After the football team won its first national championship in 2007, it was handed the task of replacing 15 starters and 24 seniors its next season.
Three years later and after back-to-back titles, the outlook looks the same for the Warhawks as it did in 2008, as 17 seniors have departed, 13 of them starters.
Replacing those starters has become the biggest goals for the team this season, and some of the search has already begun as the ’Hawks have been entrenched in spring practice since April 6.
Starting quarterback Matt Blanchard, who was named first-team all-WIAC in 2010, said spring practices are a great time for every player to hone his skills.
For a player like Blanchard, it’s a great time to learn the ins-and-outs of a new class of wide receivers and get used to throwing behind an offensive line with four new starters.
“Overall, spring ball is used for working on technique,” Blanchard said. “We really want to tighten up everything and since we lost so many guys from last fall, this is the time where new guys step into the limelight.”
Despite missing all five of the ’Hawks’ playoff games with a broken right thumb, Blanchard said his health is intact. In fact, he has been fully healed since the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl was over.
“I haven’t had any problems with it,” Blanchard said.
Not only will the loss of All-American offensive lineman Mark Gawronski, Robbie Ustruck and Matt Weber affect Blanchard and the throwing game, it could hamper the reigning Division III Offensive Player of the Year, senior running back Levell Coppage.
Coppage, who ran for 2,167 yards and 25 touchdowns a season ago, said replacing the group of lineman he lost is going to be very tough, because he’s been with them since his freshman season in 2008.
“I think the guys that are in their spots right now are doing a great job with it,” Coppage said. “They know how hard they have to work, because nothing is going to be given to us ever.”
Despite all of the losses, Coppage said the team has the look of the 2008 team that went 13-2 and made another trip to the Stagg Bowl.
“I see the teams as the same but it’s going to be a different role for me,” Coppage said. “Now I have to lead.”