|Click Photo to Enlarge
Mooseheart head coach Gary Urwiler addresses his team during the team’s opening practice. Urwiler enters his 15th season as Ramblers coach with a 76-58 record.
Mooseheart football players warm-up at the start of Wednesday’s opening practice. The Ramblers are in preparation for their Aug. 30 season opener, a 7 p.m. home contest with Kirkland Hiawatha.
Mooseheart linemen go through a footwork drill during their opening practice session of the 2013 season. The Ramblers finished 9-2 in 2012.
Senior J.J. Odunsi executes a receiving drill during Mooseheart’s first practice of the 2013 season.
Mooseheart senior Willie Nicholas (left) hands the ball to junior Joe Feemorlu during a drill in the Ramblers’ opening practice.
MOOSEHEART, IL, August 15 – Surrounded by all the familiar sights of their home stadium, Mooseheart’s football team took its first steps toward its Aug. 30 season-opening on Wednesday (Aug. 14.)
But that setting marked one of the differences as the first practices for the Ramblers’ opening contest – a 7 p.m. home game with Kirkland Hiawatha – began at 8 a.m. on the first day of practice for all Illinois fall sports teams.
“Even after one day, I’m looking at our guys and I don’t feel we don’t have an opportunity to compete at a high level,” Mooseheart coach Gary Urwiler said. “It’s just a matter of getting these guys the growth that they need and getting it from them quickly.”
New practice rules this year limit the number of hours a team can practice a day, so the Ramblers opted not to travel 60 miles west to Camp Ross, their early-preseason practice sight since 2009.
“No matter what, it’s still familiar territory to us,” Urwiler said. “I think the benefit of Camp Ross was that there were no distractions and it was a different climate. We miss going to camp, but we’re here at our home field and it’s a beautiful field and we’re taking advantage of a beautiful day with beautiful weather.”
All high school teams experience roster turnover from year to year, but for a small school like Mooseheart, that turnover always creates massive changes. Gone are keys from the 2013 season such as quarterback Jon Hart, running back Oumaru Abdulahi, receiver Sahr Mahoney as well as defensive stars such as Chris Gustafson.
“The nature of small school football is that you’re going to turn over guys,” Urwiler said. “The joy of it is that when you turn them over, you’ve been holding some other guys and it’s their turn to carry on that legacy and step up.”
With a turnout expected to top 40 this year, the Ramblers have options for players to fill the gaps. A year ago, Mooseheart was 9-2 and advanced to the second round of the Class 1A playoffs for the second consecutive year. Urwiler carries a 76-58 record into his 15th season as the team’s head coach.
“We have a lot of new faces and we’re just going to go with it,” Urwiler said. “We still have J.J. Odunsi who’s playing receiver for us. We have Hameed Odunewu who caught the ball a few times for us. And we have Freddie Okito, who was a key player for us on the JV level last year as well. We still have some guys who can make things happen. We just need to see it at speed on the field.”
Hart was the team’s starting quarterback for three seasons, a period in which the Ramblers went 23-8. David Serrano and Willie Nicholas are the leading contenders to quarterback the 2013 Ramblers.
“David Serrano led the JV and they had a nice record last year,” Urwiler said. “He did what he had to do to be successful there. Willie Nicholas played some JV last year as well and split time with (Serrano.)”
Abdulahi was a key back for four seasons for the Ramblers, despite being slowed by injuries in his final three seasons.
“We’re playing with the idea of one of our guards from last year, Brandon Gadson, possibly playing back there and running the ball a little bit,” Urwiler said. “Joe Feemorlu carried the ball for us last year as a freshman.”
Defensively, the loss of Gustafson opened a hole that Jeremy Kalicum figures to fill.
“He played a couple of years ago for us,” Urwiler said. “He didn’t play last year but he’s a tough-nosed kid. Will he be able to pick up the defensive scheme? We’ll see. We still have John Ranum and outside linebackers such as Joe Feemorlu.”
The opening practice was capped at two hours and the Ramblers moved through the same things they have always done on the first day of practice – basic blocking, tackling and conditioning drills.
“We’re big believers in the fundamentals of the game,” Urwiler said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time on those fundamentals. We’re going to go over every aspect of tackling and form tackling and what that means and try to keep guys safe and injury free. The team stuff will come together at the end.”
Mooseheart 2013 Varsity Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 30, home vs. Kirkland Hiawatha, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7, at Westminster Christian, 1 p.m.
Thursday. Sept. 12, home vs. North Shore Country Day, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21, at Luther North, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28, at Christian Liberty, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 5, home vs. Alden-Hebron (homecoming), 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11, at Ottawa Marquette, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 18, home vs. Chicago Hope, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 25, home vs. Rockford Christian Life, 7 p.m.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.
Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.