When he can’t catch pass, Raider catches heat

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge’s Brett Nordhoff plowed over North Posey’s Cale O’Risky to pick up extra yards after reeling in a catch against North Posey on Sept. 13. Nordhoff has made the switch from fullback to tight end this season, and the transition has included good-natured ribbing from teammates and coaches who give the junior a hard time about his habit of dropping passes in practice.

By JOE JASINSKI
and JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writers

Brett Nordhoff wants to make sure everyone’s aware: We’re talkin’ about practice.

Sure, the Southridge tight end’s hands haven’t been the most reliable Monday through Thursday. He’s caught (pun intended) flack from a host of characters about his botches during weekly drills.

Fear not, Nordhoff assures. The midweek mishandles are for the greater good.

“I’m working my hands out, getting my drops out of the way,” Nordhoff said. “I can’t use up all my catches in practice.”

Yet many teammates just don’t seem willing to receive Nordhoff’s claims of progression. Nordhoff had been a fullback his whole career before moving to tight end this season.

“He was the baseball catcher, so we figured, ”˜Hey, he’s got to be able to catch the ball,’” Raider offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian recalled when selecting Nordhoff as a pass threat. “It wasn’t as smooth a transition as we had hoped.”

Not smooth? Hey, Nordhoff could always bust out this comeback: He’s scored a touchdown on 50 percent his receptions this season (two catches, one TD).

Nordhoff simply can’t win with his critics. He drops a pass. He hears it. He catches a pass. They yell at him for immediately hitting the turf.

“Everyone’s like, ”˜Nordhoff, you can’t catch! But when you do catch it, you just fall down!” the junior said.

But then comes a flash of brilliance.

Take the Raiders’ game against Clarksville, for example. Ohanian dialed up a play with Nordhoff scheduled on the receiving end. Artistry ensued.

“I called a pass and someone on the sideline said, ”˜You know that’s going to Nordhoff, right?’ And I said, ”˜He’ll be fine,’” Ohanian recounted. “And I’ll be gosh danged if he didn’t make a great over-the-shoulder type of catch. He’s a gamer. He knows the moment.”

For Nordhoff, easy catches just aren’t his thing. His drop against South Spencer last week? A tight spiral from quarterback Luke Stetter? Too easy.

And where’s the fun in that?

“It’s weird. I could be just standing there running, wide open. ... I’ll look up at the ball, and I’m like, ”˜Oh, boy, I’m going to catch it!’ And it just goes right through my hands,” Nordhoff said. “But I could be running, it could be an awful pass, I’ll dive — one day in practice, (I had a) diving catch right along the ground. I don’t know how I did it.”

The Raiders know there’s potential for the “fine athlete.”

“I’ll just say, he’s a work in progress,” Ohanian conceded.

A work in progress. Destined for greatness. Maybe.

Back in the groove

Todd Wilkerson sat nervously in school last Friday as the rain unloaded on Lincoln City.

The conditions weren’t exactly what he had hoped for, especially with a quarterback set to make his first start since surgery to repair a torn ACL just seven months prior.

Wilkerson

Thankfully for Heritage Hills, the field conditions in Poseyville didn’t present too much of a risk for quarterback Logan Wilkerson. So from there, it was just about getting the junior popped a time or two.

“It took a little bit to get back in the flow of the game and getting used to the contact again,” Logan Wilkerson said.

Added Todd Wilkerson: “It was more about getting that first one out of the way. Getting out, getting hit a little bit, making a mistake or two and getting through it. I think that’s something we all wanted to get behind us.”

Wilkerson had run primarily scout team offense during previous weeks’ practices to afford snaps to prior starting quarterback Caleb Mulzer, who adjusted to the slot receiver role Friday and reeled in a 33-yard catch.

Without much experience making in-game, reactionary decisions this season, the Patriots’ 30-22 comeback over North Posey offered the newly installed play-caller chances for some on-the-fly choices.

Some weren’t spectacular, like a first-quarter interception in the endzone.

Others — namely a 12-yard third-down conversion with the Pats up by a point in the fourth quarter — revealed promise and offered a friendly reminder of the game’s painful nature, as referees slapped a Viking defender with a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer.

“I got hit a couple times. The first time, you’re on the ground and you think, ”˜All right, get up.’ You’re still fine,” said Wilkerson, who finished with 133 passing yards.

And the late hit?

“That one hurt,” he said. “I got licked pretty good there.”

Hoffman and the Rollers

Last Friday’s game between Forest Park and Pike Central wasn’t pretty in a lot of ways. But the only thing that ended the game looking more dejected than the Ranger players was the actual field.

After on-and-off showers all day, and then about 20 to 30 minutes of heavy downpours, combined with 22 athletes running and jumping and tackling, the surface resembled a mud-wrestling pit more than a football field. Coach Ross Fuhs said he’s probably seen and played on one other field that looked worse by the end of it than he did Friday.

“I remember playing on a field like that my senior year at Southridge,” Fuhs said. “It’s nasty and muddy. It’s hard to hold onto the ball, hard to even move.”

But lo and behold, Fuhs said the field looks fine now. The Rangers even practiced some special-teams work on it earlier this week. The turnaround is relatively simple and starts with one man and an 800-pound roller.

The man is Scott Hoffman, the head of transportation and ground maintenance at Forest Park. The 800-pound roller is, well, a yellow 800-pound concrete cylinder. Hoffman took a look at the field Friday night and then on Monday used a tractor to pull the roller across the field, stamping out the foot marks and compressing the mud that seeped up. When it dries, the field’s ready for play again.

Even the roller can only go so far, though. Hoffman and his crew put in Bermuda grass a few years ago. It’s a tough and durable breed but requires warm weather and lots of sun to grow. In addition to the damage on Friday, the field hosted a grade school game Saturday morning. Now there are areas of the field, especially in the middle between the hash marks, where the grass is sparse. With the fall and winter season approaching, Hoffman said it might be that way for a while.

“It’s going to stay bare like that,” Hoffman said. “They’ll be playing in the mud until next summer.”

Contact The Herald at sports@dcherald.com.




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