Bluejay gridmen prep for fast-approaching season

The Bluejay football team got a glimpse of three future foes in Friday’s Wausau West Scrimmage, but it was far more bent on introspection.

Merrill met their hosts first-a team they will see for real in the eighth game on Oct. 15-then squared off with Week 3 opponent Antigo and Week 2 foe Rhinelander.

“They look solid,” MHS coach Tom Tourtillott said. They definitely are some good football teams.

“But at a scrimmage you’re really evaluating yourself and not showing a lot. You play 20 plays in a row (against each team), and you’re not really evaluating anyone but yourself.”

So what did that inner look show?

“I’m pleased with the way my seniors have stepped up and lead the younger guys in not only how to practice but how to play in a game,” Tourtillott said. “It’s a matter of always doing your very best, and being able to look your teammate in the eye and say, ‘I did my best.’

“I was pleased with how we did, but there are still areas we can improve on. The biggest thing is we came out of that scrimmage and all of our two-a-day(practice)s healthy. That’s due to all the effort the boys put in in the off-season. That’s big. (Week 1 opponent) Lakeland lost a starting halfback.”

Delving into specifics a little deeper, Tourtillott noted, “I thought our fullbacks-Michael Ball and Coty Rajek-did a very good job. Our offensive line and defensive line were fundamentally strong and physical, and the game is won with the guys up front.”

The Bluejays will have a new look with last year’s tight end Sam Arneson-a UW-Wisconsin recruit at the position-moving to quarterback. He will also still play inside linebacker where he was the GNC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.

“Sam had a strong desire to play quarterback and has had a great summer of work,” Tourtillott said. “He really surprised me with how good he is, but he’s a phenomenal athlete, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.

“He played quarterback as a freshman and got a look there as a sophomore, but (GNC Offensive POY and Honorable Mention All-State selection) Pascal (Paul) beat him out.”

Merrill will visit Lakeland for Friday’s 7 p.m. contest. The Jays defeated Lakeland 35-7 last year on the way to a 6-0 GNC season and an 11-2 overall record on the way to a Level 4 playoff game. The T-Birds finished 3-3 in the GNC and 6-4 overall, with a close 28-21 playoff loss to Osceola.

This year Lakeland is a non-conference game since Merrill has been returned to the Valley in the controversial WIAA Board of Control vote allowing Rhinelander to enter the GNC after initially turning down the chance.

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