ELY — Coming into his second year at the helm of the Ely football team, head coach Cory Lassi will be in a more comfortable position as the Timberwolves try to improve upon a 2-7 2018 season.
Spending eight years as Ely’s defensive coordinator prior to taking the head coaching position last year, Lassi found himself running the offense in his first season with an assistant of his handling the defense. With that assistant no longer with the time, Lassi was able to shift back to the defensive side of the ball and says he expects things to run a bit smoother.
“Spending eight years as the defensive coordinator, that was what I was most experienced with,” Lassi said. “Our new assistant coach took over the offense so now I can go back to the defense where I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Coming into his sophomore coaching season, Lassi had hoped for a bit more stability from the team, but low participation numbers will make the first few games a little difficult.
“The first day of practice we only had 14 kids out,” Lassi said of the 9-man program.
Short on players, Lassi had his players go out and recruit more of their friends to come give football at Ely a shot.
“We’re up to 21 now and we just have to hope everyone stays healthy. These first couple weeks will be hard for us.
“We put the onus on the players, especially the seniors. We had guys on the fence and some of them just had to tell them give it a try. It’s high school football. You only have so many years to do this and enjoy it. You have to take advantage of these high school years when you can.”
The roster was bolstered a bit, but the numbers issue gets particularly dicey with six of those 21 players being ineligible to play in the first two contests for various reasons.
Ely graduated five players from their 2018 team and this year’s Timberwolves squad looks to have some big shoes to fill on the line and in the backfield.
Ely graduated three starting linemen including Jasiah Wigdahl and Collen Seliskar, both of which were multi-year starters for Ely that take quite a bit of experience with them. The Wolves also graduated two other position players, including Nick Mattila, who took the majority of Ely’s carries on offense.
With eight of their 21 players being freshmen, replacing the graduated talent may take some time. However, there is still plenty of experience on the field from other returning starters.
Ely will be returning its quarterback, senior Bryce Longwell, and Lassi says Longwell’s experience has gone a long way in helping the first few weeks of practice go smoothly.
“He’s done a great job in installing this new offense for us this year. We felt comfortable with him immediately coming back and that’s great to have in a quarterback.”
In the backfield, the Timberwolves will likely have a running game that is more evenly distributed compared to years before. Three-year starter and senior Dalton Schreffler will anchor that position group, with three up and coming backs also getting a sizeable amount of carries.
“Schreffler will likely get the bulk of the carries for us,” Lassi said. “And we have two sophomores back there in Eddie Prijatel and Mason Davis. We’ll also be using freshman Jason Kerntz as well. The one thing we don’t have back there this year is that one standout that we’ve had in the past. But it’ll be nice to distribute the touches around and get these guys some experience as well as be able to give them a break when they need it.”
On the offensive and defensive line, Ely returns two three-year, senior starters in Lane Anderson and Tjae Banks.
“Lane will be at center for us, he’s our best lineman for us on both sides of the ball but he’ll be one of those guys missing the first two games so we’ll have to make do without him. Our other is Tjae Banks. He’s another three-year starter and will be at defensive end and tight end for us. Those two will anchor the line for us this year.”
In 2016, the Ely Timberwolves won 10 games and advanced to the 9-man state tournament. Since then, wins have been harder to come by with the team going 5-5 in 2017 and 2-7 in 2018. Lassi hopes to break Ely out of that slump soon. To do that, the team will need to be disciplined and sharp.
“We’ve been talking a lot the first week about being disciplined and doing the little things that help us win the ball games. We only had two wins last year but three of our losses came by a total of just 10 points. Those little mistakes are what really hurt us.”
Lassi recalled the team’s week seven game against Silver Bay, a 34-30 loss for the Timberwolves.
“We had a first and goal with two minutes left but then a false start penalty pushes us out and now we have 15 yards to go. If we can eliminate things like that, I think we can win.”
For competition this year, Lassi expects Mountain Iron-Buhl to be at the top of Section 7 once again. In 2018, the Rangers advanced to the state 9-man semifinals.
“MI-B, they’re tough. They made a deep run into the state tournament last year. Danny [Zubich] does a great job over there with the things that we want to do here. He gets those guys into the weight room and they’re committed and ready to build off the year before. That’s where we want to be.”
Ultimately, Lassi wants to see the team trending in the right direction for years to come.
“I said let’s see if we can get three or four wins this year and then turn it back over next year into five or six and get our program back to where it was a few years ago.
“We’re a young team and we expect to take some lumps at the beginning. I hope our guys can look past that and grow as players and as a team and continue to get better every week.”
Ely opens their season on Thursday on the road at Mountain Iron-Buhl. Game time is set for 7 p.m.