Wisconsin prep football preview: New stadium, talented returnees have Superior excited to start season
At last, a home to call their own.
The Spartans have their own digs these days, NBC Spartan Sports Complex, a stone’s throw from the team’s locker room at the high school.
No more pregame walkthroughs in the school gym; no more silent bus rides or lengthy marches to Ole Haugsrud; and no more cramped training rooms doubling as locker rooms. Instead, the Spartans can walk out their back door, across a small parking lot and into their new stadium, which features artificial turf emblazoned with a giant Spartan head at midfield.
“I think one thing that everybody’s looking forward to is having a place of our own,” senior quarterback Nick Mehlum said. “That’s Superior High School’s field; it’s not UWS’.”
And it’s a beauty, with all the trappings of a modern facility.
“It’s just exciting to have one of the best complexes in the state right in our backyard, right on our campus,” Mehlum said.
Superior kicks off the season Friday at Hopkins, Minn. The stadium’s grand opening comes in Week 2, against Merrill.
In part because of its baby-blue beauty, the NBC Spartan Sports Complex has stolen the spotlight from the football team. And the Spartans figure to be pretty good in 2014.
Mehlum, one of the best quarterbacks in the area, is back to 100 percent after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in an ugly playoff loss to Hortonville. He threw for nearly 2,000 yards as a junior and ran for another 375 en route to being named the Big Rivers Conference player of the year.
The Spartans qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive season and ended the year 7-3. But it was their playoff ouster, a 47-0 shellacking, that many players carried into the offseason.
“Last year didn’t end, of course, the way we expected it to,” coach Bob DeMeyer said. “It was one of those games where a lot of things didn’t go our way and we made a lot of mistakes. The kids that have returned have learned a lot from that game, as our coaching staff has.”
While Superior returns a lot of talent, almost the entire offensive line graduated, as did dangerous running back Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate and disruptive defensive lineman Will Stream, who recorded eight sacks last fall. The Spartans will have to find suitable replacements if they are to continue their upward ascent.
“Our expectation this year is to hopefully be better than last year,” said senior wide receiver Jake Libal, one of Mehlum’s favorite targets — he caught 30 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.
His coach agreed.
“It’s always our expectation to qualify for the playoffs and make as deep of a run as we can,” DeMeyer said. “Once we’re there, it’s a new season for us. But it takes a heck of an effort every Friday night to get there.”
Superior won its first six games last fall.
All the excitement over the stadium and the team’s talent was curtailed by a shot of bad news last week when senior Nate Sanders suffered a dislocated left ankle and broken fibula during a scrimmage at Rice Lake.
Sanders was a defensive star as a junior, and DeMeyer planned to heavily incorporate the explosive athlete into the Spartans’ offense this fall. He is likely out for the season.
“It was pretty devastating, especially at the time,” DeMeyer said. “You just know how much that kid has put into it, how much he loves to play and to compete and to be with his friends, his brothers. All those emotions are running through your head.”
-- The stadium’s Aug. 29 grand opening starts with a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony and a boys soccer game against Osceola slated for 2 p.m. The gates open for the football game at 4:15 p.m., with self-guided tours available until 5:45 p.m. Just before the 7 p.m. kickoff, the field formally will be dedicated. Fireworks will follow.
Tickets for the football game are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and free for children (kindergarten and younger). They will be pre-sold from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 28 and 7:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 29 at the high school, in Office B-1 through door 11.
Northwestern looks to bounce back A fast start turned to a slow fade for Northwestern in 2013.
The Tigers won four of their first five games before ending the year on a four-game skid to finish an uncharacteristic 4-5. Too much youth, along with a philosophical shift on offense — transitioning full-time to a read-option attack — were partly to blame.
“We had an extremely young team last year,” coach Dennis Scherz said. “The first part of our season, we knew we’d be OK because we were facing some opposition that I didn’t think was that strong.”
Scherz returns five starters on both sides of the ball, a list headlined by junior running back Nate Pearson. A 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore, Pearson should only get better with another year of experience under his belt. A sturdy 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame won’t hurt.
“He’s bigger and stronger,” Scherz said. “A big, athletic kid.”
Northwestern opens at home against Ashland on Friday.
Scherz said his offensive linemen, for so long the catalyst behind the Tigers’ dominance, average about 275 pounds. Included in that group are seniors Logan Moreau and Lucas Masterson and sophomore Alex Tecker, all three of whom play along the offensive and defensive lines.
Senior Micah Goetsch will share some of the ball-carrying duties with Pearson while also playing middle linebacker for a team Scherz says has the potential to surprise people.
-- Bill Blake replaces Josh Miller as head coach in Ashland. Blake is charged with jumpstarting the Oredockers, who were shut out of the win column in 2013. Ashland has only three victories the past four seasons.