns last year.
“Last year I was forced into duty and had to learn the playbook right away, but I feel like I have more knowledge of the game this year,” Nelson said.
Sawyer said he expects Nelson to be a next level quarterback this season and handle the situations up front and make the necessary plays.
On the defensive end, junior inside linebacker Ian Murray said having a healthy team is a key factor for Winona State.
“We’ve got some guys back from last year including some leaders,” Murray said. “It was hard to set a tone defensively last season, but we’re definitely getting after it this year.”
Among those leaders are Morgan Weaver and Collin Corcoran, who will resume their roles as all-conference linebackers. Tyler Kubler also looks to be a major contributor to the Warrior defensive effort this season.
“We’re a pressure D team that likes to get after the quarterback every week,” Murray said. “Our goal is to be one of the top defensive teams in the conference.”
Sawyer said one thing they need to improve on as a group is late-game situations. Three of the Warriors’ five losses last season were decided by a touchdown or less, including a pair of overtime losses.
“We need to finish those close games,” Sawyer said. “We need to make the big plays down the stretch when we’re in that situation.”
As for offensive goals, Nelson said making the playoffs and scoring often are the most important.
But before the Warriors can think about the playoffs, they must focus on their first opponent, an away match up against Northern State University.
Based on what he’s seen so far in practice, Sawyer feels confident in his squad.
“We have a lot of good energy right now,” Sawyer said. “They’re coming to work everyday and spending a lot of extra time after practice which is great.”
The Warriors will start the season on the road with a 6 p.m. game on Sept. 4 in Aberdeen, S.D. against Northern State.