WABASSO - Before his football team's weekly film study on Monday afternoon, Wabasso coach Joe Kemp told his players that they can really make some noise this week.
Wabasso is one of three teams in the Southern Minnesota Conference to start the season 5-0 - the first time since 2009, when the current seniors were in eighth grade - en route to quietly earning a No. 7 ranking in Class A.
The five teams Wabasso beat have a combined record of 6-19. However, the next two weeks will provide the true test for the Rabbits, who host Martin County West (5-0) this Friday before going to Sleepy Eye to face St. Mary's on Oct. 11.
File photo by Steve Muscatello
Wabasso’s T.J. Fulton (3) fights the Tigers’ defense as Caleb Salfer (4) tried to block for him during the Rabbits’ 13-7 win against Springfield on Sept. 13. Wabasso is one of three teams in the Southern Minnesota Conference with a 5-0 record heading into Week 6.
"It gets amped up when it's 5-0 versus 5-0," Kemp said. "I think those things will naturally make you perform better and have better practices at this time of the season when normally it's a tough time in the season to play."
The Rabbits began last season 2-3 after starting 3-2 the two seasons before that, which have made them all the more of a surprise emergence through five weeks.
"At practice we really like to practice hard," said senior slotback T.J. Fulton. "We don't really mess around too much - if we do, captains try to get on them."
Fulton said Kemp has pushed the players into going above and beyond, which has helped shape them come game time. Maturity has been another aspect Kemp has credited to his team's success so far.
"We have really good athletes this year," said senior quarterback Neil Eichten. "We do play really good as a team. None of us like to lose."
Into his second season as the Rabbits' starting quarterback, Eichten has come a long way. Kemp said Eichten was careless with the football as a junior, but is now completing roughly 60 percent of his passes through five games.
Eichten's decision-making has also paid dividends.
"It's not so much the passes he completes, it's the times it's not there and he throws it away," Kemp said. "He has done that more and that gives us another shot."
Along with his heightened awareness has come other advantages that Eichten did not have in his junior campaign behind center.
"I can read the coverages a lot better - watch the safety and whatnot," Eichten said. "I can see the field so much better. It seems easy to me now."
Eichten credited his offensive line for a lot of the success he's had this year.
The group - composed of Matt Zeug at right tackle, Alex Schroepfer at right guard, William Klann at center, Jared Welch at left guard and Josh Altermatt at left tackle - has allowed two sacks through five games, which has given Eichten more time to make plays and keep the offense from stalling.
"If you've got a good line, you can obviously get off the ball and run," Fulton said. "They're pretty good at pass coverage, so Neil can sit back and have a bit of time."
Of all five starters on the offensive line, Kemp lauded Schroepfer as one of the quickest athletes on the field. Weighing in as the heaviest offensive lineman at 280 pounds, Schroepfer's speed has been an enigma of sorts.
"Shoot, I have no idea," Schroepfer said when asked how he got his speed. "It just came to me, I guess."
After wins against Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart and Minnesota Valley Lutheran, Wabasso's season hit its turning point with its 13-7 win against Springfield. Both teams headed into the game 2-0, but two touchdown passes of more than 70 yards each from Eichten to Fulton were the difference-makers in the Rabbits' third-straight win against the Tigers.
"It was very big," Schroepfer said. "Nobody thought we were anything until then. Once we beat them, people started recognizing us big time."
Wabasso will have a shot of garnering even more recognition if it can take down Martin County West this Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.