Travis Kowalski isn’t afraid to make his opinion known.
That’s why the coach has never tried to paint a rosy picture for his Holmen High School football players amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Does he want them to be able to play? Of course. On that, he has never wavered.
He’d like nothing more than to march forward immediately with a team that has finished the MVC season with a winning record 11 years in a row. But Kowalski has also been careful not to make any guarantees about what kind of season this could be for the Vikings.
“They know I am a realist,” Kowalski said of his players. “They were super-excited the first day of practice, and they were super-excited last week when we got into pads. They really want to play, and I feel bad for the situation they are in.
“But I don’t blow smoke at anyone. We knew COVID would catch up to the program at some point in time. The chances of us being shut down at some point in the season has always been real.”
That time for Holmen is now.
So instead of hitting the practice field this week, the Vikings re-entered the world of virtual exchange — alongside the rest of the school district — with coaches as they try to get ready for a possible game at Sparta on Oct. 2.
Standing in the way of that game and the home opener against Onalaska the following week is the next county health report, which will be released on Wednesday. If the numbers are at the same level as last week’s or worse, Holmen erases both games from the five-game schedule they have. Last week’s report put Holmen’s co-curricular programs in virtual mode.
The current goal is to simply be ready for whatever is next, so Kowalski and his staff just build on what they’ve been doing with students as virtual teachers.
“Prior to March, I’d say this is crazy,” Kowalski, who teaches social studies at the high school. “But this is just becoming life, getting things to kids virtually. It’s not ideal, but it’s where we are.”
Kowalski said the team spent four days last week installing its option offense that averaged 302 yards and 28 points per game during a 7-4 season that included a third-place finish in the MVC.
That job is typically done during a summer team camp to allow for better use of practice time when it comes. Installation is now being followed by discussion instead of demonstration.
The good thing for Kowalski is that he has plenty of players able to excel without every bit of the recommended repetitions for the offense, which is predicated on precise movement.
Senior Ryland Wall may not have played quarterback last season, but he did it very well as a sophomore before focusing on defense as a junior. He returns to quarterback after passing for 546 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for six scores in seven games during a championship 2018 season.
Senior Nathan Nevala rushed for 339 yards and four TDs last year, and seniors John Sarazin and Cooper Molling were important pieces to the offensive line in front of him.
Wall could probably be used anywhere in the field, so Kowalski is also taking a good look at the progress made by junior Luke LeClaire, who could line up at quarterback, halfback or cornerback.
“I think we have to use him like (Sparta used) Cole Wisniewski,” Kowalski said of Wall. “He has to be on the field where he can make plays. He’s big, like 6-2, 6-3 and 200 pounds, and he’s fast.
“We were running sprints in practice the other day, and if he wasn’t finishing first, he was second, and we have some fast guys here. He hasn’t missed a day of workouts, I can tell you that, and we haven’t even had weight room (due to COVID restrictions).”
Wall, Carter Vetsch, Sam Barnett, Kaden Banks and Carson Westcott are experienced defensive playmakers for the Vikings.
Sports editor Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX
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