Manawa football team joins new conference
By Greg Seubert
It wasn’t that long ago that Brad Johnson suited up for the Manawa football team.
He’s now ready to start his first year as the program’s varsity coach and replaces Bob Sell, who coached the Wolves for seven seasons.
Besides having a new coach, the Wolves are also moving from the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference to the Central Wisconsin 10 Conference.
“We’re moving forward, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of new things going in, but these kids are working hard. It’s going to come together. The kids, the staff, the effort, the bonding, it’s coming around.”
Johnson is also Manawa’s wrestling coach, so he knows a thing or two about what it takes to oversee a program at the varsity level.
“Football hasn’t been a cakewalk,” he said. “I’m learning a lot and it takes up all my time, but it’s been fun.”
Manawa is coming off of a 4-5 season. The Wolves were 3-4 in the CWC 8 and could have wrapped up a WIAA playoff spot with a win over Iola-Scandinavia in the regular season finale, but came up short.
The Wolves and Thunderbirds will meet again at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, at Thunderbird Field in Scandinavia in the season opener for both teams.
Instead of competing in the same conference at the T-Birds, Weyauwega-Fremont, Amherst, Shiocton, Bonduel, Pacelli and Wittenberg-Birnamwood, the Wolves will join Almond-Bancroft, Wild Rose, Marion/Tigerton, Rosholt, Tri-County and Port Edwards.
“The worst part is I don’t know a lot about those programs,” Johnson said. “I can only watch film and see how good they area. Every single one of them has something they’re really, really, really good at. It doesn’t really matter how many kids you have.
“A lot of people said we’re moving down, but I think we’re moving out,” he added. “There’s going to be another conference shakeup again, so we’ll be back soon enough.”
Numbers have been a problem for the Wolves in the past, but that’s not the case this year, according to Johnson.
He expects the team’s roster to include about 45 players, which is up significantly from the 26 players the Wolves sent to last year’s preseason scrimmage at Ozaukee High School.
“It’s nice,” he said. “We actually have guys we can practice against now. They’re all getting reps and not standing on the sideline. We believe if we coach the fourth strings, it’s only going to help the first strings.”
Last year’s team only had four seniors, so the Wolves are returning several players with varsity experience.
All-conference second-teamers Luke Wilz and Hakeem Benhamadi and honorable mention players Sam Welch and Brandon Radloff have graduated, but returning players include seniors Ethan Hass, an all-conference honorable mention running back and defensive end, and Zach Kreklow, an honorable mention defensive back.
“Hass and Kreklow are big ballplayers for us, but we have a bunch of improved guys that really hit the weight room this summer,” Johnson said. “We also have a couple new transfers. Two or three of those are real players and they’re going to see time right away.”
A shortage of players meant the Wolves played several freshmen and sophomores last year.
“We actually started two freshmen and another one rotated in,” Johnson said. “Those freshmen made huge gains this offseason. I’m really looking for a lot of our underclassmen to be our rotation guys. It might not help us in week one or week two, but it’s only going to make us stronger and better.”
It won’t be long for Manawa fans to notice a major difference for the team.
“Brand new jerseys and helmets, that’ll be the first thing they notice,” Johnson said. “It’s a little spice for them and makes it fun.”
Johnson and his coaching staff have also installed a new offense.
“I came from a little different school than Bob Sell and the things he did worked for our team,” he said. “Option football is what we do. That’s what I grew up on. It makes it a lot easier.”
Although the Wolves have yet to play a game this season, Johnson is convinced his team is on the right track.
“We talk a lot about attitude, leaving everything at the door and giving everything they can on the field,” he said. “That’s what I’m seeing. They know that if they make their backup better, they’re only going to make themselves better. We’re starting to see that in our program and that’s a great thing to have.”
Manawa 2016 Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 19 – at Iola-Scandinavia, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 26 – vs. Coleman, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 2 – at Port Edwards, 4 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 – vs. Wild Rose, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16 – vs. Marion/Tigerton, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23 – at Tri-County, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30 – vs. Weyauwega-Fremont, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 7 – vs. Rosholt, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14 – at Almond-Bancroft, 7 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 22 – vs. Iola-Scandinavia, 5:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 29 – vs. Almond-Bancroft, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 6 – vs. Port Edwards, 4:30 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 12 – at Wild Rose, 6 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19 – vs. Marion/Tigerton at Marion, 6 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 3 – at Weyauwega-Fremont, 4:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 10 – at Rosholt, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1 – at Shiocton, 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 8 – at Weyauwega-Fremont, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 13 – vs. Marion/Tigerton at Tigerton, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 20 – at Amherst, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 27 – vs. Iola-Scandinavia, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 4 – vs. Bonduel, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 11 – vs. Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 4:30 p.m.