When Bishop Garrigan opened this football season, it did so with a wealth of unknowns.
A season after making it to the Class A state title game, the Golden Bears had to almost completely re-tool their roster with a boat load of seniors departed. Coming into camp, Garrigan returned just three two-way starters, plus quarterback Brad Capesius. After that, coach Marty Wadle and the Golden Bears had to rely on the development in the lower levels to get them back to playing at a high level.
They also had that trip to the UNI-Dome to hang their hats on and provide a goal to reach again.
“I think that helps a lot seeing what they did last year and knowing that they have the ability to play in the semifinals and the finals. There’s no way it can hurt,” Wadle said. “We’ve won a heck of a lot of football games since I’ve been here – way more than we’ve lost – so that helps, too.”
When it got down to it this year, Wadle said the group had its sights set on carrying on the Garrigan tradition. So far, even with all the new faces, they’ve done that to perfection, at least in the wins-losses column as far as Wadle is concerned.
The fifth-ranked Golden Bears are 6-0 overall and lead Class A, District 2 with a 4-0 record.
They’ve done so with Capesius’ experience leading the offense, with an all-state defensive lineman in Drake Buscherfeld leading a stout defense, and with a running back who had never had a varsity carry prior to this season in Drew Bacha.
“I think we’ve been pretty fortunate,” Wadle said. “No. 1, we’ve stayed pretty healthy, and the kids now know what to expect and know what they have to do week in and week out to win football games. We’re still trying to fill holes, but we keep telling the kids every week that we have to keep getting better.”
Capesuis has been the steadying presence on offense, even as a quiet leader, according to Wadle. In the Golden Bears’ option offense, Capesius is second on the team in rushing 308 yards and a touchdown, and has 394 yards and six TDs through the air.
It’s the pieces around him which have changed, and maybe nobody has taken a bigger leap – in terms of what he’s put out on the football field and the position he was put in to – than Bacha.
The senior was a role player for the Golden Bears’ defense a year ago, and had never carried the ball on varsity prior to this season. In light of that, he’s turned into Garrigan’s work horse with a team-best 640 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bacha is exactly the kind of player Wadle has always cherished within the program.
“He’s one of those kids we really kind of pride ourselves on – a four-year player and one developing from freshman to senior year,” Wadle said. “I can’t tell you how many kids like Drew we’ve had here. He was really a role player last year, and he’s stepped into a big role running the ball for us and has done a great job.”
It's taken a team full of players like Bacha to get the Golden Bears to this point.
But there’s always been one constant on Wadle’s Garrigan teams and that’s the play of the defense.
Through six games, opponents are averaging just over five points per game against the Golden Bears. Buscherfeld, a senior, has continued to exemplify the kind of players Wadle likes on that side of the ball.
“We’ve played him a little all over,” Wadle said. “He played linebacker the first couple of weeks then we moved him back down and is now playing a little bit of defensive end. He wants to play defense and he’s great on defense.”
The next two weeks for Garrigan will define its regular season.
The Golden Bears host Ridge View on Friday and is at Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn the following week. Both teams are tied for second in the district at 3-1.
“We’re focused on improvement and to keep getting better up front on offense and defense,” Wadle said. “But we just have to take care of this week first, and then worry about the rest later.”