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UWRF FOOTBALL: Falcons mine the local area for recruits

Anthony Ebensperger gets corralled after catching a pass against Spring Valley. The Plum City graduate said he was excited for the challenge associated with playing at UW-River Falls next fall. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia

The UW-River Falls football team produced one of its best seasons in years in 2016.

The Falcon coaching staff has recruited the local area heavily in the off-season to make sure that progress continues.

Falcon head coach Matt Walker said the team has 55 recruits coming in this fall to join the team’s ranks. Among those recruits are 18 from western Wisconsin high schools. Prescott graduate Jake Block and Plum City graduate Anthony Ebensperger fit that description and both are headed to River Falls this fall.

“One of our goals when I got here was to win our backyard, to see the core of our team be local,” Walker said.

Walker is entering his seventh season as the Falcons’ head coach. Last season was the Falcons’ best under Walker, finishing alone in fourth place in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings.

Walker said the momentum built by the Falcons last season carried into the off-season, with more and more recruits recognizing that the Falcons are heading in a positive direction.

Block is one of those recruits that sees something different about the program.

“I live so close to River Falls, so I have actually seen it,” Block said. “The change in the culture there and the attitude of the program itself really attracted me.

“They’re developing a winning culture. It’s an expectation to compete for the top spot in the conference now.”

And that’s paying off for Walker.

“This is as exciting of a time as we’ve had here in a long time,” Walker said. “It’s the most talented team we’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s the best recruiting class we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”

The recruiting class consists mainly of incoming freshmen, along with a handful of transfer students. Walker said the transfer who is being counted upon to make an immediate impact is Somerset graduate Max Praschak, who played for Wisconsin last fall.

“We graduated our mike linebacker,” Walker said. “(Praschak) helps us with an immediate need.”

Walker said this year’s recruiting class “got bigger than we had ever dreamed.” Upgraded athletic facilities at UW-River Falls have helped in the recruiting process.

Ebensperger, who was selected to compete in the WFCA all-star game, said the facilities were an added bonus in making his decision.

The two high school conferences closest to River Falls, the Big Rivers Conference and the Middle Border Conference, both figure prominently in this year’s recruiting class. There are six former BRC players on the recruit list, including Jack Berg, Devon Daulton and Trevor Reimer of Hudson and Matt Wachtler of River Falls.

The recruiting class includes eight players from the MBC. Praschak represents Somerset, as do Charlie Belisle and Jackson Struemke. Incoming freshmen Tom McKinney and Brandon Powers arrive from New Richmond, as does transfer student Bailey Germain.

Don’t expect to see many of these freshmen immediately figure into the on-field plans for the Falcons. Walker said Praschak is the only recruit who is penciled in to see playing time at the beginning of the season.

“We’re to the point where we don’t have to rely on incoming freshmen,” Walker said. “Our numbers are up. Our talent is up. We don’t have an immediate need anywhere.”

Ebensperger said he understood the learning curve to be prepared to make it on the field for the Falcons.

“I expect to be a part of the team but sit for the first couple of years and then start to make an impact my third year,” Ebensperger said. “I know the challenge will be extremely challenging, but I look forward to it.”