Menomonie (WQOW) — The UW-Stout football team went 5-4 in 2017, the most wins in a season for the Blue Devils since the 2011 squad finished with a 5-5 mark.
One major highlight last year was a win over St. Thomas (MN), which was ranked fourth in Division III at the time. UW-Stout’s four losses were all to WIAC opponents, and three of those were one or two score games.
The Blue Devils graduated a 24-member senior class, but plenty of talent returns for 9th-year head coach Clayt Birmingham, especially on offense, a unit that averaged 321 yards/game in 2017. Multiple starters are back along the line and in the backfield, including Jay Alston, a 2-year starter at quarterback.
"I think our strength is obviously our O-line, when you return four of the five it’s a strength, so we feel very pleased with them," says Birmingham. "[Two] Quarterbacks are coming back, the whole backfield’s back. We did lose some receivers, I really like how our young guys are filling in there, we’ve got a couple transfers that will step up as well, and hopefully we can build on what we did last year."
"You know, we just have to limit the turnovers, that starts with me, and if we get over that, we’ll get over the hump and we’ll win those close games," says Alston, "when we can be disciplined enough to handle that, then things will go our way."
On defense, UW-Stout returns just two starters from a unit that allowed an average of just 18 points/game and 290 yards of total offense/game. The good news, those two starters (safety Levi Wolf, linebacker Luke Wilz) were among the team’s top five tacklers in 2017. Wolf also tied for the WIAC lead with five interceptions.
"It’s huge that a lot of guys got some playing time last year in certain packages" says Wolf, a second-team All-WIAC safety in 2017, "and a lot of the young guys are stepping up great and looking to have a really good year on defense. We’re just a hard-nosed defense, like to be as physical as we can, swarm the ball as much as possible."
"Last year we did have a lot of depth on defense so young guys got to play, so we did have some game-time experience, which is needed," Birmingham says, "so we feel good, we’re just not quite as deep as we were, so we’ve got to be smart with it, keep our guys healthy like everybody else in this league, and play with the best players."
UW-Stout kicks off the 2018 season on September 1, when the Blue Devils visit St. John’s (MN).