By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – In June 2021, Aaron Van Eperen and Chad Thiry were hired as co-head coaches of the Green Bay Southwest Trojans football team.
With less than two months to prepare for the season, the duo didn’t have ample time to implement their own schemes.
That resulted in a tough campaign. The Trojans went 1-8.
However, with a full offseason to prepare and the majority of the starters returning, the coaches are confident 2022 can be a rebound season.
“Throughout the winter with our weight training program and contact days over summer and stuff like that, I feel it was nice to have an offseason season actually to be able to prepare and to think a little bit coming into this season about what we wanted to do,” Van Eperen said. “I think it should help us for sure.”
The offense — which will have the same scheme as last year — returns nine starters, many from the skill positions.
Mason Meyer will enter his third season as the starting quarterback. Last season, Meyer was 44-for-115 through the air for 563 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.
With two years’ experience already on varsity, Van Eperen is expecting Meyer to be a better passer and leader this season.
“He put a ton of time in this offseason just trying to develop as a quarterback,” Van Eperen said. “We were in a 7-on-7 league throughout the summer, so he got extra reps that way. We’d expect better quarterback play (this season) and I think he expects better quarterback play out of himself and that we should continue to build there.”
Jacob Hanson will be the main ball-carrier this season. He showed glimpses of stardom last year as a freshman before going down with a broken collarbone in Week 4. He finished the season with 26 carries for 97 yards.
“He can move weight in the weight room and he’s really dedicated to football,” Van Eperen said. “He’s a really smart kid, so if we can keep him healthy, we think he can do some really good things for us not just this year but as he gains experience in the next couple years down the road. But we think he can be a really good football player for us on offense and defense.”
All-conference recipient Connor Pytleski will lead the wide receiver corps. A lot of Southwest’s offense went through Pytleski last season as he caught 26 balls for 428 yards and six touchdowns.
“To have all five guys back, that if we can keep them healthy, we expect we should be able to do some things on offense because those five should be pretty good,” Van Eperen said.
Northern Illinois commit Thomas Paasch is the anchor at right tackle.
Paasch, Cam Wyckoff and Ethan Dunlap will all be in their third season as starters.
“We expect we should be able to do anything we want behind them,” Van Eperen said.
Nolan Rauscher and Antonio Sandoval were starters a season ago.
Southwest averaged just 10.2 points per game in 2021. Van Eperen believes that number will be increasingly better with all of his returning players gaining experience.
“I think we’ll be able to basically pick up hopefully where we left off,” Van Eperen said. “At the end of last year we started to do some things better on offense and pick up where we left off and now propel forward.”
The Trojans’ defense, which surrendered 36.1 points per game last year, should be improved. It returns seven starters, who will need to come up big each week against some high-octane offenses they will face.
“It’s definitely a challenge each week,” Van Eperen said. “There’s some good offenses in our conference that can put up some points. I think for us, it’s going to get our better athletes on the field and positions of depth on the field where as opposed to last year where we were playing it was like a 3-4, 3-5, we didn’t necessarily have the linebackers every day that we would have liked to have. We didn’t have enough depth at that position to kind of sustain that type of a defense.”
Van Eperen will be putting his 11 best on the field, and that all starts in the secondary.
The team’s base defense will be a 4-2-5, which means it will utilize its secondary depth and quickness.
Pytleski will be key on the back end as a defensive back. Fellow senior Gavin Yang and sophomore DJ Danforth will be at the corner spots.
At safety, Rauschenbach and sophomore Braxton Murphy will get the start.
Alex Klemp and Isaiah McGregor-Washington will be holding down the defensive line. Paasch, Dunlap and Wyckoff will rotate in at the third spot.
Hanson and Nick Ristow will man the linebacking group.
Finishing 1-8 last season was tough on the coaches and players. Van Eperen is hoping for a better season, but it’s not all about the wins and losses.
“The schedule is brutal. It’s a schedule; it’s a tough conference,” Van Eperen said. “Every game is a challenge, but we’ve talked about record-wise it is what it is, but we said we definitely need to be more competitive in every game. At the end of the day, if you’re in a game in the fourth quarter, you don’t know how the ball’s going to bounce, eventually the ball bounces your way or you catch a break, you make a play or whatever, but being in uncompetitive games in the fourth quarter that’s just not the standard we want to have here. Let’s compete for four quarters, let’s play competitive games and then the wins and losses kind of go from there if you’re competing every game.”
GREEN BAY SOUTHWEST’S REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
Aug. 18 vs. Appleton North
Aug. 25 vs. Oshkosh North
Sept. 2 vs. Ashwaubenon
Sept. 9 @ Green Bay Preble
Sept. 16 @ De Pere
Sept. 23 @ Bay Port
Sept. 30 vs. West De Pere
Oct. 7 vs. Pulaski
Oct. 14 @ Menasha
Note: All games begin at 7 p.m.