High school football preview: New-look Onalaska Luther has a playoff mission

Onalaska Luther’s Noah Matzke (37) heads up field during a game last season. Matzke, along with quarterback Zach Wilhm, are two of the key returning players for the Knights.

NATE BEIER, Special to the Tribune

Near-misses just don't cut it with the Onalaska Luther High School's football team anymore.

It's time, the Knights know, to make it happen.

After missing a postseason berth due, in part, to a three-point loss to Westby last season, the Luther is looking to make a comeback with a core group of seniors.

Matt Schiebel returns for his second year as Luther's head coach, and eighth year overall with the program. After finishing 4-5 overall last year, Scheibel is hoping that his senior-heavy team and 45-man roster can take another step this season.

One of the keys to making that happen is senior Zach Wilhm, who is stepping into the starting quarterback position.

“Zach (Wilhm) was a sub last year, so this is his first year starting. He’s taken on a new leadership role. His brother Christian is doing the same with the lower level,” Schiebel said. “They’ll drum up a lot of excitement in the hall and classroom, too, and the rest of the team will feed off of it.”

Having athletes take on a bigger roles is a common theme with the Knights this season as seniors Noah Matzke, Alex Bolstad and Nick Koenig are all looking to make the Knights more competitive, perhaps to the point of earning a playoff berth. All three have varsity experience after playing a reserve role a year ago.

Matzke will play on both sides of the ball, while Bolstad and Koenig will play linebacker and offensive line.

Senior wide receivers Alex Kish and Josh Miller will be making their first appearance on the field this season, along with junior Ben Riley, who will play linebacker, then bounce over and play on the line when the Knights have the ball.

With so many athletes taking on new roles, Schiebel faced the transition of going from a team that almost earned a playoff berth to a team in a rebuilding mode. You wouldn't know it, Schiebel said, as the team has exuded plenty of confidence and a highly positive attitude.

“The changes have been really positive. The team has had a lot of great attitudes and great efforts. Practice has been fantastic so far,” Schiebel said. “We have so many good and motivated kids that are ready to take the next step and prove that they have what it takes to go over the top.”

One of the biggest challenges Luther faces is establishing depth. With only nine seniors and three juniors, the underclassmen hold the key to the Knights' future success.

“With only three juniors and nine seniors, I have to try and find the depth from the freshmen and sophomores which has been challenging because I don’t want to put kids in a role where they aren’t quite ready yet," Schiebel said. "It comes down to who shows they have what it takes.”

Luther has a similar schedule to last season, which ended in a 24-21 loss to Westb and bounced the Knights from the playoff picture.

“Our springboard this year is the reminder that we were only three points away last year. The guys that played last year are motivated and ready to leave their stamp on their Luther football career,” Schiebel said.

Luther, which opens its season Aug. 18 at home against Blair-Taylor, has a number of big challenges on its scheudule, including at Platteville (Sept. 8) and at Westby (Oct. 13). Schiebel isn't looking ahead, however, as he knows in order to gain the competitive nature it needs to succeed, the Knights must take it week by week.

“We’re putting a weekly focus up for the kids and we’ll go from there to prepare them as much as we can to make sure we have everyone in the right spot to succeed. Ultimately it’ll come down to how they perform each game," Schiebel said.

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