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FOOTBALL PREVIEW - The Z Factor

by Chris Conley

EVERYTHING EVERGREENS (FOX SPORTS WAUSAU-WSAU) There's nothing revolutionary about this thought: Get the ball into the hands of your best player as often as possible. The Evergreens best returning player on offense is Kyle Zblewski. Maximizing his touches will be important this season. Let's talk about how to do it.

Zblewski was the best kickoff returner on the team last season, and that's saying something since he and Wyatt Brown were usually the two deep-backs on most kickoffs. Brown (who graduated last June) was a faster runner. But Zblewski got more yards-per-return. He was a better instinctive runner, was more patient waiting for his blocking to develop, and was more sure-minded about when to turn the ball up field. The importance of a good kick/punt return game can't be underestimated. An extra 15-yards of field position is one more first down you don't have to pick up. It's also 3 or 4 additional plays you don't have to run. In the high school game, teams that start from outside their own 20-yard-line almost never get points... too many things can go wrong to stop a long drive. Zblewski will minimize the number of times the Evergreens face a long field.

Zblewski is also the team's most-accomplished returning wide receiver. This is a position where the Evergreens saw a drop-off in productivity last year. Jared Pankow ('13) had a great vertical leap and outfought many defensive backs for jump-ball catches. Mitchell Boals ('14) was last year's leading receiver, but wasn't targeted as often, and didn't have the same leaping ability. Zblewski will be the team's leading receiver this year, and will have the potential for huge yards-after-the-catch plays.

But between kickoffs and pass plays, the Evergreens would be lucky to have the ball in Zblewski's hands 8 to 10 times a game. That's not enough. I'd look for the team to design more running plays, wildcat formations, and jet sweeps to get Zblewski up to 12-15 touches a game. And while I respect the work that running backs Nathan Reedy and Andrew Miller put in last year, they're more straight-ahead power runners. Zblewski has more speed to the corner, and is more likely to break off big plays. The Evergreens will be well served to force opponents to account for him wherever he lines up. How many times he gets the ball will be the "Z-factor" for the upcoming season.

Chris Conley
7.21.14

The first game of the season - Wausau East vs. Wisconsin Rapids - is one month from tonight. The Evergreens open their season against SPASH the following night, August 22.