Morrison's Riley Wilkens missed part of fall practices because he was finishing up basic training.
Morrison's Riley Wilkens missed part of fall practices because he was finishing up basic training. — Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com

When fall practices began on August 12, Morrison senior Riley Wilkens was not on the football field – but he had been getting plenty of work in over the summer.

The Mustangs fullback is back in camp this week after finishing up basic training with the Army National Guard.

“I was planning on enlisting after high school anyway,” he said. “I heard about the National Guard, and I could go between junior and senior year. I decided I might as well.”

Former Morrison defensive coordinator John McCoy had talked to Wilkens about serving his country, and that is what Wilkens sees himself doing as a career.

“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” Wilkens said. “Being down there, there’s just no better feeling than taking pride in what you do like that. I miss it already, being down there. Being back is weird.”

He traded in his camps and 7-on-7s up here for a far different schedule in Fort Benning, Georgia.

“Wake up 4 a.m. PT starts at 5:30, that’s physical training,” he said. “We’ll have breakfast, then we’ll do whatever training we do that day, rifles or just combatives. Then we’ll have lunch chow around noon, then we’ll go back to whatever training, then a little bit more PT, then chow and lights out. It’s pretty intense.”

“He came back in great shape, so we’re excited about that as well,” Morrison coach Ryan Oetting said.

He also came back with some new skills, like a chance to be a leader for the Mustangs.

“I try to work with some of the guys with physical stuff, because there’s a lot I learned down there,” Wilkens said. “As well as just being more of a leader to the team, because I was actually in charge of my whole platoon, so I try to bring some of that leadership skills that I learned down there.”

Oetting said Wilkens jumped right back in when he got back to Morrison.

“He doesn’t know what to do with his free time sometimes because he was busy all the time,” Oetting said. “If we’re not doing something, he’s over there doing pushups. I think it’s great. Some of the other kids are jumping in.”

Wilkens will now turn his attention to Morrison football, as the Mustangs try to turn things around after a 2-7 record in 2018.

“We worked all summer. We used a lot of our contact days to install the offense, so the offense is a little bit ahead of the defense in this case,” Oetting said. “Things are coming along nicely. We’ve had a good first few weeks of practices.”

The Mustangs’ offense will be similar to what Morrison was able to do last year, but Oetting hopes it will be able to take a step forward. The Mustangs were shut out by Hall and held under 10 points in three other games.

“We struggled a little bit at times,” Oetting said. “Our blocking schemes are maybe a little bit simpler this year. I think we’ve got a pretty good, formidable line.”

Keegan Anderson is back after leading the Mustangs in rushing last year, carrying 58 times for 288 yards and three scores. Wilkens wasn’t far behind, with 268 rushing yards.

But Oetting thinks there are six rushers who could be in the mix to carry the ball for Morrison this year.

“I don’t even know who it will be week to week,” Oetting said. “Anderson, certainly most people know from track with his speed. Nathan Mickley is another one. Nick Allen is a track athlete. Hunter Newman is another one.”

Anderson, Mickley, Allen and Newman showed off that speed over the spring with key roles in prelims and finals for Morrison’s state championship 4x800 relay team alongside Morrison cross country runner Koby Brackemeyer.

Morrison did have success at times on defense last year, holding Sherrard to six points in Week 1, shutting out Kewanee in Week 3, and limiting Riverdale to nine points in Week 6. In a Week 5 loss to Fulton, the Steamers scored on their first two drives, but the Mustangs limited them to 41 total yards and no points the rest of the way.

Morrison relied on a 3-5 defense last year, and will mix that in with a 4-4 look this fall.

“I think we’re a year more experienced,” Oetting said. “Last year, we started quite a few juniors, five or six, and it really showed against senior-laden teams that we struggled. I hope we’re that senior-laden team on defense this year that can fly around and get to the football.”

Did You Know?

• In Weeks 5 & 6, Morrison will visit Newman, then host Bureau Valley. All three head coaches are former Newman assistants: Ryan Oetting (Morrison), Mat Pistole (Bureau Valley) and Brandon Kreczmer (Newman).