CHIPPEWA FALLS — Despite it being high noon and the temperatures creeping past 85 degrees with nary a cloud in sight, the goosebumps on Noah Weimert’s arms were hard to miss.
A year ago at this time, the center and defensive lineman from Chippewa Falls McDonell didn’t have a home on the football field. In fact, he thought his opportunity to play high school ball might be gone for good.
The Macks canceled their 2017 season because of low numbers and folks being timid about playing 8-man ball.
But after a grassroots effort year that included lunchtime meetings with kids in school and performing football workouts on his own — with a few other classmates too — the Macks are back. They play their first game at 1 p.m. Saturday against Northwood/Solon Springs at Dorais Field.
Under first-year coach Jason Cox, a former Leader-Telegram sports reporter, Weimert and his teammates will start a new chapter of McDonell football as it begins its first season under the 8-man format.
“It’s super special honestly,” Weimert said. “It really is. Honestly, just thinking about it gives me chills.”
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision to cancel the 2017 season, and it was far from an overnight process to field a team for 2018.
Cox was a student teacher at the school in the spring of 2017 before taking a full-time position the next fall.
He said that not fielding a football team was never a permanent thing and that the goal was always to put a squad back out there the following season, which is now.
Early indications didn’t look great, and Weimert also admitted there wasn’t much hope. But then a formal meeting in the spring arrived, and a lot of guys showed up. It was clear right then and there that football would be coming back.
“We definitely have some guys out here who want to play, who are hungry for success, and really hungry to just play football,” Cox said.
A storied program — with a 2009 trip to state to prove it — has returned to the gridiron.
“A lot of people realized how sucky it is to not have a team,” Weimert said. “A lot of people wanted to get out and play again.”
Now the Macks take the field with a different look. With more space on the field in the eight-man game and a former slot wide receiver as head coach, McDonell will have a spread look on offense and use its athleticism defensively.
“It’s a lot more fast-paced. You have to be ready at all times, especially on defense,” senior Eli Swoboda said. “You can have three guys go out for a pass, and you have to cover all of them. A lot to cover, but I think we have a good team to do it.”
It’s a new look certainly. But for sure it looks better on the field for the Macks than sitting at home on a Friday night.
As for Cox, he’ll get his first taste of being a head coach at the varsity level.
A native of Palmyra, Mo., Cox was a three-sport athlete in high school before attending the University of Missouri and eventually making his way north to the Leader-Telegram.
After leaving the paper to teach full time, Cox was an assistant on the boys soccer and baseball teams last year. Despite never being a head coach before, he’s learned how to interact with kids outside the classroom and channel their focus toward a common goal on the field.
“I haven’t done any football coaching, but just being able to figure out how to interact with kids on the football field as opposed to the classroom and figuring out the types of things they need to do,” Cox said. “A lot of these kids are guys I know from the classroom, and I had them in baseball too, so I kind of know what they respond to and what I need to do to get them on the right page.”
It’s an open environment at McDonell. Cox is open for conversation among his players, who are just as eager to learn in order to put the best product on the field this fall.
“He’s a great guy to play for,” Swoboda said. “Everybody likes him, and he knows what he’s doing for sure. He’s not just throwing stuff at you. He listens to us, and we listen to him. A lot of respect both ways.”
McDonell is finalzing its schedule, and the Macks don’t have a conference. But there’s plenty to play for this fall.
These guys have the pens in their hands to etch the first sentences of the next chapter. They couldn’t be more excited.
“We’re the first ones to set the tone,” Swoboda said. “Have to make sure it keeps going.”