New football coach brings Oconto Falls optimism

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Panthers open season on road against New London

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

With bad weather forcing the team to stay indoors, Oconto Falls players watched tape during Monday’s practice. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

From the very first contact day new Oconto Falls football coach Nick Bohl worked with his players in the summer, he was preaching a team atmosphere.
He wants to make his players feel like one unit. A family.
Just two days into fall practice, Bohl’s philosophy is rubbing off on his players in a positive way.
“I think it kind of got lost in the past year or two,” said Bohl, who was a first-year assistant coach on last year’s team. “Just to come together as a team because we have about 30 individuals, sophomore to seniors, and if everybody’s going their own direction, we’re not going to get anything accomplished. If we can get all 30 going in the same direction, that when you truly start seeing that accomplishment and us reaching our goals that we set.”
It’s the seniors who have led the charge in the opening practices. They are motivated this year to make their final high school season a memorable one.
Their careers on the gridiron have been far from memorable to this point. In their first three years, the senior class – which is on its third head coach in four years — owns a 3-24 record.
Team cohesion is making all the difference this season, and it is already shining through.
“Today, coach said at the end of practice that it’s just the attitude’s different and everybody’s working together,” senior running back Kade Brabant said. “The past couple of years we kind of had our position groups and we were close to them but it wasn’t a whole team aspect. This year after running through plays, running backs come back to linemen and say, ‘Great block,’ and all that stuff. It’s really showing with communication.”
“We trust each other,” lineman Keeshawn Katers said. “When we go out there, we know that our other teammates are going to be there to make that play for us.”
It’s been a loose atmosphere at practice, too. The players are enjoying themselves, and that’s half the battle.
“I feel like we’ve grown closer,” said Dakota Carriveau, who is moving from quarterback to running back. “Everybody has a smile on their face, running around, having fun, hooting and hollering. That’s all you can ask.”
Don’t let the players’ positive attitudes completely fool you, though. Practice can be difficult and intense at times as the guys learn a new offense.
Any person on the outside who isn’t aware of the struggles the Panthers had last season wouldn’t know by the fun-loving nature of the guys. Oconto Falls went 0-9 and was outscored 432-39 in 2017.
“The senior class really kind of puts that behind them,” Bohl said. “It’s a new year. Whatever happened last year, whatever happened five years ago, whatever, it’s done with. To have the clean slate, I think they see that. The opportunities are in front of them today.”
Putting up a goose egg in the win column last year was tough. But the guys use that as extra motivation to get better and ensure not to have a repeat performance.
“You can’t dwell on it,” Brabant said. “We lost last year; we’re going to do it again. You’ve got to move past it but keep that motivation and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“It feels different this year, I’ll tell you that – just a team aspect,” Carriveau added. “You kind of want to come out every day and play.”
To help create team bonding, Bohl has been implementing activities during practice. Bohl is taking advantage of the WIAA-mandated 30-minute break period to get his upperclassmen acclimated to the underclassmen and vice versa.
“There’s activities that we are doing, getting to know each other more on that personal level instead of just you see each other in the hallway. You say hi and that’s it,” Bohl said. “We’re taking steps where we can really start to know each other on like that personal level so they can start having those conversations and start building those bonds with each other. When you’re playing on Friday night, you need to know each other inside and out and have that trust built so you know that they’re going to do their job.”
One drill is having the seniors learn players’ name from the freshmen up through the juniors. The seniors have been tested in front of their peers and have to rattle off the names.
“I struggled with that one for a bit,” Brabant joked.
However, it’s formed a tight bond.
The underclassmen look up to the seniors. It’s the older guys who have been teaching the younger kids the ropes. The younger players have shown the utmost respect for the senior class.
“Even in the other sports, those kids, they watched Kade play basketball, they watched Dakota play basketball, Keeshawn wrestled this year, and they see how hard these kids work,” Bohl said. “So, that respect is earned from the seniors because they’re just so dedicated to everything they do.”
The seniors are happy to teach the underclassmen. Those upperclassmen know just a couple years earlier they were in the same situation and using seniors to lean on is important.
“We’re just trying to bring the most leadership we can and provide these guys a good offense for hopefully many years to come,” Carriveau said.
With Oconto Falls’ first game just over a week away — at New London on Aug. 16 — the guys know they have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time.
“From a team standpoint, the continuing process of coming together as a team,” Bohl said. “We’re small in numbers, we’ll have close to about 35 sophomores to seniors, but even though we’re small in numbers when we work together we can really accomplish things that we want to accomplish and have the success we need. From an offensive and defensive standpoint, continuing to learn the offense, continuing to learn the defense and taking that step of learning each day. We’ve got to get better every single day, every single practice, every single rep.”