WINNEBAGO, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — There will be a fair amount of fresh faces on both sides of the ball for the Winnebago Indians who graduated four first team all-Big Northern Conference selections last year in Micah Gearhart, Larson Garrigan, Cole Schrank, and Gavin Larson.
“I think when you lose a core group of guys that have been four year players for you, and the character of those seniors last year, it’s hard to replace,” said head coach Mark Helm. “But it happens every year, and you’ve got to just reload with what you’ve got and move forward. And I’m excited about these guys and what they can do.”
Stepping in to help replace some of that production is utility star, senior Michael Cunningham. Who loves kicking long-range field goals just as much as he does bull dozing over a linebackers in the open field.
“I guess I’m just a versatile player,” said Cunningham. “I can do all three skills, offense, defense, and special teams. So, I guess just to have someone like that.”
He’s listed as a running back, defensive back, and kicker, but you can also add leader to that as well. As he’s been learning from the groups before him.
“When I was a freshman I just watched the senior and I’d ask them for advice, so I just try and give advice to the younger guys so that when they get up to the top they can teach the younger guys too,” Cunningham said.
The Indians have a core of juniors that will get more Varsity reps this year. Guys like quarterback Alec Weavel, and fullback and linebacker Willem Speltz are two at the top of their class.
“I mean obviously last year we had the COVID year and it was a lot of struggles trying to play through the COVID year, but I feel like it’s going to be more exciting playing nine games again instead of five,” said Speltz. “It’s a lot more excitement, a lot more opponents to face too.”
The Big Northern Conference is not shy to heavy hitters. That is something 15-year head coach Mark Helm knows, and understands for his players, it’s a quick adjustment to the different pace of play.
“Just early on how fast you can adapt to the speed of varsity football and the physicality of this league,” said Helm. “Those juniors are going to get their eyes open pretty quick to what varsity football in the big northern is like.”