By PATRICK SLACK
Every Sunday night, the Little Falls coaching staff studies game film of the upcoming opponent.
Every Sunday night, the staff comes up with multiple game plans, contingencies if the Flyers’ foe is able to take away the running game.
Every Friday night, Jalen Wuchko renders those plans unnecessary.
Try as they might, no one has been able to slow down the Little Falls 5-foot-11, 220-pound wrecking ball of a senior running back, as Wuchko has bulldozed his way to 888 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns through just four games.
There was a time last year when opponents would size up Wuchko and figure he was simply a bruiser.
Capable of plowing through a pile at the line to be sure, but unlikely to zip past them in the open field.
Those days are gone.
“I think by this point they’ve sort of caught on, but last year it was kind of funny,” Wuchko said. “Everybody thought I was going to be slow, but at the end of the game they told me I was a lot faster than I look.
“I like to avoid them if I can,” he said, “but I definitely have no problem running through them.”
That combination of strength and speed led him to 1,177 yards rushing as a junior, an already standout figure he is on pace to shatter.
Wuchko’s yardage totals to open the 2013 season have escalated from good to great to nearly absurd: 152, 192, 235 and 309.
The latter two totals were leading factors in the Flyers’ first two wins, a 41-17 victory at Milaca, Sept. 13, followed by a 46-7 homecoming drubbing of St. Cloud Cathedral, Sept. 20.
So how has Wuchko been able to not only keep up, but accelerate at such a torrid pace when defenses are gearing up to stop him?
Little Falls head coach Jay DeCann just leans back and laughs, pointing to the rare combination of size and speed Wuchko possesses.
“We see these teams on film, and Sunday nights we scheme some things and there’s probably two, three, four things that we never have to get to when Jalen can run the ball like that, because we just don’t need them,” he said.
“It’s not that the other teams are that bad,” DeCann said. “We see on film, that they’re going to stop the run. So if they stop the run, what’s next? The last two weeks we have not had to go what’s next.”
Especially against Cathedral, as Wuchko’s exploits were not lost on anyone, even in the midst of the action.
“Oh, we knew,” DeCann said. “At halftime he was at 240-something, so we basically told him we needed to score the first drive, get it taken care of and then he was done. I said, ‘If you’re going to get any more yards, you better get it right now.’”
Wuchko proceeded to cross the 300-yard mark on the opening drive of the second half, upping the lead to 39-0 and leaving little need for him the rest of the night as the Flyers were able to clear their bench early.
So was there any part of Wuchko that wished the game had been closer so he could add on to his monster numbers?
“Oh no,” DeCann said. “No, he’s one of the most humble kids I’ve ever been around. The kid just has a great feel for what we’re doing in the run game.
“He gives a lot of credit to our offensive line and our tight ends and Trysten Ross our fullback,” he said. “They’ve done a tremendous job of getting off the ball and giving him creases and lanes. If we can get him to the second level where he’s running against smaller linebackers and defensive backs, they really don’t have much chance of tackling him.”
While Wuchko said he tried to treat the game like any other, the homecoming setting, and the opportunity to avenge a rough 39-14 loss to Cathedral from a year ago, added a little extra to the performance.
“Last year they beat us pretty bad,” Wuchko said. “Second game, we were still trying to get things figured out. Last homecoming and all, I definitely wanted to leave it a good one.
“The offensive linemen were paying attention to what the defense was doing so they could tell Coach, and then Coach was able to make the adjustments from there,” he said. “The offensive line really helped.”
With half of the team’s regular season slate still ahead, Wuchko believes the team has shaken off its 0-2 start.
“We definitely bounced back,” Wuchko said. “The main problem we had was nerves. We were up 20 at halftime (against Albany). I think we focused too hard on trying not to lose than playing how we can play. Definitely the nerves got us, but we overcame that obviously and got two great wins.
“We should have no problem winning the next games we have as long as we play as a team and play focused,” he said.
His latest effort landed him atop the state’s leaderboard in total rushing yards. So does he have any predictions on when another Cathedral-like outburst may happen next?
Wuchko just laughs … a luxury upcoming Granite Ridge foes don’t have.
“Not going to make any of those,” he said. “Don’t want to jinx it.”