The Winona State University Warriors football team started spring practice in preparation for their upcoming 2019 season.
The Warriors, who missed the playoffs in 2018, finished 8-3 and are returning 17 starters from last year’s team.
The 2019 team will have 15 practices including the spring game on April 27. The Warriors, who lost 14 starters to injury during the 2018 season, are looking to put an injury-plagued season behind them.
Senior linebacker Nick Pridgeon, who suffered a knee injury in the second game of the 2018 season, said his goal for 2019 is to stay healthy.
“Really just comeback strong,” Pridgeon said. “Just really finish out the season.”
Pridgeon said he should be cleared from his ACL injury by mid-summer.
Tom Sawyer, WSU’s head football coach, said the future is bright this year.
“The silver lining is a lot of other kids got experience,” Sawyer said. “We got all of those kids that were injured they’re all back, plus the experience our other kids got.”
For three years, the Warriors have been in a trend of getting speed up front. Now, with more scholarship money, they were able to put the money to get higher-profile, larger athletes for the offensive line.
“Two years ago, we signed four kids, last year we signed five,” Sawyer said. This year, the Warriors have five additional guys coming, putting them over the 300 pound-average mark.
The Warriors, with their rebuilt offensive line, know they have a job to do, which is to be physical.
Joe Holtzclaw, offensive line coach, said his close-knit unit will be different.
“We want to protect the passer first and foremost,” Holtzclaw said.
When running the ball, Holtzclaw said the offensive line is physical by nature.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive assistant Lee Pronschinske, said he wants his group to continue flying around and cause turnovers.
“We always want to communicate, disrupt the ball and create turnovers,” Pronschinske said. “That’s big when the defense can get the offense the ball back on a short field.”
Pronschinske said he is already seeing the linebackers and defensive backs causing turnovers in practice.
“We haven’t been too handsy because we’re playing against our own teammates, so we don’t want to get too physical, maybe cause an injury,” Pronschinske said. “We’ve been playing off a little bit that way, but it’s still been nice to see our guys fly around.”
Pridgeon said the defense has to focus on their technique and it all starts with attention to detail and accountability.
“We have a young group but a lot of talent,” Pridgeon said. “A lot of leadership in the young group as well. Really our main focus going into the season is trying to do the best as we can and reach our full potential.”
Sawyer said he wants the preparation and planning to be right, to give them their best chance at a win.
“We just have to make sure we’re planning right, preparing them right and give us the best chance to win,” Sawyer said.
The Warriors start their 2019 season at Maxwell Field Saturday, Sept. 7, against Wayne State College of Wayne, Nebraska.