‘Hawks ready for new start

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September 3, 2015 By Andrea Sidlauskas

When former Warhawks football coach Lance Leipold left his dynasty in Whitewater to pursue a Division I coaching position at the University of Buffalo, he invited several members of his coaching staff to accompany him, including former defensive assistant Kevin Bullis.

Bullis passed up the opportunity in order to remain in D-III, which is where he said he always envisioned himself, and in January 2015 he was named the 21st head coach in program history.

“When I made the decision to not go with [Leipold], my first thought was, ‘Wow, how do you fill Lance’s shoes?’” Bullis said. “Within minutes, though, I’m sitting there going, ‘Wait a second. That was never our perspective. Our perspective was never to go and win national championships.  The national championships were byproduct of what we focused on. We didn’t concentrate on national championships; we didn’t concentrate on WIAC championships. What we did concentrate on was getting better every day.”’

In addition to the loss of Leipold, the ’Hawks graduated 11 starting seniors from last year’s squad – including quarterback Matt Behrendt, who recently signed with the Green Bay Blizzard of the Indoor Football League; former wide receiver Jake Kumerow, who signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals; and former defensive back Brady Grayvold, who was invited to participate at the Minnesota Vikings’ mini-camp.

Enter Bullis, who served under Leipold for the past seven seasons, to keep the Warhawk football traditions alive as he begins his first year as head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” senior wide receiver Joe Worth said. “He’s been in the program for a while, so he knows how we do it in Whitewater. The only thing that’s different is new faces and new coaches.”

Those new faces include Rob Erickson who is the assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Craig Smith is the new offensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Despite the additions to the coaching staff, senior defensive back Ryan Winske said many things have remained unchanged.

“Each coach has their own ideals, but all the values, the core, the pillars of what Warhawk football is all about – all that is still the same,” Winske said. “The biggest transition for the coaches on board is just terminology. Otherwise, it just feels like another year at Warhawk football.”

Heading into the 2015 season, the ’Hawks are ranked No. 1 in the D3Football.com Preseason Top 25 poll and are preseason favorites to win the WIAC championship. They currently hold the sixth-longest win streak in college football history at 32 games and have won six of the last eight NCAA D-III national titles.

The ’Hawks return seven starters each on offense and defense, which Bullis said was an immense relief.

“That senior class is twenty-some guys, and a lot of them are part of that seven and seven on each side of the ball,” Bullis said. “That allows you to have confidence in maintaining your systems when you have that many seniors and that many returning starters on the offensive side and on the defensive side.”

Offensively, the ’Hawks return a strong group of running backs, including seniors Dennis Moore, Nick Patterson and Jordan Ratliffe, who combined for a total of 2,644 yards in 2014.

“I almost feel selfish,” Bullis said of his backfield. “That’s a heck of a crew, and we’re really excited about them.”

The receiving corps was a group that Bullis said caused concern for the coaching staff due to the loss of several key players, but has shown significant improvement.

“You’re never going to replace Jake Kumerow,” Bullis said. “What you do is find ways to have successes within your whole group. Then, ultimately, the responsibility relies upon our whole receiving crew. This fall we’re feeling very good about the wide receiver position. We’re feeling like the pieces of the puzzle are starting to show themselves.”

Junior Chris Nelson will step in at quarterback after sitting behind Behrendt for two seasons.

“I think he’s ready for this year,” Worth said. “He knows the offense like the back of his hand. He’s a confident guy, and he’s also athletic.”

Defensively, most of the losses come in the secondary, but Bullis said he feels especially excited about the front seven – the linebackers and defensive linemen.

“A few years ago, our linebacking corps was a lot of young guys,” Winske said. “They were kind of the question mark, but they did a great job, and now they’re kind of like the anchor on our defense. All the guys [in the secondary] are extremely athletic; I have complete faith in all of them.”

The defensive unit is led by senior linebacker Justin Dischler, who accumulated a team-best 93 tackles, while adding seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season.

The kicking game returns junior Lake Bachar and sophomore Will Meyer.

“There’s a respect for the history and the traditions and the systems that we have here,” Bullis said. “One of the other traditions is that we’re never stagnant. We’re never status quo. That doesn’t mean I’m revamping the whole system, but we’re always looking to make the systems a little bit better, we’re always finding a more efficient, productive way to do those things.”

The ’Hawks kick off its season at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 in Jackson,  Mississippi, against Belhaven University.

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