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'It's a learning curve': Calvin Zenz has brought his spread offense to Reedsburg football, kicking off a new era
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'It's a learning curve': Calvin Zenz has brought his spread offense to Reedsburg football, kicking off a new era

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Reedsburg’s football players spent the early days of the 2021 season working on handoffs, body positioning and route running.

While some of the fundamental work may have felt like overkill, Calvin Zenz didn’t have much choice. The new Reedsburg coach is retiring the Beavers’ traditional flexbone triple-option offense in favor of a more open, spread attack.

That systemic shift requires the returning Beavers to rethink the way they operate on the field — from running the offense out of shotgun to going to the air more.

Take the wide receivers, for example:

“Our wide receivers haven’t even practiced blocking yet,” Zenz said. “They used to only practicing blocking. They like that change, but the skills involved with catching the ball and running routes, the finer points of running routes, they’re starting to be like, ‘I didn’t realize it was this complicated.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, throwing the ball is not easy.’”

Reedsburg’s goal is to make a complicated passing game feel natural.

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“It’s been a complete from-the-ground-up sort of deal,” Zenz said. “To the point where some things you maybe kind of take for granted, we’re having to teach our varsity guys. Just because they’re not used to being in those situations. There’s a big difference between catching a snap and doing a handoff, and getting a snap under center and doing that. Even that transition has been pretty interesting.”

The system change is particularly interesting in Reedsburg, which ran its triple-option attack for 14 seasons under Brian Pottinger. After Pottinger resigned following the 2020 season, interim co-head coaches Quinn Hobbs and Mike Riberich kept the offense while the Beavers went 2-5 and scored 17.9 points per game in the fall of 2020.

Zenz spent the past year much differently.

He sat out the fall before coaching Columbus — where his spread offense produced 36.2 points per game — to a 5-1 record during the WIAA’s alternate fall season in the spring. Columbus’ season finished with a 42-6 win at New Glarus/Monticello on April 30. A couple weeks later, Zenz accepted the Reedsburg job.

He watched the Beavers’ 2020 games on YouTube and reviewed some of the players’ highlight tapes, but he didn’t have too much time to lay the program’s foundation. Therefore, Zenz is still getting to know exactly what he’s got in Reedsburg, and what it will take to build up the program.

He’s started from the bottom floor before. Columbus went 11-1 under Scott Hilber in 2016, when Zenz was an offensive coordinator, but the Cardinals went just 2-7 in 2017 and 1-8 in 2018, Zenz’s first two years as head coach.

The switch flipped in 2019 as the Cardinals went 6-4 to build up momentum for 2020. Despite waiting seven months to kick off, Columbus finished the spring ranked ninth among medium-sized schools in the final WisSports.net coaches’ football poll.

Three months later, Zenz is back at square one with the Beavers.

“It’s wide open right now,” Zenz said of Reedsburg’s position battles during the first week of practice. “It’s such a drastic change. Some guys look good one minute and then the next minute you’re like … it’s a learning curve.”

But Zenz likes his new crop of players, which includes returning playmakers Bryant Yanke, Jack Campbell, Caden Brandt, Brady Mikonowicz and Griffin Elder. From watching their work ethic and attention level at practice, Zenz believes the Beavers are more than up for the challenge of learning a new offensive system.

“They’ve been great,” Zenz said. “They’re eager, they want to learn, they want to get better and they want to be good. That’s all been good. It’s exciting. We don’t have any issues with that.”A number of seniors have adopted leadership roles throughout the summer. Zenz said Campbell, Yanke and Ephraim Albers are among the seniors that have helped the Beavers, who graduated 21 players in the class of 2021, prepare for Friday’s season opener against Evansville.

“We’ve talked a lot about leadership, and they’ve done a really nice job learning the things we’re trying to do to build the culture we need to build a winning program on a yearly basis, not once in a while,” Zenz said. “These guys have high goals and expectations, and we’re pushing them to those goals and expectations.”

 

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