The Advance-Titan

Volunteer coaches add to UW Oshkosh culture

| The Advance-Titan

Connor Senger receives the snap and drops back to pass.

The UW Oshkosh football team has a coaching staff of over 20 personnel. Only four of those coaches are full time, which means the program relies on volunteers to be most position coaches. On a team currently ranked third in the country and runners-up in the Division III National Championship, one would think volunteer coaches come second in the staff’s game plan. However, on the Titans, the environment is quite the opposite.

“It’s a big family atmosphere,” Titans volunteer safety coach Drew Sperry said. “We go to dinner at [head] coach [Pat] Cerroni’s house every Tuesday during the season. We’re just hanging out all the time. Golfing, on road trips we room together, play video games and all that fun stuff.”

Sperry has been on the Titans’ staff since 2011. He originally wanted to play as a linebacker, but after not making the team his freshman year at UWO he was offered to remain in the program as a video assistant. Sperry eventually worked his way up to coaching his own position that year, which was his junior year of college.

Despite not making the team as a freshman and still being a student while coaching, Sperry said he has always felt like a very valued member of the staff. And with the intention of maybe coaching full time in the future, remaining in the program was an easy decision for him.

“The way Cerroni does it around here, we don’t just sit around and listen, our ideas actually get heard,” Sperry said. “We actually learn a lot just by being here and soaking it all in. All the older members of the staff do a good job of listening to our input and steering us in the right direction.”

Most of the time a coach would need to have experience to be brought on staff. However, former back-up quarterback and now student volunteer quarterback coach Connor Senger can attest that providing opportunities to coaches who want to learn is something the Titan staff takes pride in.

“I always knew I wanted to get into coaching and they gave me the opportunity here to actually start doing that,” Senger said. “I coach the quarterbacks and eventually coaching is something that I want to get into full time.”

Cerroni said he finds it important to be able to bring a special opportunity in to be a part of the team to players who are willing to learn and reach their goals.

“Basically I’m just trying to give people an opportunity to be a part of something,” Cerroni said. “There’s a lot of people out there that maybe can’t play the game but they want to be a part of athletics. We’ve had guys leave here that work for scouting services, we’ve had guys that coach in Division III college football, Division II and we have guys in Division I. We have guys who have just used this opportunity to help them in the future. That’s really what we sell, the fact that if you come here and help us out you can put it on your resume.”

Senger is in fact still eligible to play as he is a senior at Oshkosh. However, after suffering a few injuries during his time as backup, he made the decision to begin his coaching career and has been doing so since the end of the 2016 season.

Although there is no greater experience to have in a sport than actually playing, Senger said the transition is a bit of a challenge but he is learning as he goes and keeping an open mind.

“I’m definitely still learning the process of coaching,” Senger said. “That’s one thing that I think that in the coaching profession in general that if you’re not constantly learning then it’s too late and you’re not going to be as successful. There’s sometimes when I feel like I have a lot to learn.”

The opportunity to learn and grow as a coach and an individual is something that Cerroni said he feels is very important.

“We take a lot of pride in it, and I think we do a good job of teaching kids the game and the right way to teach it,” Cerroni said. “We give them a lot of valuable tools that are actually a commodity that people want. Think about it, if you say: ‘Hey, I worked at Oshkosh for the football team,’ at least now that means something.”

Despite still being a student and playing as backup to Titans’ starting senior quarterback Brett Kasper, Senger said coaching his once fellow teammates is going well and everyone is keeping an open mind.

“The players understand that we are friends and all that ,but they also understand that I’m trying to relay them information to help them be better, and I think they do a really good job of taking it in,” Senger said. “I roomed with Brett [Kasper] for a year, and I was his backup and all that, but even during those times when I was his backup I would give him information, but he would understand that I was just trying to help make him better. I think it’s going pretty well.”

For those on staff like Sperry and Senger, joining the staff was an option they chose for the experience and resume boost on their coaching record. However, for UWO junior volunteer offensive line coach Justin Wolman, joining the coaching staff instead of playing was something he was forced into by circumstance.

Wolman managed to make the Titans as a freshman, but it was after that season that he was diagnosed with cancer in his knee, requiring a knee replacement.

Although he was forced into cutting his college football career short, the Titans staff knew how much being a part of the program meant to Wolman. He was offered the opportunity to coach as a volunteer, an opportunity Wolman is very grateful for.

“Going through that year of being sick I realized that this whole team and coaching staff is a great group of guys,” Wolman said. “They all care for everyone. They don’t care why you are here, they just want to make you better and make the team better.”

Wolman said what he values most about being on the staff is the feeling of having his voice heard by everyone and feeling important to the overall program.

“The coaches listen to anything,” Wolman said. “During a game I’ll be like: ‘Yeah, that guy did this.’ And it doesn’t matter that I said it or if Connor says it.”

With the idea that the program has the same goal of winning in mind, Cerroni said creating an environment where every member of the program feels valued is something that helps create overall success.

“Everyone is involved,” Cerroni said. “We’re all here to do one thing and that’s win football games and it’s a lot of fun.”

During the year Wolman was going through chemotherapy. Through the process, he said the team still made him feel as though he was valued, and that feeling has carried over to his time as a coach.

“I would still get the text that would say: ‘Hey, breakfast at 10:30 in Reeve,’” Wolman said. “That made me feel like: ‘Oh yeah I’m not sick, I’m just not here right now.’ I don’t know what I would do if I was not part of the program. The fact that as a program we do have students who can not make the team but still want to be around the program and can be a part of it, is amazing to me.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Volunteer coaches add to UW Oshkosh culture