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Varsity football returns to Wrenshall

WRENSHALL - For Derek Duncan, there's nothing much better than strapping on his pads, lacing up his spikes and putting on his helmet to go play football on a Friday night in Wrenshall.

Jeremy Zywicki
Like he does every so often, Wrenshall football coach Jeremy Zywicki fills in as quarterback during Friday's practice. Zywicki is now in his fourth year coaching Wrens football, a program that is returning to varsity for the first time in two seasons. Wrenshall will open up play Friday, Sept. 1, on the road in Onamia. Tyler Korby/Pine Journal

WRENSHALL - For Derek Duncan, there's nothing much better than strapping on his pads, lacing up his spikes and putting on his helmet to go play football on a Friday night in Wrenshall.

"It's the best feeling in the world," said the junior. "I just love it."

In Wrenshall, Friday night football is back.

For the past few seasons, everything from a shortened list of numbers to a lack of experience caused the Wrens to struggle, forfeit a season and finally, last year, to play junior varsity games in the afternoon rather than varsity.

"It was tough," said Duncan. "It's not the same going out and playing in the afternoon. Playing at night is way better. I think a lot of people around here are looking forward to this."

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The Wrens are moving back up to varsity nine-man football. And after nearly two weeks of tough practices, coach Jeremy Zywicki likes what he sees in his strapping bunch.

"They're here every day working hard and supporting each other," said the fourth-year coach, who also teaches physical education and health at Wrenshall. "We're getting kids back, we're getting kids excited and we're getting kids out and ready for football."

Zywicki said that in his first year in 2008, only 13 players were on the team. With some calling it quits the following season, the program was forced to forfeit in 2009, and went to junior varsity in 2010.

Zywicki said playing JV was important.

"We just had too many guys that were too young and inexperienced for the varsity level," said Zywicki, who is assisted by Joel Swanson. "But these kids have been doing everything they can to succeed."

Last year their hard work paid off. Wrenshall was a junior varsity juggernaut among the list of teams they played, as they posted a solid 5-1 winning record, with their only loss coming against rival McGregor the first week of the season.

This fall, more kids came out to play.

"We have 22 kids out for the team," Zywicki said. "That's the highest we've ever had in my time here. Last year, we had about 15 or 16 players."

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But even the players know varsity is a whole different world.

"It'll be a big adjustment, since the varsity game is a lot faster," said junior Matt O'Connor. "People are bigger, faster and stronger."

However, don't sleep on the overlooked Wrens. O'Connor and Duncan, along with Jack Dolter and Dominic Pavlich all head up a deep junior class, while sophomore quarterback Dustin Shelton will also provide leadership.

According to Dolter, who will be moving from quarterback to wingback this fall, things are going smoothly thus far.

"We're pretty athletic; we're a fast, quick team," said Dolter, who - along with most teammates - plays both offense and defense. "We'll be good, but we need to be more aggressive, pick up the intensity and continue to work hard."

Hard work is what the Wrens pride themselves on. Zywicki noted last Friday that his bunch finished stronger at the end of practice than when they started. If they want to be competitive, they have to continue that grind.

"They're trying to get better every day," said Zywicki, who played quarterback at Proctor from 1992-95. "That's why they're here."

At the end of practice last Friday, Zywicki even played quarterback.

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"We're a small school, so it's something I've kind of gotten used to," he said with a laugh.

And although Zywicki is too old to lace up his spikes again come game time, he's confident in his boys' chances when they open up at Onamia to kick off their nine-man season Friday, Sept. 1.

"These are some committed and dedicated individuals," Zywicki said. "It's going to be tough here the first couple games, but once we get things panned out, hopefully we can roll from there."

Playing in the Great Northern Conference, the Wrens will even get a shot at the defending nine-man state champs Cromwell-Wright in October.

"That's a big opportunity for us," Zywicki said. "I believe we're here the last game of the year. It's a big test and we're looking forward to it."

They're looking forward to everything this fall.

Related Topics: FOOTBALLWRENSHALL
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