New attitude suits line

Published 8:52 am Friday, November 7, 2008

After three weeks of football the Alden-Conger offensive and defensive line needed a different approach.

The lines hadn’t performed up to their capabilities in the three previous games in spite of a 2-1 start for the Knights and it was time for a readjustment.

Enter Gary Newman.

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Newman hadn’t been around the game of football since he stepped down as a coach at Alden-Conger 14 years ago and his impact was noticed almost immediately.

Newman started volunteering his time after Alden-Conger defeated Truman 44-13 in week three. While the win was good for the Knights there was work to be done to make the team better.

“We needed something different at that time, we were struggling and so we went out to ask him to help out,” said Knights head coach Chad Mattson. “The kids really like him out here. He just brings a different aspect to the game and a different sort of attitude.”

Mattson said Newman brought an old school approach to the game and his area of coaching has always involved working with the lines.

“I don’t think they were really focused,” Newman said. “I tried to tell them, ‘You’re the ones this whole ball game is going to depend on. You’re the ones that are going to open the holes on offense.’”

Newman’s method coupled with team building activities like late night trips to Perkins made the units tighter and more effective as time went on.

Newman said he’s a taken a more direct approach with the line.

“I wasn’t bashful about coming in and getting after them,” he said. “They responded, they really did.”

The offensive line, made up of senior Dan Opseth, senior Spencer Niebuhr, junior Brandon McTague, junior Wesley Thostenson, junior Derek Thostenson and senior Nick Wach, came back the next week and knocked off an undefeated Hills-Beaver Creek/Ellsworth team 14-6 with a fourth quarter drive.

“The last three minutes of the game we marched the ball right down the field and scored,” said Niebuhr the team’s center and defensive tackle.

It was a big victory for Alden-Conger and Newman said he didn’t realize its importance immediately.

“I didn’t realize how big of game that was until it was over,” Newman said. “I hadn’t been paying much attention besides going out and getting the job done. I was more focused on getting these guys ready to play football.”

And with that understated attitude the line became stronger as the weeks went on, eventually adopting Newman’s approach.

“He gave us the new motto, ‘It’s all a mind game, if you tell yourself you won’t be blocked and that you will block everybody, that’s just the way it’s going to happen,’” said Opseth, the defensive and offensive tackle.

After 14 years away Newman hasn’t lost any intensity.

“There’s no such thing as quit and that’s what you have to instill in these kids,” Newman said before he yelled “Hit ’em” during a punt return at practice Thursday. “If you can show it and it works, your job is a lot easier.”

It’s worked well so far. Against Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Opseth and company gave quarterback Lucas Kleinschrodt plenty of time to find open receivers. Kleinschrodt had one of his best games of the season, finishing 12-for-18 with 196 yards.

Giving Kleinschrodt time in the pocket will be critical Friday night for the Knights (7-3) in their Nine-man state quarterfinal game against Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley at Southwest State University. The Wolverines are 11-0 and have a defense that has limited its last opponent to just 115 yards of total offense.

“I think that’s going to be the key for us, if Lucas can open it up and complete some passes and then they’ll have to back off a little,” Mattson said. “They’re a very aggressive defense, they come at you.”

Mattson is fortunate to have an experienced line. All of the starters have at least two years of experience with Opseth and Niebuhr having three years each.

The defensive line will be expected to control the power running game of C-G-B. Two weeks ago against Hills-Beaver Creek/Ellsworth the Wolverines rushed the ball for 69 plays, Mattson said.

“Our defensive pressure and penetration up front is going to be the biggest thing to stop them,” Mattson said.

The line has a bit of a chip on its shoulders as well, going into the team’s first quarterfinal game in10 years, as they feel many wrote them off at the beginning of the year.

“This game is critical because we have to prove to them that our section wasn’t that easy — we are a good team,” Opseth said. “Having that in your head makes you really want to push harder because you want to prove people that they are wrong.”