|10-14-2011, 05:29 PM|
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Mountain of pandemonium: 6-foot-8 Ulrich dominates on defensive line
When you stand 6-foot-8 and put a 300-pound imprint in the turf, people take notice.
When you wear former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer’s number (9), people get confused when you line up at nose guard.
What’s not confusing about Matt Ulrich is what he does (raise chaos) to the opponent’s offensive line and what he means (everything) to the Winona State University defense.
It all starts up front with Ulrich, and defensive ends Lewis Johnson and Matt Kaderly.
Ulrich is a mountain of a man who is likely playing the best football of his college career. That, in turn, has led to the Warriors’ defense playing some of its best football in recent seasons.
Both will need to be on top of their game Saturday night when defending NCAA Division II national champion University of Minnesota Duluth (4-1, 3-1) comes to town.
It won’t start under the lights with a 6 p.m. kickoff, but it will certainly end with them on.
“It all started with all the work we put in together in the offseason, pushing each other,” Ulrich said. “Everyone sees how hard each other is working.
“You can trust the guy next to you is ready. We just know that everybody is ready for key situations that come up.”
Getting to this point for the defense, and for himself, has been a learning process, Ulrich said. Last season, the Warriors switched to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3, following a belief that four athletic, speedy and hard-hitting linebackers would be better suited to defend the high-powered offenses of the NSIC.
The switch was not an instant success, but week by week, Winona State made noticable improvements during the 2010 season.
This season, that improvement has continued.
“We got the new defense two years ago and last year we were just kind of getting used to it,” Ulrich said. “This year, it’s much better. The key to the defense is communication.
“We had walk-throughs as a defense, just the players (over the summer), and that part has brought us all together.”
When co-defensive coordinator Jason Petrino left after last year, head coach Tom Sawyer brought in former Winona State player David Braun. Braun, who was at Culver-Stockton (Canton, Mo.), is co-defensive coordinator, along with Brian Curtin.
It seems to be a good fit, as the Warriors (3-2, 3-1) have played well defensively overall this season, even in losses to Michigan Tech and Minnesota State University Mankato.
The Warriors are allowing 20.8 points and 303 yards per game in a league where offense is placed at a premium, and each team seems to have three or four standout offensive players.
“I think a lot of it is the coaching staff. Coach Braun came in as co-defensive coordinator. We went over the whole playbook and said, ‘What can we do to make things simpler?’
“Let’s run what we do and get really good at it instead of practicing different stuff each week for each opponent. I know I feel more confident in all of our schemes.”
It shows, too, as Ulrich has 16 total tackles this season. While that is about half of leader Ryan Williams (31), Ryan Gerts (30) and Rashad Gayden (29), it is what Ulrich, Johnson and Kaderly do up front that paves the way for their teammates.
“He is just so fast as a big kid. When you are 6-8 and run like he does, that is a problem for offensive lines,” Sawyer said.
“He is lining up on another good center this week, but he can cause some problems in there and that is why you are seeing Ryan Gerts and these guys make so many tackles because he is doing his job.”
Sawyer said Ulrich epitomizes what a Winona State football player is all about. He’s passionate about the game, about his teammates, and about academics.
“He is a great student, a local kid from up the road (Rushford, Minn.) who cares tremendously about the other players,” Sawyer said. “He is what we want our kids to be on and off the field and in the classroom.”
Ulrich’s playing days may not end when Winona State’s season does. NFL scouts know who he is and what he has done, but Ulrich isn’t even thinking about that yet.
“I know there have seen some guys at practice and stuff,” Ulrich said. “I am not looking too much into the future. I only have a certain amount of time left here.
“I am enjoying that time and making the most out of the opportunity.”
MATT ULRICH FILE
School: Winona State
Position: Nose guard
Hometown: Rushford, Minn.
Noteable: Ulrich has 16 total tackles this season, including 2.5 for loss. He’s also batted down one pass.
What Sawyer says: He is awesome. He is not only just a captain, but he is what Winona State football is all about.
What: Pivotal NSIC game between Minnesota Duluth (4-1, 3-1) and Winona State (3-2, 3-1)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Maxwell Field at Verizon Wireless Stadium
What it means: Each team has one loss in the NSIC, and two losses would make it tough to win the overall NSIC crown
Last year: Duluth handled Winona State in every phase of the game, winning 59-17 at Duluth