Football: Wheeler season preview
By Tom WYatt Post-Tribune correspondent
Wheeler's Derek Hartwig is the Bearcats returning leading rusher. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Lost 35-21 to Bremen in a regional
RB/DB Derek Hartwig
WR Jeremy Truschan
OL/DL Kyle Catherman
TE/DE Jack Sommer
LB Matt Pappas
QB Nick Naspinski
WR/DB Robert Hurd
WR Mitchell Stevenson
RB Adam Abrell
OL/DL D.J. Perrine
Wheeler has a new coach in Tony Klimczak and several new faces on the field, but the Bearcats are still a force. They haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2007. And they have never lost a game in the Greater South Shore Conference. It’s something the team doesn’t regularly talk about, but it’s a streak the team certainly wants to keep alive. The offense will revolve around senior RB Derek Hartwig. Junior Alex Ruesta will take over the reins at QB, filling the shoes of several successful QBs before him. Klimczak has high hopes for senior WR Jeremy Truschan. He’ll be a key target for Ruesta, whom Klimczak said has worked hard in the offseason and throws a nice ball.
Aug. 17 Boone Grove
Aug. 24 at Kankakee Valley
Aug. 31 at Whiting
Sept. 7 North Newton
Sept. 14 South Central
Sept. 21 at River Forest
Sept. 28 at Lake Station
Oct. 5 Bishop Noll
Oct. 12 Calumet
Oct. 19 Class 2A Sectional 25
The reality of it all hit Derek Hartwig while attending numerous open houses this summer. Most of them were for his former Wheeler football teammates. Hartwig got a number of pats on the back from fellow partygoers reminding him that he’s “the man” this year
“Some of the coaches would be there and some parents,” Hartwig said. “Some people would ask what’s the team looking like — even my own family.”
The Bearcats graduated a talented group from last year’s team that went undefeated through the regular season (the fourth straight year Wheeler has accomplished that feat) and beat Andrean in the sectional before falling to Bremen in a Class 2A regional.
Hartwig played a key role at running back and at defensive back for the Bearcats. But that role will be even more enhanced this season.
“I’m very excited to show everybody what I’ve got,” Hartwig said. “I have to accept it. I can’t be scared about it. I know I’m the guy now.”
There will be a different look for Wheeler this year. The Bearcats have a new coach, former assistant Tony Klimczak, who replaces brother Dan Klimczak, who left six seasons at the helm to be athletics director at South Central. Guys like receiver Robert Hurt and quarterback Nick Naspinski are gone.
But the style of football won’t change at Wheeler. The Bearcats will still spread it out, and they’ll still run the no-huddle offense. But they’ll play to their strengths, and it starts with Hartwig.
“He’s definitely has the most experience on offense on the team,” Tony Klimczak said. “He really developed into an impact player last season. We expect more of him this year.
“In my opinion, he’s 100 percent everything you look for in a tailback. In the past we’ve done some five receiver sets, but I’m not going to do that this year because he’s always a threat out of the backfield.”
Hartwig was listed at 155 pounds last year. He’s at 170 this year after committing himself to the weight room in the offseason.
“I’m faster and more explosive,” Hartwig said. “I concentrated mainly on the legs. You’ve got to have a lot power and keep those legs moving.”
That will to get better is another reason Klimczak likes Hartwig.
“He’s got all the physical tools you want in a tailback,” Klimczak said. “He’s fast, he’s elusive and he’s a hard runner.
“But he also is one of the most competitive kids I’ve coached. He brings everybody else’s level up a little bit with how much he wants it. Every play, it seems like he’s out to prove himself.”