BELOIT - Ted Soenksen's football team began arriving on the Beloit College campus Wednesday and, well, introductions were generally in order.
Hired in March, the first-year head coach had only about 17 players available for the Buccaneers' spring workouts so he admits it's going to take some time for everyone to settle in.
"Right now, I really don't know what we have," said Soenksen, who was the offensive coordinator at Lake Forest College the past four seasons. "We had only 17 players in the spring because we had six guys on the track team, three playing baseball and two on the lacrosse team. We just didn't get to see a lot of them.
"Thursday and Friday they'll just have helmets so Saturday will be the first day we really see football being played."
Soenksen expects a roster of about 43 players to open the season. There are only six seniors expected back from last season's 1-9 squad. That figure, as well as the low turnout overall, will temper expectations for 2019.
It could, however, be worse.
"When I was hired in March we only had one recruit committed and we added 15 more," he said. "That was only one less than they brought in the year before. Going forward we're going to try to increase that, but we're not going to mass recruit. We're going to target the right kids, get them here and then retain them for four years.
"Every school is different in how they recruit. I've been involved with programs that brought in 70 freshmen and others that brought in 25 to 35. That's more where we'll be here."
He likes the potential of the smallish class, which includes three area prospects: Emiliano Reyes (Beloit Turner), Chase Carrat (Parkview) and Ethan Rydell (North Boone).
"I think there are definitely kids coming in who can help immediately," Soenksen said.
The head coach has been a part of rebuilding projects in the past, as has his defensive coordinator, Kyle Langhoff, who was a Lake Forest teammate.
"He was always my first choice for the jjob," Soenksen said. "He's a very seasoned coach. We have a friendship and he has helped turn around multiple programs. He was at MacMurray College, down in Jacksonville (Ill.), where they had 22 guys on the roster the first year and had won four games in five years. He and the head coach got it together and the past four years they went 29-10 and had a roster size in the nineties."
Soenksen helped Lake Forest engineer a turnaround, too.
"We went from eight consecutive losing seasons to a conference champion," he said.
Holdovers include Jeremy Warren, Kevin Canty and Steve Wahlstrom. Jim Morrow, formerly at Harlem, will be the team's H-back coach. Matt Riddle will help coach the D-line. Joe Butz will be special teams coordinator and strength coach. William Affenyoung and Dom Parello round out the staff.
"We built this staff over about a two-month span and we've been very fortunate," Soenksen said.
The coaching staff won't dwell on the past. The Bucs were 11-39 in head coach Seth Duerr's five years at the helm.
"Both myself and my defensive coordinator have gone out of our way not to watch last year's films" Soenksen said. "We don't want to develop opinions off what was done last year. We want everyone to have a fair shake without preconceived notions over what guys can and can't do."
The goals for the Bucs, he said, are simple. Try to improve every day and stay healthy in the process. To try to attain the latter, he said his team will be smart when it comes to full contact in practice. In other words, there won't be a great deal of it.
"It's going to be a learning year," he said. "That's the best way I can put it. We have to worry about ourselves this year. Every day we have to get better at what we're doing. We have to find the best 11 to play on offense, the best 11 on defense, the best 11 on special teams and go. We can't worry about what we don't have and what we wish we had because none of that is going to change.
"We just have to strive to be the toughest and smartest guys out there."
The Bucs will scrimmage Concordia-Wisconsin at Strong Stadium at 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 29. They open for real when they host Concordia-Chicago at 5 p.m. Sept. 7.
• NOTES: Soenksen said the program has over 60 local kids visit campus this summer for next year's recruiting class. "We feel pretty good about that," he said. "We invited kids we believe are a good academic and athletic fit for this school." ...The Bucs have five quarterbacks on the roster, but the coach said after the staff determines the top two or three the rest will find themselves at other positions. "All five are athletic enough to play somewhere else," Soenksen said.