GENOA – With a total of 18 starters gone from last year’s team and a new head coach to boot, Chad Wilmarth thought outside of the box on how to start camp.
He decided on a literal camp.
The first-year Genoa-Kingston football coach decided on an overnight camp at Walcamp
Outdoor Ministries and Retreat Center in Kingston, with the team not only holding its first two days of drills Monday and Tuesday, but engaging in team-building exercises and activities, too.
“It was a brotherhood-building thing – a lot of fun,” said senior Jeremy Widmayer, the lone returning all-conference player for the Cogs. “We put a lot of work in. It was rough wake-ups in the morning, but then we had practice. It was a lot of fun.”
The Cogs went undefeated in the regular season last year behind the power of a senior-heavy squad. They ended up losing in the Class 4A quarterfinals to Johnsburg.
Back in his playing days at Byron, Wilmarth said he remembered similar camps. He decided it was the right call for the Cogs this year.
“I remember I enjoyed it and had a great time,” Wilmarth said. “Then I got into a role where I was a coach and saw other players go through it. I just think it’s so important just to hang out with all those guys you’ll be hanging on the field with and figuring out it’s more than that. This is stuff you can carry over to your real life.”
In addition to practices – two 90-minute drills Monday and a three-hour practice Tuesday – the Cogs engaged in team-building exercises such as obstacle courses.
Senior Jake Hansen, who saw spot time at defensive back last year, said with so many new faces on the team, a bonding experience such as the one the team had at Walcamp was what the Cogs needed.
“It’s amazing we got to do this just because we have such inexperienced juniors,” Hansen said. “[The current seniors] didn’t get much playing time last year. So coming together and being able to do that, we’re really going to come together.”
Jackson Ebel was the starting middle linebacker for the Cogs last year. Heading into his senior year, he said communication and chemistry are pivotal for a football team, and that was what made the time at Walcamp valuable.
“Having that connection on the field is a core thing,” Ebel said. “If you don’t have that, football is the ultimate team sport, and I think that helped out a lot. We came back a lot closer.”
The Cogs open the season Aug. 25 at home against Rockford Lutheran, who they beat twice last year. Wilmarth was an assistant last year, and the team still is learning his new system ahead of the opener.
“For O-line specifically, we put in new plays and everything,” Widmayer said. “We’re finally starting to pick them up. Everything is going well.”
Wilmarth said he’s been impressed as the first week of camp winds down.
“[Thursday] was a great practice, [Wednesday] I thought was a great practice,” Wilmarth said. “We’re just kind of fine-tuning the details.”