BLACK RIVER FALLS — Last year wasn’t OK with Ethan Anderson.
His Black River Falls High School football team struggled ... and then some more … and then some more. Try as they might, the Tigers didn’t put the pieces together for a full 48-minute game en route to a 0-9 season.
It was especially frustrating for Anderson, the team’s starting quarterback, because he’d tasted WIAA playoff football as a sophomore when he started the final four games of the season for the Tigers under center. As Black River Falls’ practices got underway last week, Anderson said he’s been using a rough 2016 campaign as motivation for this fall.
“It was hard for everybody, but it’s a learning experience,” Anderson said. “The guys coming back, we know how that feels and we don’t want to make that happen again. So we’ve been working hard this offseason to improve.”
Anderson has stood out regardless of the uniform he’s wearing. The 6-foot-4 senior threw for 924 yards and five touchdowns last season, then excelled as a guard/forward for the Black River Falls basketball team. He led the team with 21.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and was a first team All-Coulee Conference selection. He was also a second-team all-conference pick for the Tigers’ baseball team in the spring.
“He’s just a good athlete, an all-around good athlete. He’s really a nice basketball player, I know that’s his first love,” said Jim Bible, who is entering his 17th season as Black River Falls’ coach. “I give him a lot of credit, he comes out here and wants to be that three-sport athlete, and I think that’s important.”
With Anderson as their quarterback, the Tigers’ struggles last season were surprising. They scored 87 points and just 33 were in the second half. One of their issues was a lack of numbers — Black River Falls had 35 players on its varsity roster last year, and it’ll have about 30 of its 50-player program suited up on Fridays this year. But the other, more impactful issue, according to Anderson and Bible, was the team’s chemistry.
“Around December or January, we kind of did the autopsy of the 2016 season. I think the kids saw some things they needed to do differently on the team chemistry side, being unselfish, and playing for each other,” Bible said.
Even in the first few days of practices, Anderson said the team has maintained a better atmosphere, led by the small-but-vocal group of eight seniors, and has a collective mindset focused on making the playoffs.
“If we keep our heads to that, anything’s possible,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s individual accomplishments haven’t always led to team success at Black River Falls. The basketball team — which pushed a very good Bloomer team in a 51-49 loss during a Division 3 regional final — was 10-14 last season despite Anderson’s healthy statistics. He doesn’t let that deter him as he enters his final year as a Tiger, though.
“It’s huge motivation,” he said. “In basketball, we won the regional championship a couple years ago, I know that feeling, and it’s a great feeling. As a sophomore I had playoff experience in football, so I know how that feels, and I know how it feels losing in the playoffs.
“I want what’s best for this team and want them to have those feelings I had.”
Anderson has favorite target from last season, 6-2 senior receiver Isaac Cowles, returning and the pair has spent a good amount of time this summer working out their timing on routes.
But Bible said — perhaps warning opponents — that Anderson might not be exclusively at quarterback this season. He’ll play safety on defense, but could also line up at receiver as the Tigers build depth under center.
Wherever he lines up, Anderson’s ready for the season to kick off.
“Just leave it all out there. This is my last chance,” he said. “I’m not going to play football in college, so this is it. I don’t want any regrets.”