PREVIEW: Second-year Perryville football coach Mike Wojtczuk sees brighter days for a struggling program

Thursday, August 23, 2012
Perryville players take the field Friday night, Aug. 17, 2012 during the football jamboree in Perryville. (Laura Simon)

Perryville second-year coach Mike Wojtczuk accepts all victories for a Pirates program that has been short on them in recent years.

The Pirates put only one victory in the win column last season, but it was better than a winless 2010 campaign.

"Winning breeds winning, but at the same time, losing breeds losing. But there is a new breeze blowing," Wojtczuk said.

The Pirates only can hope the new breeze takes them in the proper direction, and there are promising signs on the horizon thus far.

Perryville has arranged a less difficult schedule with the new district system in place, has more upperclassmen and has about 20 more players onboard than in 2011.

"We must be doing some things the right way," Wojtczuk said. "We're drawing kids out. We just need to keep working on that."

Last year's squad started with just six seniors on the roster, and injuries further depleted that number. Numerous sophomores and juniors were forced into starting roles, and some freshmen even saw playing time.

"We took our lumps last year," Wojtczuk said. "Hopefully that's going to help this year."

The early signs have been promising.

"We were talking as a coaching staff the other day, and some of the worst practices that we've had this year have been right there about the same quality as some of the better ones we had last year," Wojtczuk said. "I know that sounds bad, but that's how much we've come up from last year.

"Our kids are starting to get it, and rightfully so. I mean a lot of these kids started last year and are two-year starters in our program."

The natural physical maturation of a young team and work in the weight room has the Pirates looking more formidable.

"We've been working hard and have a lot more people in the weight room," senior fullback and linebacker Devin Blandford said. "I think we have more seniors out here, too."

This year's team has 10 seniors, and the junior ranks have grown to 13.

"We're trying to get a lot more intensity and get a little more fired up than last year, and we're coming out ahead already," senior fullback and middle linebacker Aaron Hadler said. "We changed a lot of things around, and I'm hoping it's for the better, too."

Perryville scored just 77 points last season, and 35 of those came in a Week 4 win against Potosi.

The Pirates return virtually their entire offensive line, but changes have occurred at the skill positions. Chris Zahner has moved from quarterback to wide receiver for his senior season, and senior Levi Zook, the team's top returning rusher, will be lining up more in the slot.

Sophomore Tyler Holligan won a preseason battle with junior Alex Plunkett at quarterback and went on to have a strong showing in the jamboree.

Juniors Jonny Pruiett and Cody Crawford will share the duties at tailback, while Zook also may see time at the position.

"All three of those guys give us a little different thing," Wojtczuk said. "Cody is more of a power runner, and Jonny has great vision and he's one of those cutback type runners, and Levi is a scatback who gets up in there and gets lost. Depending on what we're trying to do, or just to change up the pace of the game a little bit, we've got the luxury of three different kids."

The receiver corps includes Plunkett and senior Lucas Hotop.

The line features three seniors, including 6-foot-5, 330-pound Reece Kurre at right tackle. Senior guards Aaron McCarthy and Grant Voelker are joined by juniors Wade Jung at tackle and Dylan Vernon at center.

Most of the offensive players also will play defense.

"Last year on defense we were more of a reading style of defense, and we're playing more of an attacking style of defense this year," Wojtczuk said.

Perryville remains one of the smallest schools in Class 4 and in one of its toughest districts, but the Pirates no longer have Sikeston, Farmington and Central on their schedule. They have only one Class 4 school, Windsor, to contend with after playing four last season.

"With the new playoff system, we may still end up playing them," Wojtczuk said. "Cape, Sikeston and Farmington, we don't have all three of them stacked on us right now, which should help us out."

And there undoubtedly still will be some rough waters ahead to negotiate, like Class 3 Ste. Genevieve, as Perryville seeks its first winning season since going 9-2 in 1998.

"We have to be more aggressive, and when something goes bad, we have to turn it around," Voelker said. "We have to keep on going."

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