Photo by Brian Paglia
Things didn't go the way Paul Burgdorf had envisioned in his first year at Union Grove after getting the Luella program off the ground in 2003. Burgdorf said team chemistry will be one of the keys toward getting the Wolverines back to their winning ways.
By Darryl Maxie
Obviously, you have to be well versed in your X's and O's, and you've got to have the talent that brings those to life off the chalkboard. Every coach knows that.
But there are certain things that aren't as easily quantified that every team needs to be a success. And Union Grove in Paul Burgdorf's first season may not have been as blessed in that department, which partly explains why a playoff team two years running dropped off the map to 3-7.
"I think that's already started to correct itself," Burgdorf said Thursday as his Wolverines prepared for a scrimmage tonight against Jackson.
"We've had excellent conditioning, excellent training, attendance is up, attitudes are good and our work ethic is strong. Our team chemistry is good -- all the intangibles that a coach wants I feel like are good."
D.J. White, who committed to South Florida in April, believes the team "lost sight of that" last season, but agrees with Burgdorf that things look better.
"I think we're coming together as a team again," White said. "This year, we're more unified."
That's going to be key because some of the same personnel issues exist. Burgdorf said last year's team was inexperienced on both lines, and the offensive line, with the exception of center Lucas Barnard, remains so.
"We weren't necessarily young age-wise, but we were young experience-wise,' Burgdorf said.
If they can keep their mistakes to a minimum, White remains a threat on both sides of the ball and tailback Derrick Craine could give Union Grove another reason to be encouraged.
"We feel even better about our running game, and we felt pretty good about it last year," Burgdorf said.
The kicking game is solid with the aptly named Connor Legg handling extra points, field goals and punts.
All those things are part of the best-case scenario, which White said includes "the emergence of some of our younger guys who were sophomores last year."
But depth is thin. The Wolverines will have a lot of two-way players -- including key guys like Butts, Craine and White. Injuries could throw a monkey wrench into the Union Grove plans.
"Injuries played an important part of the big picture last season," Burgdorf said.
The Wolverines weren't in an easy region last year, and it hasn't gotten any easier this season.
"Week in and week out we were playing some pretty good football teams," Burgdorf said. "It was a pretty disappointing year because 3-7 wasn't part of what we were working toward. With that being said, I thought the kids continued to fight. We actually had a chance in the region play-in game. But it was just a hit-or-miss, up-and-down season."
Which brings us back to the all-important intangibles, which can produce more hits and more ups and fewer misses and downs
"I hope that we can maintain team chemistry, caring about each other -- what any team tries to have," Burgdorf said. "That's part of our team's goals and to make the state playoff, which is a goal we had last year. I'm really hoping we can turn things around and put out there a product that everybody is proud of."