FOND DU LAC — Two years ago Mike Gnewuch and former Kimberly head coach Steve Jorgensen took over a struggling Fond du Lac football team and was focused on making the Cardinals a factor again.
After a struggling first season the Cardinals made noise in 2013 by making the playoffs and winning a Level 1 playoff game for the first time since 2009 by winning at Menomonee Falls, 25-24.
The Cardinals enter Year 3 of the Gnewuch-Jorgensen era on Friday as they play at Appleton North in the Week 1 GameTime Game of the Week and Gnewuch is looking forward to seeing where his team is early in the season.
"I think it's a real good litmus test to see how physical we are, because last year we weren't nearly as physical at the beginning of the year,” Gnewuch said. “We got better and better because we're a younger team, but I think it's going to be a good test to see where we're at right now."
Every coach is optimistic at this time of the season and when asked what he’s most pleased about with his team before a game has been played it’s, “The number of seniors we return and we return a lot guys who this will be their third year starting. There’s a number of kids who have started two years in the program, so the experience that we bring back is really a positive.”
Fond du Lac was 4-5 in the regular season last year but was 4-4 in VFA South games, making it playoff eligible. The Cardinals then surprised many with a Level 1 playoff win before falling to Germantowm 34-7, in Level 2.
The Cardinals are looking for more in 2014.
"Our goal this year is to get better than last year and go at least over .500 and make it farther in the playoffs," linebacker Jason Toshner said.
"We hope to make another step in the right direction," Gnewuch said. "We hope to have a couple more wins to the record. Our senior leadership has been real good so far, it's been real solid. What we need to do is have everyone focus on doing their job every single play."
Appleton North coach Rob Salm said he thinks Fond du Lac can win the VFA South and so does Toshner, who when asked if Fond du Lac can win the VFA South, he said, "Yeah, we can."
Friday's game at North is a non-division game but the Cardinals can make a statement to the rest of its division with an impressive performance.
Notes: QB Jack Nejedlo is back after tearing his ACL in Week 2 of last season. ... WR Brian Luteyn returns after leading Fond du Lac with 30 catches last season for 332 yards. ... Last year, Fond du Lac lost to Appleton North at home, 37-12. ... Fond du Lac lost its first three games last season but finished 4-1 to make the playoffs.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay