WIU seeks balance in its offense as Leathernecks strive to return to glory

Redshirt freshman Seth Glatz (45), shown here after scoring a touchdown in Friday’s spring game, has caught the eye of the Western Illinois coaching staff. (Photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

By Dan Verdun

MACOMB — Western Illinois welcomed back a large contingent of its athletic alumni for Friday night’s spring football game to celebrate past prestige. And it’s the intention of second-year head coach Myers Hendrickson to return his current team to glory.

“We wanted to create a great family atmosphere with incredible alumni support,” said Hendrickson, who played at WIU from 2009 through 2011.

“This was phenomenal,” he said. “You’ve got Randy Ball, our all-time winningest coach, back. He addressed the golf outing here this morning. He addressed my team tonight before we came out here.”

The Leathernecks have fallen on hard times in recent years. WIU last posted a winning record in 2017, going 8-4 and making a playoff appearance.

Despite its drought, Western’s former players remain very much a part of the program. Nearly 150 ex-Leathernecks participated in the weekend’s festivities, according to Scott Holland, assistant athletic director for athletic communications.

Prior to Friday’s 6 p.m. spring game, the alumni and current players engaged in the “Leatherneck Handshake,” which has become a contemporary WIU tradition. (Photo by Dan Verdun, Prairie State Pigskin)

WIU’s public address announcer introduced honorary captains and former Leatherneck stars Deion Melvin, Nate Blanks, Frank Winters and Matt Barr to the crowd gathered Friday evening at Hanson Field.

A veteran coach with more than 30 years experience, Melvin coached 10 All-American linebackers and two Buck Buchanan Award winners while at WIU.

Blanks, the ex-WIU receiver, was a member of the 1987 Seattle Seahawks.

Winters is a Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame inductee. He was the starting center for a Super Bowl-winning Packers team.

Barr, a record-setting quarterback as well as a Hendrickson teammate, was the Gateway Conference Player of the Year in 2010.

“It’s a special time in our program,” said Hendrickson, whose father Mark was previously WIU’s offensive coordinator (1999-2007) and head coach (2008-2012).

Reviving the run

The Leathernecks are making a concerted effort to return balance to their offense.

“We’ve got to look at the spring tape and figure out what this group is best at,” said first-year offensive coordinator Pat Denecke. “That’s something the offensive staff has spent a lot of time on. You can have all the scheme in the world, but if it doesn’t fit your player skill set, it’s no good.”

Hendrickson said, “We want to run the ball.”

Last fall, WIU ranked 115th out of 123 FCS teams in rushing offense. The Leathernecks averaged just 88.5 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry.

In addition, Western leading rusher senior Erin Collins ran for 338 yards — 163 of which came in the season finale at Illinois State. That season total is the lowest in WIU’s Division I history, excluding the 2020 COVID-19 shortened spring schedule.

Hendrickson and his staff, however, can draw some encouragement and assurance out of that November afternoon at ISU. The Leathernecks rushed for a season-high 232 yards and 14 first downs in a 20-13 overtime loss.

Offensive coordinator Pat Denecke (Photo by Barry Bottino, Prairie State Pigskin)

While Collins was Western’s leading ball carrier that day, freshman Seth Glatz burst onto the scene with a 17-carry, 78-yard performance.

“When I left the locker room at Illinois State this winter I was incredibly excited about the future of our backfield and a lot of that was the way that Ludo (senior Ludovick Choquette) and Seth played in particular,” Hendrickson said.

Glatz, listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, gained more than just yardage and experience against ISU.

“Being able to get out on the field and being able to show what I can do was a big confidence booster for me,” he said.

Glatz, who ran for 3,246 yards and 46 touchdowns on 373 carries for state semifinalist Morton (Ill.) High School in 2021, had the bulk of the rushing attempts in WIU’s spring game. He sees the benefits of a dependable ground attack.

“Getting that run game going opens up the whole offense for us. If we’re able to run it, then we’ll be able to pass it, too,” Glatz said.

As things stand, Denecke sees Choquette, Glatz and redshirt freshman Wentric Williams III rotating in the WIU backfield.

“They all have unique skill sets,” Denecke said. “Seth is very strong with the way he runs. Ludo has played a lot of football here, (he’s) an extremely smart football player. And Wentric is a very physical guy. They each bring their own unique take to the running back room, and they will each have a role this fall.”

Veteran presence

After originally indicating he was stepping away from football, redshirt senior center Ty O’Janovac returned for spring practice. Both Denecke and Hendrickson welcomed him back with open arms.

“I’ve been very lucky all my career to always inherit a very experienced center and that is extremely valuable,” said Denecke, who also coaches the WIU offensive line. “With the way I like to do things, the center has to be an extension of me out there. We’re on the same page, and he’s done a great job of leading a young group this spring.”

O’Janovac, a Joliet Catholic Academy graduate who started all 11 games last season, has yet to decide if he will play for WIU beyond April.

“I’m waiting to be accepted into grad school,” O’Janovac said. “It just depends on how things fall. I love my guys and being with them.”

Hendrickson said of O’Janovac, “There’s nothing I’m more excited about than our players’ lives after football. I hope it continues on for all of them, whether it be with us or professionally. He’s an incredible person and one of those who will dominate life and be successful in whatever he does. We want him back for the fall if we can.”

(Editor’s note: On Tuesday, the WIU alumni account on Facebook posted a message from O’Janovac stating he was leaving the football team to accept a spot as a graduate student in the chemistry department.)

News & notes: The spring game featured the offense taking on the defense, with special scoring rules in place. The defense posted a 27-21 victory . . . Denecke arrived in Macomb after coaching the offensive line at Valparaiso last fall . . . Mark Hendrickson served as an assistant coach and advisor to his son Myers at Kansas Weslyan, an NAIA program (2019-2021). According to WIU’s athletic website, Mark Hendrickson is coaching tight ends, fullbacks and specialists this spring . . . Western Illinois alum and former linebacker Brian Spotts organized most of the weekend’s events. Spotts, a Quincy High School graduate, played at WIU from 1976 to ’79 . . . The Leathernecks open the 2023 season Sept. 2 at FBS New Mexico State. WIU kicks off its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule Sept. 9, hosting rival Illinois State.

Coming up later this week: Barry Bottino takes a look at the Leatherneck defense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: