A year ago, the Rockford football team was in a much different place. And it wasn’t good.
When August practices started in 2018, the Warriors were coming off of an 0-9 season, and expectations were low. New head coach Torian Wolf saw that and began work on turning around the team’s culture, which he said had turned sour.
“When they’re in school, they’re hearing ‘Oh this is going to be another losing season, why do you guys even go to practice, you’re going to lose,’” Wolf said. “When we came to practice, we talked about how the expectations are only here on this field. That is all that matters. We’re going to build the expectations here, and we’re going to expect greatness.”
What they did was create one of the best stories in North Iowa football. After going win-less in 2017, the Warriors went 11-2 and made it all the way to the state championship game, which they lost to New London, 55-14.
Despite the loss, the Warriors succeeded in turning around their culture, and rallied the town behind them.
“It was a shock, in a good way,” Wolf said. “The ripple effect that we saw. If you came to our first game, and then you came to the state championship game and you saw how many people showed up for that, it was crazy to see the ripple effect through the community. It was just an amazing thing.”
The team won its first postseason game in program history with its win against Turkey Valley. With the year that the team had, it was tough to get blown out in the championship game. Though they were thrilled to get that far, the loss left a bitter taste in their mouth.
“Everybody was proud of us, and we were proud of each other, that we made it that far,” senior Brett Hanson said. “But at the same time it was heartbreaking, because we were this close.”
Now, with their memorable year in the rear view mirror, the Warriors have some work to do. They come into the season with a new quarterback and new players at every skill position on both offense and defense.
New starting quarterback Will Bushbaum got a few snaps last season, and has seen the team shift to a more positive and uplifting atmosphere since Wolf took over the team.
“The coaching is the biggest difference,” Bushbaum said. “It was a different atmosphere, and we had really good leaders. All we had last year was seniors.”
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Bushbaum is a different quarterback than last year’s QB Jacob Staudt. As such, the offense will undergo some changes this year.
“We’re going to be more diverse than last year,” Wolf said. “Last year, we were probably 90 percent run with Jake and how good of a runner he was. When we passed, we kind of surprised people.”
“We’re going to keep defensive coordinators and the defense on their toes this year," Wolf continued. "You’re never going to know what we’re going to do. We’re going to be able to do both aspects of the game pretty darn good.”
One unique thing about the Warriors is letting their quarterback get hit in practice. On Tuesday, the team ran full-contact drills on their practice field, and Bushbaum, clad in the quarterback’s bright red practice jersey, was as involved as anyone.
It all stems from Wolf’s mantra of toughness. He likes full-contact practices, something that you don’t see much these days.
“I don’t think there are too many coaches these days that really like a whole lot of contact at their practices,” Wolf said. “That is something that we like to do because we like to bring the intensity. When we know its full contact at practice, the kids have to step up, and they have to be dudes.”
“The quarterback is going to get hit Friday night, so why not let him get hit during practice?”
With mostly new starters, there will be adjustments to make, and bumps to overcome. But regardless, Wolf’s expectations remain high.
“We’re not going to get to the state championship week one,” Wolf said. “We’re going to go week by week, and we expect greatness each and every week, and each and every day in practice. That is the expectation, that we walk off this season with a state championship.”