When Nate Wollenberg was an assistant football coach at Bethel College two years ago, he always kept a close eye on the Newton program.
He would see Railers assistants around town and they would mention to Wollenberg that he should join the staff, if ever there was an opening.
“Some of them wouldn’t leave me alone,” Wollenberg said.
Sure enough, a position opened in the spring of 2012, and Wollenberg took it.
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Fast forward to today, and Wollenberg is now preparing for his first season as the head coach of a Railer program that has fallen on tough times over the past three seasons. The Railers are a combined 8-21 with no playoff appearances.
It’s not the same program that Wollenberg knew during the 2000s, when Newton made the playoffs six times, but he thinks a few tweaks are all that is necessary in order for Newton to get back to that level.
“It wasn’t much of an adjustment for the kids after we got hired,” Wollenberg said. “They have a feel for what we are trying to do and they have been working hard during the summer and have bought in.”
The first order of business for Wollenberg and his staff was to determine what fit his players’ strengths. Wollenberg chose the Shotgun Wing-T system, which emphasizes athletic linemen getting to the outside to create space.
“In April, the coaches sat down and really targeted who are best players were and they would fit together,” Wollenberg said. “We saw that our linemen were pretty athletic, so then we determined this system fit us the best.”
Junior Colton Phannenstiel and senior Justin Mosiman are two of the Railers’ starters on the offensive line, but tight end Cory Martens, a first-team all-division player last year, will also be counted on up front.
“We’ve really worked hard in the weight room over the summer,” Martens said. “From last year to this year, I’ve seen a huge improvement in so many areas.”
Coach: Nate Wollenberg, first season
League: AV-CTL Division I
Last season: 3-6
Last five seasons: 21-24
Projected 2013 playoff team? No
Top skill players
|Sept. 6||at Maize|
|Sept. 13||at Salina Central|
|Sept. 27||at Hutchinson|
|Oct. 11||at Salina South|
|Oct. 18||at Emporia|
|Oct. 25||Valley Center|
Cory Martens on his team
What Newton does well: “We are going to have a really good running game. Our backfield is really good and so is our offensive line. They are going to run this new offense really well. What we are doing offensively fits who we have on the team.”
What has to improve: “Over the last two years, we have lost a lot of close games because we couldn’t close in the fourth quarter. We have worked hard to get in shape over the summer so that we can finish games off this season.”