New coach expects Warhawks to keep winning
By Kevin Cunningham
When it comes to football, the Badger State has seen its fair share of icons, regardless of the level of play. In the NFL, Brett Favre will go down as one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Heck, even his replacement could prove to be the best signal-caller that has ever lived.
In college, the University of Wisconsin football program can look to Barry Alvarez. Before Alvarez took over in 1990, the Badgers had only won seven Big Ten conference games from 1984-89. By 1993, Alvarez had taken a doormat in college football to a 10-1-1 record and a Rose Bowl win.
Moving down to Division III, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has been seen as a dynasty over the past eight seasons, winning six national championships. The man in charge – Lance Leipold, who amassed a 110-6 overall record during that stretch – left for the University of Buffalo this past offseason, and is currently 1-0 at his new, chilly, college football program.
When it came time to name Leipold’s replacement, every legitimate candidate knew that all eyes would be on them to see if they could replicate the former legendary coach’s success. The winner was Kevin Bullis. In 2014, Bullis served as the Warhawks’ defensive run game coordinator and defensive line coach.
“That was my first thought – well, how do you fill Lance’s shoes,” Bullis said. “Within minutes though, I’m saying, ‘wait a second, that was never our perspective.’ Our perspective was never to win national championships. The national championships were a byproduct of what we focused on. We didn’t concentrate on national championships or WIAC championships. What we did concentrate on was to get better every day. For someone who had not been a part of this program and had not known that coming into this program, that could have been insurmountable pressure.”
Bullis also said he would have been surprised had Leipold not landed a legitimate D-I job and that he has done all he can to prepare himself going forward. The program coming into the 2015 season has not only lost Leipold, but several All-Americans on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the Warhawks will have a new quarterback in junior, Chris Nelson. Nelson replaces Matt Behrendt, who last season, threw for over 3,600 yards while completing 67 percent of his passes. His touchdown-interception ratio finished at 42-8.
With Behrendt leading the way, the Warhawks’ offense led the WIAC last season in scoring (40.1 points per game), passing (269.5 yards per game) and rushing (218.2 yards per game).
The two top receivers from the team are also gone due to graduation. Jake Kumerow, who averaged over 100 yards receiving in each of his 11 games played last season to go along with 14 touchdowns, (missing four games due to an ankle injury) just signed a deal to be a part of the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.
Along with Kumerow is Justin Howard, whose 84 receptions for 1,167 yards and 12 scores also leave the program. What Bullis does have coming back, is an experienced offensive line to go along with a myriad of running backs.
“You’re never going to replace a Jake Kumerow,” Bullis said. “It was the same thing when Levell Coppage left here a couple years ago. The responsibility lies on our whole receiver group. We were very concerned about our wide receiver group [heading into camp]. This fall, we feel very good about that position.
“Jordan Ratliffe, Dennis Moore, goodness gracious (…) Nick Patterson, wow. I mean, I almost feel selfish. That is really a heck of a group and we’re excited about them. You have to be able to utilize that type of talent.”
Between Ratliffe, Moore and Patterson, the trio gained 2,596 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground last season. Those three backs, along with three returning seniors and four returning juniors on the offensive line on the active roster, will likely not only ease the transition at quarterback for Nelson, but keep the “pound the rock” Warhawk tradition going.
Defensively, Bullis said he likes what his front seven has looked like to this point in time, and talked about his seniors and captains on the offensive and defensive line.
“I’ve coached for 25 years,” Bullis said. “I have been blessed to work around some extremely hard-working young men. [Senior captain and defensive lineman, Zach Franz] is the hardest working young man I have ever been around and I sincerely mean that. He has made himself and it’s a thrill to coach him and work with him. I can’t even explain it. You’d have to watch it, and you’d just go, ‘Wow’.
“Conner [Peters] is probably the shortest of our starting offensive lineman, for sure. But again, his work ethic and his commitment (…) he is very athletic for an offensive lineman. He is very bright. He and Zach are great examples of guys that lead by example. That’s where their leadership really comes into play.”
Both Franz and Peters, along with linebacker Justin Dischler, earned first team Preseason All-American honors by D3football.com.
Early in the season for the Warhawks, the front-end of the schedule appears to be fairly loaded more so than recent seasons. Often times, the back-half of the schedule has been filled with tougher, WIAC games, which then lead into the postseason.
The Warhawks open the season in Jackson, Miss. against Belhaven. The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Saturday and viewers can follow live stats and a video stream on uwwsports.com.
The following Saturday marks the Warhawks’ home-opener, against Finlandia (Mich.). The Thursday after Finlandia will be on the road in Sioux City, Iowa against Morningside College.
After the non-conference slate, the defending WIAC champions will begin conference play against UW-Platteville, then UW-Oshkosh – two teams who have recently been near the top of the WIAC, often trailing the Warhawks.
“I’m really glad we got the Morningside game,” Bullis said. “Morningside is a tough team. That’s going to be a tough football game. It’s actually a night game. I really like that that’s going to be a tough game for us. Why? Because we jump right into Platteville the next week.”