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Tomah's Ryan Bernhardt

Senior quarterback Ryan Bernhardt calls a play during a recent practice. The Timberwolves lost six of their last seven games and finished 3-6 last season.

Despite having an inexperienced offense, Tomah High School football coach Brad Plueger’s team has already shown him that things may turn out better than one would expect.

The Timberwolves have fibe returning starters on the defensive side of the ball and just two on offense, but Plueger was happy with the way his group of 64 players hit the ground running during the first week of practice.

“It seems like we’re further ahead at the start of practice every single year,” Plueger said. “They pick up things − they remember so much more. It really helps having those five (summer contact) days, getting a week off and then coming to the first practice.”

One key figure not at practices these days is quarterback Connor Prielipp, who started last season but isn’t playing as a senior due to strong interest in his pitching arm from Division I baseball programs.

It wasn’t a decision that blindsided Plueger, who will turn to either senior Ryan Bernhardt or sophomore Justin Gerke to take over at the position. Gerke was the junior varsity quarterback a year ago.

With a crew of new faces on offense, Plueger has had to put an emphasis on trying to teach the team the ropes of a successful offense through repetition.

“It’s been a challenge and right now we just need a lot of reps,” he said. “We believe we can get there and we have enough skill to get there, we just have to be getting enough reps.”

Senior fullback Angel Burkhalter and senior lineman Triton Moseley represent the experience of the offense.

The five returning defensive starters are also joined by a few more teammates who saw some time on the field, so Tomah expects to improve on the 30 points per game it allowed last season.

It will also be trying to turn things around after losing six of the last seven games of 2017. The Timberwolves won their first two games last season but only beat Aquinas during the conference season and allowed more than 40 points in late-season losses to Holmen and Onalaska.

Tomah begins its season at Mauston and at home against Black River Falls before opening the conference season at West Salem on Aug. 31.

“Last year we started out fast ... but then we fell off the cliff a little bit,” Plueger said. “We can definitely see that the kids are putting in a lot more and are talking about getting out of the bottom of the conference and back to where we used to be.

“The guys are really focused, and that’ll help make things turn out good.”

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio contributed to this story

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Assistant Sports Editor

Todd Sommerfeldt has covered sports for the La Crosse Tribune since 2003 after doing the same previously in the Fox Cities and Rock County.