Altoona leaves its friends in the Cloverbelt Conference to start football life anew in the Coulee Conference next year.
“It’s sad leaving the Cloverbelt,” said first-year coach Chad Hanson. “But we’re excited entering the new conference to start a new history.”
While the Railroaders will be losing natural rivals like Fall Creek, they join a conference that includes strong teams in Black River Falls, G-E-T, Arcadia, La Crosse Aquinas, Viroqua and Westby.
It will be the second straight transitional season for Altoona, which worked under a new system this fall with Hanson taking over.
The 2-7 campaign was one of learning for the Rails, who switched offenses from the shotgun a year ago to the option this fall with major changes in blocking schemes among other changes.
“We started a whole new program and saw improvement in some areas that we hope to carry over,” Hanson said. “We had to make changes in a hurry.”
There were bright spots in the 34-8 win over Fall Creek and especially the 28-14 win over Neillsville/Granton, which turned out to be a strong team.
“We didn’t win as many as we hoped,” Hanson said. “But we faced some adversity and feel we competed in most of the games.”
Individually, it was the play of RB Paxton Gluch and QB Nate McMahon, two of the team’s 13 seniors, that got most of the attention.
Gluch had five 100-yard games and finished the season with 150 yards against Elk Mound and 174 in the season finale against Spencer/Columbus that took him over the 1,000-yard mark at 1,049 at a 5.6 clip good for six touchdowns.
“Paxton helped set the tone for what Altoona football will be about going forward,” Hanson said. “McMahon was a multi-threat quarterback that we’ll need in the future. I wish we had them both back for another year.”
McMahon threw for 478 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 468 yards for 946 total offense yards more and nine overall scores.
The third leading rusher was Keshawn Harris, who piled up 151 yards and also led the team in receiving with 11 catches for 259 yards and three TDs.
Gluch was tough on both sides of the ball, also leading the team in tackles with 56. He was followed by Matt Hanson (49), Garret Steffen (45), McMahon and Dawson Sahm (50). Gluch also had a 35.4 average punting.
Coach Hanson singled out Steffen and Matt Hanson for their work in the offensive line and on defense.
“These were some of the guys who helped set the foundation for the future,” Hanson said. “We’ll have a good group of freshmen and sophomores to work with coming back next year.”