Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Numbers up in Oregon with excitement of new coach coming in

A telling sign of today’s economy and how it translates to the Oregon Hawk football program is a shortage of helmets.

“It’s good problem to have,” new Oregon coach Broc Kundert said. “If we run out and can’t buy any, we’ll figure out a way to get some.”

Compared with numbers in the 50s the past few years, Kundert expects to have 75 kids out when practice officially starts Monday.

“I’ve felt good about summer camp,” Kundert said. “The lowest numbers we’ve had so far is 60, and we have been getting more kids that have never played before.”

Kundert is quickly developing a reputation as a player’s coach.

“The players are talking to guys, and we’re getting more out,” lineman Evan Flaharty said. “The more players we have, the more energy and enthusiasm on the practice field. Lots of team bonding.”

Anchoring the line with the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Flaharty will be 6-0, 250-pound Jon Alaniz. Both are seniors and part of a group that mostly weighs more than 235 pounds.

“Coach definitely has a personality,” Alaniz said. “With a new coach and new system, there’s more interest. Day to day, things are starting to build.”

That’s Kundert’s No. 1 objective.

“The main thing is to get the numbers up first,” he said. “They’ve been beat up for so long, we have to give them a sense of confidence. It’s a challenge, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I want to make it fun to be in the weight room.”

Kundert, a 2007 graduate of Freeport, went on to play middle linebacker – at 5-foot-7 – for Wisconsin-Platteville during the era of former Hawks standouts Ryan McWethy and Brian Snyder. After that, it was back to Freeport, where he eventually became defensive coordinator. The past four years were spent as head coach at Aquin, where his team was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 1A in the 2020-21 COVID-19 season – its last season as an 11-man program.

Aquin was noted for its high-scoring spread offense, whereas Oregon has been ground-and-pound.

Will there be a happy medium as the new coach meets an entrenched program that has struggled with its passing attack?

“It may look a little different from years past, but we will try to balance 50/50 run-pass,” said Kundert, preferring not give much of his offensive scheme away before opening at home Aug. 26 against Dixon, a team it never has beaten in league play.

Another major difference in the 2022 squad compared with years past will be an extensive use of sophomores compared with the decades-long practice of primarily juniors and seniors.

“We want to build on their 7-2 [freshman] record. It’s a good group with over 30 kids,” Kundert said. “The sophomores we bring up will be starting for us and not playing JV.”

That freshman group ended its year beating Byron and Dixon in a jamboree after losing to them earlier in the season. They also have a lot of size and a quarterback in Jack Washburn who will contend for the starting nod.

One sophomore who already is penciled in as a starter is Josh Crandall, a 6-3, 190-pound end, the last of three football-playing brothers and potential college prospect.

Oregon will be young at the skilled positions, but has senior Gabe Eckerd returning as running back. Kundert sees him and junior Trevor Burkhart getting a lot of carries.

“Gabe will also be our leader on defense at inside linebacker,” Kundert said. “I like the play of Griffin Marlatt at corner and as receiver.”

Oregon wrapped up its camp with a 7-on-7 against Byron after facing off against Durand-Pecatonica and West Carroll in previous days. Assisting Kundert will be David Boyer as offensive coordinator and John Bothe as line coach.

Kundert will concentrate on the defense.

“The defense will run to the ball well, and on offense, our young skill players will grow into it,” he said.

Oregon has not won more than three games since 2014, its last playoff team. Could this be the year the Hawks make a move toward a winning record?

“It’s time to stop getting beat up and start taking it to them,” Alaniz said.