The Panther football team has been building since Jan. 11, when Head Coach Mitchell Kleinschrodt was hired. With the first game coming up next week, the players are working hard in fall camp and looking forward to the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of and commitment to the team's new mantra: ONE PLAY, ONE TIME.
"The biggest thing for our program is that we're excited about what the future holds," says Coach Kleinschrodt. "We've been building the team and building our culture, and we will be ready for next week. We've done off-season strength training and conditioning. We played spring ball, and we had a summer academic program. We've been in fall camp since Aug. 1 and we're taking the field next week with a brand new coaching staff and an all-new roster. Two-thirds of our players are new to Ellsworth, and that has everyone excited … there's a real buzz about what we'll be able to do on the field."
Coach Kleinschrodt said that during the spring term, the football players logged more than 300 hours of community service, and the team garnered an overall team grade point average/GPA of 2.86, one of the best in recent years.
"The culture and program that we're building now is based on five pillars: Effort, Attitude, Technique, Trust, and Toughness. Our mantra is 'ONE PLAY, ONE TIME. What that means to us is that if all of our guys executive their best possible effort, attitude, technique, trust and toughness on just one play, we can beat any team in the country on that one play. I will put our guys up against anyone, and I mean that. The byproduct of the mantra is that we have narrowed the coaching and player focus to one play at a time. We don't talk about what happened last week or what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. Just now, in this moment, what does each player need to do to be the absolute best? If each player can bring that kind of focus to their lives and to our game, we'll be amazing."
The coach says his staff didn't begin the fall camp by asking players for perfect attendance or to earn a 4.0 GPA. Instead, they are focusing on being on time to the next practice/meeting, saying please and thank you, pushing in the chair after the leave the meal table … doing the right thing in the next moment. And then the next moment. And then the next.
"We know that behavior drives our culture, and our culture drives our football program. If our players are better people and better students, they will automatically be better players. This is our plan, and we're sticking to it. We will help our players focus daily on serving, graduating, and competing for a championship title. The more than 70 young men we've recruited are great kids, and many of them played in and won state championships in high school. They know how to work hard, and they know what it takes to win. The only trick will be seeing how fast we can gel as a team, because the teams that bond the fastest will have success.
"Football is a game of adversity, and the only way to overcome that adversity is by executing every play well, as a team. Our plan is to execute plays on the field that will make everyone proud."
With just 33 returners, the Coach says he has great depth at all positions. "Tight end Will Weidemann of Clarion is an exciting player, and he has been fun to lean on as a team leader. Defensive linemen Isaiah Bellamy of Florida and Nolan Bell of Muscatine are two other returners who will deliver for us this fall. We expect great things from them."
His coaching staff focused on recruiting in Iowa, and was able to garner a couple of players late in the recruiting process. "As far as newcomers, we're excited about Shaundarius Kimbro, a running back from Georgia who won two high school championships, and Maurice Whitlock, a running back from South Carolina. Defensive lineman Jacob Poetzl of Wisconsin also had a good summer with us. Honestly, all of the recruits we signed are talented, and our coaching team will put those players in a position to be successful."
Coach Kleinschrodt lost three coaches over the summer, so he continues to work on filling two of those spots. He says he's looking for coaches who are good people first … people who want to work hard and be part of the culture.
Tight End Coach Sam Lundberg is also the team's director of Panther football operations and recruiting. He went to college with Coach Kleinschrodt and has become known for his great ability in building relationships, his high energy, and his attention to detail. Coach Lundberg was hired through the University of New Mexico last fall, and from there came to Ellsworth.
Defensive Coordinator DeJuan Garland was hired in the spring from Wayne State University in Michigan. A longtime high school coach in Detroit, he is described as a hard worker and great recruiter.
Offensive Line Coach/Video Coordinator John Dunford came to ECC from Wayne State College in Nebraska. Originally from Maryland, he has always worked as a small college coach; he is known for his high energy and intelligence.
Linebacker Coach Mike Gould is also in his first season with the Panthers. He was most recently a player and assistant coach at Upper Iowa University, where he did a great job for that program.
Assistant Linebacker Coach Clayton Naylon is the only familiar football coaching face on campus. He has assisted with the program for many years, and is the most familiar with the program and the community. "The guys love him," says Coach Kleinschrodt.
"As we approach the start of our season and the start of fall term, I want to give a shout of thanks to the administration and all the people on campus who have helped us out so much," says Coach Kleinschrodt. "Martin Reimer, Nate Forsyth, and everyone in Admissions, Financial Aid and the Registrar's offices have been very supportive of us and our players. We've had a seamless transition, and it's all thanks to them."
The Panthers' first game of the season is a home opener on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 7 pm against Hutchinson Community College (KS). The game will be played at Cadet Field at 7 pm.