Chippewa Falls, Menomonie (WQOW) — The area has seen plenty of head coaching turnover recently in the high school football ranks, but that hasn’t been the case at two historically strong programs, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls.
Chuck Raykovich is beginning his 33rd season with the Cardinals. Last year, Chippewa Falls finished 4-5 overall, and 3-4 in the Big Rivers Conference, missing out on a WIAA playoff berth by one game. Raykovich has some key players back from the 2017 team, including senior quarterback Nolan Hutzler, who’s been starting since his sophomore season, as well as Division I recruit Rico DeLeon on the defensive line.
Overall, Raykovich likes his team’s chemistry.
"They’re smart kids, they’re very smart kids, good kids that help one another out," Raykovich says, "It’s a healthy competition but it’s helping one another out and that’s what you want. The one thing that I do like, like I said they worked hard in the offseason they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do and that’s very nice."
With ten offensive starters returning on offense, and the majority of starters returning on defense, Raykovich knows there’s no substitute for experience.
"I’ll put it to you this way, I’ve been on the other shoe, where you had nobody back and I feel more comfortable this way," says Raykovich, "every coach in the country, [it’s] the same thing, you’ve just got to get better every day, you know, you’ve got to be eligible, you’ve got to pass your classes, all the things everybody talks about, the same things we’ve talked about, we don’t have any magic."
Chippewa Falls kicks off the season on Friday, August 17, when the Cardinals host Holmen.
At Menomonie, Joe LaBuda is starting his 30th season as head coach. Last year, the Mustangs went unbeaten to win their 20th Big Rivers Conference title under LaBuda, and made their 28th straight playoff appearance. This will be one of his least experienced teams at Menomonie, with the Mustangs having graduated a 31-member senior class. Two starters return on defense, and two return on offense, including quarterback Jake Ebert.
"It helps having a quarterback that’s been under center," LaBuda says, "we didn’t have a lot of starters that were not seniors last year. You know, our thing is we just have to stack, every day we have to get better, we have to keep stacking practices because we’re so young and inexperienced, you know, we have a lot to learn in a short time."
With a youthful roster, LaBuda says the coaching staff has to adjust the way they’re approaching things at these early practices.
"We just have so much to learn, technique-wise, we’ve just got to keep getting better at technique, every day," says LaBuda, "with only one D-back and one linebacker back, that’s all we have back on defense, no D-linemen, so we have a lot to learn in a hurry. It’s a challenge, but as coaches, you have to be a little more patient, this year, it’s not that we’re not demanding, but we have to show a lot of patience as coaches as well."
Menomonie will begin its season on Thursday, August 16, when the Mustangs host Lake Mills.