Eau Claire (WQOW) — While practice began Friday at UW-Eau Claire, third-year head coach Dan Larson has brought 120 players to camp, with roughly 75 of them being either freshman or sophomores.
The Blugolds are coming off a 1-9 season where they finished at the bottom of the WIAC, but Larson says his 2017 team was improved from the previous year when they had two wins. While the veterans may have a leg up in terms of experience, the coaching staff wants competition at all positions. Especially at quarterback, where three-year starter J.T. DenHartog has moved on after earning his master’s degree leaving the starting spot open for grabs. Senior Scott Procter got some playing time the last two seasons, with fellow senior Zach Zilm also in the mix. But according to Larson, those two will be pushed by the other young quarterbacks.
"When you lose great players, it’s going to hurt every program, I’m excited to see, you know, players step up, and we got a lot of young guys that are learning that position right now, which has made practice a little uneven, but we think those guys have a lot of talent," says Larson, who is 3-17 overall in two seasons. "We’ve got two guys coming back in Scott (Procter) and Zach (Zilm), and one of those guys is going to be our starter, and the other guys are going to be preparing for their opportunity when it comes to them."
Larson says experience does matter when it comes to playing time, but the goal is to make sure the best players get on the field. There were a number of freshmen who made impacts last season, Darious Jones wound up as the second-leading receiver, while linebacker Victor Martinelli was fourth on the team in tackles.
"I mean those guys played for a reason, they came in as freshmen, took them a couple of games to get themselves going, and once they started getting some confidence they started showing what their potential was going to be," Larson says. "With the young guys coming in, it’s not their job to wait their turn until they’re juniors or seniors, they’re a part of this identity now, doesn’t matter if they’re freshmen or seniors you’ve hot to build this identity and culture that we’re trying to build our program around."
The Blugolds will have a scrimmage at Macalester College later this week. The first game of the season is set for Saturday, September 1st. when the Blugolds travel to Dubuque to play Loras College.
Also on Sunday, the WIAC head coaches and sports information directors voted on their preseason predictions for the 2018 season, and defending conference champs UW-Oshkosh were once again the picks to win the title.
UW-Stout who finished last year 5-4 and returns seven starters on offense and two on defense, was picked to finish fifth. UW-River Falls, who went 4-6 in 2017, was selected in finish sixth and UW-Eau Claire at the bottom in eighth.
For the full WIAC preseason prediction and tidbits, click here.