A united front: Royals sport a young, cohesive crew in 2014
From the outside, Woodbury might not be expected to accomplish much this season.
But the Royals don’t look at the lack of elders as a disadvantage. They believe they’ve established a tight-knit group.
“I think we’re well bonded,” Senior captain Adam Keifer said. “We’re really close. Like in years past, we said we were a team of one, but we weren’t as close as we said we were. But now I feel like when we say we’re really close, we actually mean it.”
Royals’ head coach Andy Hill said this year’s group of six captains made a commitment to set standards fit to represent the school and the football program that they felt would serve toward the betterment of the team.
Some have taken to those standards, while others didn’t.
“Guys are starting to make changes to live up to that, and it creates a closeness and a oneness,” Hill said. “There’s some individuals who are not here … because they didn’t want to be a part of those standards. And that’s OK, but it allows our kids to feel like we’re all on the same page and we’re in this together.”
That closeness has created a united front across the Royals’ football program.
“Previous years we’ve had separate groups, but this year I think we’re all together as a team,” senior captain Jack Kohlbeck said.
Now the question is, will that togetherness translate to wins?
“Our team bond is really what’s going to make us good this year,” junior captain Joe Puglisi said. “Because we’ve got each other’s backs on and off the field.”
On the field Woodbury’s offense is led by junior field general Brady Mundahl. Mundahl took over as the starting quarterback early last season, and continued to develop throughout the offseason. Hill said Mundahl has a better grasp of the offense this season and has taken time to meet with Hill on multiple occasions to discuss the nuances of the system.
“It’s the type of thing you’d expect from your quarterback and he’s taken a lot of responsibility of both mentoring and holding other guys accountable,” Hill said. “As quarterbacks develop and they start to get that confidence and an understanding of what you’re trying to get done, that dialogue becomes better, the dialogue in meetings becomes more meaningful, because we’re both understanding the same things so when we talk about how we want to attack something or want to get the play in. He thinks like a coach.”
Hill expects Mundahl to take a big step forward in his junior campaign.
“Last year he did a great job of being tough and running a different type of offense to what he hadn’t run before,” Hill said. “Now we’re getting back to what I think is his real meat and potatoes to what we’re doing on offense.”
Mundahl will have the assistance of a solid running game, led by star tailback and senior captain Donnell Rodgers. Rodgers established himself as a legitimate threat in the backfield as a junior, and could break out in 2014.
‘I think Donnell Rodgers is a player who everyone’s going to know his name by the end of the year,” Hill said. “So when you’ve got a guy like that who’s going to make a big play on any given play, that makes these younger guys excited.”
Hill said that type of big-play ability from the older players helps take some pressure off of the younger guys.
Rodgers hopes to lead with his playmaking abilities and his off-the-field guidance this season.
“You want to succeed and do well and you want your teammates to follow you as a leader, and you want them to view you as a leader,” he said.
The Royals will need the same type of leadership on the defensive side, as Woodbury attempts to improve a unit that allowed more than 35 points per game a year ago.
“We’ve got to be able to stop teams,” Hill said. “We had a tough time with that last year, and it’s been our focus of the offseason to put our best athletes on defense and get them into a defensive system where they’re not thinking -- they can make their needs and react.”
One of those top athletes switching sides of the ball is junior Brandon Nguyen. Nguyen is making the move from the offensive line to the defensive line as Woodbury switches from a three-man defensive front to a four-man alignment in an attempt to better stop the run.
Other players who Hill expects to make an impact on the defense are senior captain Dylan Granholm and junior Zack Dean, who Hill called “a human wrecking ball.”
“We feel good about those guys,” he said.
Kohlbeck will lead the back end of the defense. Hill called Kohlbeck one of the team’s best covermen last season, and hopes Kohlbeck’s experience and confidence will allow him to stick with some of the conference’s best wideouts.
Kohlbeck is one of two to four seniors Hill said could start on each side of the ball. But that inexperience should be partially negated by the work on fundamentals Woodbury put in this offseason.
“But if we only start two seniors on both sides of the ball that means we’re starting nine kids who are probably doing it for the first time,” Hill said. “It’s going to be a learning curve as we go, but that’s what we’ve been focused on is trying to be a little bit better every day consistently over time, because that’s how you really improve.”
Woodbury’s youth may scare some, but it seems to have created a new energy in the Royals’ football program. This year’s captains were disappointed with last year’s results, and they’re set on not having a similar experience in 2014.
“Last year, halfway through the year a lot of the seniors gave up,” Kohlbeck said. “We don’t want to give up, just keep going and keep playing your hardest.”
That type of persistence, and this group of players, could lead to big things for the Royals this season, even if outsiders don’t see it coming.
“We weren’t predicted to be any good at all, so we’re really motivated to go out there and prove everybody wrong,” Granholm said. “We’re pretty disciplined as a team, so we should have a good showing.”
As far as expectations go, Hill thinks about this team and this season when he wakes up each morning.
He seems to like the Royals’ prospects.
“We’ll see where that takes us, but these kids have worked hard,” Hill said. “You kind of get the sense that there might be something special about this group.”
For more on Woodbury's 2014 outlook, check out our Royals' preview video.