There’s always some resistance to change. It’s just natural, just the way it is.
The Oregon football program seems to be the exception to that rule. With a new head coach bringing in a new offensive system, the Hawks have thrived throughout the offseason.
There is optimism in the locker room, as Oregon brings back several starters and experienced players from last year’s team after losing only seven seniors from the 2021 roster.
“We didn’t lose too much from last year – we lost two very big, athletic kids, but other than that, we bring a lot of the guys back. We’ve also got a lot of new guys coming up that are just as athletic and just as big,” senior Gabe Eckerd said. “And we’ve really made progress in becoming closer as a team.”
Broc Kundert takes over as coach for Nick Schneiderman, who resigned following last season after a five-year run as the head Hawk. Kundert is a Freeport High School grad who spent the last four years as head coach at Freeport Aquin, and brings with him a little more of a spread look on offense.
But the new scheme it hasn’t been too much of a culture shock, according to senior lineman Evan Flaharty.
“Everything’s been really smooth. We never really had any issues at all. Everyone loves it, it’s been a great transition all-around,” he said. “I guess it’s a little bit of a shock because usually we’re just ground-and-pound every play. We’ll see how it goes; I’m sure we’ll do all right at it.”
Kundert says the players have picked up on things very quickly, and he credits that to it not being as different as it might look from the outside.
“A lot of what we do might look complex, but it’s really simple. Even still, we have our number system, we have a lot of the same stuff. I would say it’s almost Wing-T, but in shotgun; we’re pulling guards, we’re running traps, we’re doing a lot of the same stuff they’ve been used to, just maybe a step back or a step forward,” he said. “We’ll be throwing it a little more, but I think people see the spread or the shotgun and they think it’s throw it all the time. We’re going to try to be as balanced as we can, and if we can be 60-40 run-pass, that’s even better.”
In addition to the new style being easy to pick up, the relationship between Kundert and his new players has also been a key factor in making the transition so smooth.
“It’s been really easy, actually. He’s a really cool guy, pretty chill most of the time, but when he needs to get on us, he gets on us,” Flaharty said. “I think everyone likes that style.”
The Hawks have had a little extra time to get to know their new coach, as circumstances outside the situation helped Kundert meet his new team and spend more time with them in the offseason than he might have been able to normally.
“I was kind of lucky; we had our first son in January, and I took paternity leave the last two months at Freeport, so I had a lot of time to get to know the kids,” Kundert said. “I made it down here once a week during the school year, and then over the summer at least three days a week when we were lifting, so I’ve been around the guys a lot.
“And that’s what they want, I think, they want to be around the coach. So I got to make a lot of good relationships and feel really good about where we’re at with the kids.”
With the relationship farther along than it otherwise might have been to start the summer workouts, Oregon’s players have been able to focus more on the new style of play than worrying about meshing with their new coach.
And with so many veterans on this year’s team, the Hawks already had a strong focus on the coming season before they even got out onto the field for camp in July. The most important thing now is getting comfortable with the new playbook before the season opener against Dixon on Aug. 26 at Landers-Loomis Field.
“Not a lot has changed. I think the intensity of practices, and the hopes of the players are the biggest differences,” Eckerd said. “We have pretty high hopes this year, pretty high expectations, and it shows in the goals we’ve been setting.
“I think just getting all the new plays ready will be the big thing. We’ve basically put in a new offense, so we’ve just been getting a lot of reps learning the new plays. We’ve come pretty far with that.”
After coaching in the NUIC his first couple of seasons at Aquin, Kundert oversaw the transition of the Bulldogs program to eight-man football last season; they made the playoffs in their inaugural season last fall. He led Aquin to a 6-0 record in the 2021 spring season, following an 11-1 record and NUIC South title in 2019.
The takeaway there is he’s no stranger to a tough conference, and likens the Hawks’ situation in the rough-and-tumble Big Northern Conference with the Bulldogs being in the always-tough NUIC. He knows it will be a challenge every week, every year, but he also feels that Oregon can rise to the occasion and get back to the level of a perennial playoff team.
“You don’t want to go somewhere where the competition is down. This is a place where you’re battle-tested come playoff time, and you feel good for that first round – as long as you’re not playing somebody from the conference,” Kundert said. “It’s the same way in the NUIC; you’d play teams hopefully not from the NUIC the first couple rounds, then you knew you were going to have to beat somebody from your conference later down the road. I think it’s kind of the same way here, so we’re excited for the opportunity.”