Question marks abound; Year of change for football team starts Thursday at Ogilvie

by Tom Coombe -

For the Ely Timberwolves, a bit of mystery may be solved Thursday night.
That’s when the high school football season begins at Ogilvie and their new head coach isn’t quite sure what to expect.
Cory Lassi, the program’s defensive coordinator the last eight seasons, has taken the reins of a program in the midst of change, including different offensive and defensive schemes and big turnover at key positions.
“I really don’t know what will happen,” said Lassi. “There are so many unknowns so far, with coach (P.J.) Peterson coming in and revamping the defense and I’m taking over the offense. We’ve got guys in different spots that we haven’t seen.”
Graduation took its toll on an Ely team that went 6-4 a year ago, including the departure of two-way all-league standout Blaise Lah as well as Carter Gaulke, a four-year starter at quarterback.
Add the transfer of Eli Conaway, who was the Wolves’ leading tackler and one of their top ground gainers, and the Wolves have had to reshuffle on the fly.
Lassi said he has been particularly impressed by the development of the team’s new signal-caller - junior Bryce Longwell.
“That’s the biggest change,” Lassi said. “We graduate a guy that’s been a starter for four years and knows the system in and out, but Bryce has done a good job coming in. He knows the plays and throws a nice ball. He’s kind of exceeding expectations so far.”
Longwell will direct an offense that could be more wide-open than in previous years, with Lassi switching to a four lineman set to open up additional throwing opportunities.
Ely will still look to move the ball on the ground and early on the Wolves will turn to a pair of backs who gained valuable experience in 2017 - juniors Nate Netifee and Dalton Schreffler.
The Wolves will also look for big things from a newcomer to the program as senior Nick Mattila - a hockey standout - has come out for football.
“I think we are going to be rotating backs,” said Lassi. “Nate will be starting at fullback and right now Dalton and Nick will be splitting time. Ideally down the road Nick would be starting.”
Mattila and Schreffler may alternate spots, with one serving as a running back and the other at a receiver position.
Another new player, exchange student Finn Liesching of Germany, has been a key find for the Wolves and gives Longwell another receiving target.
Ely figures to be strong up front, with seniors Jasiah Wigdahl (300 pounds) and Collen Seliskar (240) providing beef up front.
“We’ll look to run behind those guys when we need those couple yards,” said Lassi.
Lane Anderson, a 200-pound sophomore, returns as Ely’s starting center while senior Alex Motes has the inside track to start at an end spot.
On defense, the Wolves will go with many of the same personnel.
Wigdahl, Seliskar and Tjae Banks form an imposing defensive line while Motes, Schreffler and Netiffee are at linebacker.
Longwell is Ely’s starting safety and the Wolves are set to go with Liesching and Mattila at cornerback.
Depth figures to be an issue for the Wolves, who have a handful of players missing from the lineup from the first game or two.
“The biggest part right now is the lack of depth and trying to get these guys breaks,” said Lassi. “We’ve got some guys in spots we haven’t seen and I feel pretty good right now after nine days of practice, but one or two inuries could change that completely.”
Ely downed Ogilvie in a low-scoring affair in last year’s season-opener, and the Wolves travel south this week for the rematch as both teams adjust with ew faces.
“They lost their stud nose guard who we had a heck of a time blocking,” said Lassi. “But they return quite a few guys from their backfield.”
After the opener, Ely is off until its Sept. 14 home debut against Lake of the Woods, which kicks off a stretch that includes four home games in five weeks.
The schedule is a difficult one for the Wolves and includes a contest against last year’s section champion - North Woods - as well as meetings with perennial contenders South Ridge, Cook County and Mt. Iron-Buhl.
“I think you have to look at Cook County and MIB as favorites for who they return,” said Lassi. “Each graduated only one starter. Those are the two favorites with North Woods always being able to reload with their numbers.”

2017 Ely Timberwolves
Football Schedule

Thursday: at Ogilvie, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14: Lake of the
Sept. 21: South Ridge
Sept. 29: at Mt. Iron-Buhl, noon
Oct. 5: Cook County
Oct. 12: Silver Bay
Oct. 17: at North Woods

Home games in bold;
Game time 7 p.m. unless note