Back to the gridiron

Win one for Coach.

That’s the Alpena football team’s rallying cry as the Wildcats kick off the 2013 season at 7 p.m. tonight in Escanaba.

The Wildcats will be without new head coach Mel Skillman, who will miss the game due to a family emergency. Defensive coordinator Steve Zann will coach Alpena for the game and the Wildcats are keeping Skillman and his family in their thoughts as they take their first crack at running his new spread offense in a game.

“The game plan is in, we just need to go out there and execute it,” Zann said. “The bottom line is that it’s installed, the kids know it and we just need to go out and play. Our break down every day is for Mel and his family.”

Alpena enters tonight’s game looking to win its first season opener since 2010. In the last two season openers, Escanaba has had its way with Alpena, shutting down the Wildcats by a combined score of 72-0 in two games.

Junior quarterback Tyler Pintar will make his first varsity start for Alpena tonight and the Wildcats are counting on Pintar to spread the ball around in their new wide-open offense. Skillman’s offense puts an emphasis on the pass and if Pintar is able to find his receivers, Alpena should be able to put points on the board.

“I’m pretty excited. I’ve been waiting for this,” Pintar said. “We’re hoping to get out there and get the win. We want to execute all our plays, not take penalties and get the win.”

This year’s Escanaba squad is looking to improve on last season’s 4-5 record. Like the Wildcats, Escanaba will have a rookie signal-caller in senior Travis Heller. Heller has big shoes to fill following the steps of previous quarterbacks Dave Falish and Austin Young, but his arm strength and accuracy should be a huge asset in the Eskymos’ pistol offense. Senior Jake Walker leads a stacked backfield that will looked to break through Alpena’s defensive line.

Tonight’s game marks the start of a tough schedule for Escanaba as the Eskymos will play the likes of Traverse City Central, Detroit Country Day and Menominee in the first six weeks of the season.

“Escanaba is Escanaba, they always have a good football team,” Alpena offensive coordinator John Pintar said. “They have good athletes and they’re strong. Both schools have a history with each other and we’re struggled against them recently.”

Skillman’s offense has been a challenge to learn for even Alpena’s most experienced veterans, but players have caught on quickly and the Wildcats plan utilize their full playbook tonight.

“Coach Skillman has done a great job just getting guys ready to come out and play their best that night and we want to rally around Coach not being there,” John Pintar said. “The kids know the offense really well and we feel confident that our guys are ready to run whatever we ask them to.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.