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With foundation set, EPC football program looks to build in 2013

Elmwood/Plum City's D.J. Wheeler is one of many returning linemen.

ELMWOOD - While wins and losses were important for the Elmwood/Plum City prep football cooperative last fall in its very first season of action, so was the "getting-to-know-you" phase also.

When two high schools who have been traditional rivals on the gridiron join together for the first time to form a new program, the construction process takes a while.

"It takes time to get to know people," EPC head coach Jerry Hannack said. "But I believe we're past that stage now. And I can't say enough time how outstanding both communities, the parents, players and coaches were in helping us put together a great foundation for our program and I can't thank them enough either."

With the introductions out of the way and new nickname for the program finally picked (The EPC Wolves), getting down to the business of football can commence. The Wolves are hungry to improve upon a 3-6 campaign (3-3 in the South Lakeland Conference). EPC made the playoffs but it ended abruptly with a loss to Alma/Pepin in Level 1. Seven players from that squad who made all-conference have all graduated including quarterback Tom LaFlex, lineman Brady Myer, Seth Jones, Kyle Webb, Eli Fredrickson, David Rhy and Logan Wolf along with fellow seniors Tyler Niebur, Josh Wells, Pat Weix, Jordan Gilles and Nick Larson.

“It was disappointing because we felt we could have done better with the talent we had,” Hannack said. “Injuries affected us and we had some close losses too, but we just never jelled as a team and we have to change that for this season to be better.”

A good place to start will be up front and Hannack believes a deep and experienced group of linemen on offense and defense will do a lot to make 2013 a good second season of EPC football. This group includes seniors like Tanner Anderson, D.J. Wheeler, Brett Caturia, Matt Hill, Roger Connell, Mark Anderson, Zak Joyce and juniors Jake Ingli, Dylan Hovland, Nick Bechel, Chris Longsdorf, and John Hendon along with sophomore Trevor Maxwell. With a roster approaching 50 players 9-12, there’s enough depth on the line for players to possibly go just one way.

“We just got by last year with our lines but this season I believe we’ll be a lot better,” Hannack said. “There’s a lot of experience and the kids got a lot stronger in the offseason. I think we’re going to be solid all the way across.”

EPC lost a lot of skill position players from a year ago but they’re not devoid of experience in those areas either. Junior Levi Wolf has taken plenty of snaps as a varsity quarterback, seniors Colin Arneson, Bryce Bock and juniors Martin Nunez had varsity carries as running backs and back as wide outs are lettermen like juniors Alex Boyer and Austin Coss and seniors Tyler Freyholtz and Kasey Krueger.

The difference from last fall to this upcoming one for EPC is going to be finishing games and hopefully doing so in the win column, according to Hannack. This is especially true now that the South Lakeland Conference looks to be an improved league with Clayton, Turtle Lake, Alma/Pepin, and Clear Lake all returning all-conference personnel and new programs in Shell Lake and Cornell/Lake Holcombe joining up.

“The league just got a lot stronger in the offseason and that means we have to make the plays which are the difference between winning and losing ballgames,” Hannack said. “Those don’t come by accident and I feel we have the team leadership along with the work the kids did in the offseason in conditioning and strength training to get the job done.”

EPC will have step just by virtue of tough early schedule which has them at perennial playoff team Frederic to open the season Friday, then rival Spring Valley, then Clear Lake. EPC also closes tough at Clayton and Alma/Pepin. EPC’s two Homecomings this fall will be vs. St. Croix Falls (Plum City) and Lake Holcombe/Cornell (Elmwood) in back-to-back weeks.