Truckee gridiron great finishes standout freshman season | SierraSun.com

Truckee gridiron great finishes standout freshman season

It's early September in Huntington Beach, and the Golden West College football team is hosting the two-time defending California Community College Athletic Association champions, Fullerton College, in the 2018-19 season opener.

With Fullerton driving deep into Golden West territory, one of the greatest linebackers to wear Truckee red and white begins inching toward the line of scrimmage.

As the ball is snapped, Wulfe Retzlaff shoots through the line, but Fullerton running back Infant Eckford has a step on the blitzing linebacker. A quick change in the angle of pursuit, however, closes the edge, and Eckford becomes prey, crushed violently to the turf along the sideline.

It's the Truckee alumnus' first big hit in his first game on the collegiate level and in part, the play was another step down a long road since his last snap on the Wolverines football team in 2016.

Alpha Wulfe

Retzlaff was a three-year starter for the Wolverines from 2014-16, leading the team in tackles and winning the program's annual Wolverine Award — Truckee's nod to old school, smash mouth football players — in each of his three years on varsity.

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"He's the most physical player that I've coached since I've been the head coach, and one of the top most physical players in our history," said Truckee Head Coach Josh Ivens. "Wulfe was our guy for three years. He was my guy. I knew he was going to make plays.

"His senior year, I would specifically use him on offense just to set the tone for the game — big hits, cracks — I just wanted the other team to know that Wulfe was coming on both sides of the ball."

Retzlaff's name now litters the Truckee record books. Each of his three varsity seasons ranks among the school's best ever for a defensive player. He is second in school history with 372 tackles, trailing only Ryan Macken's 386 tackles from 2006-08. Retzlaff's 135 tackles in 2016 is fourth all-time for a season at Truckee. He also owns the Wolverines record for most tackles in a game with 23 against Spring Creek his senior year.

Following graduation, Retzlaff walked on at the University of California, Davis, where he redshirted his freshman year.

"I made it through spring ball," said Retzlaff on his time at Davis. "But I knew I was going to have to go through the same program I was just in, which didn't really give me much playing time. And I had already used up my redshirt year there. I wasn't really expecting that to happen. Nobody had really filled me in on the eligibility stuff yet. I just knew I wanted to play football."

After consulting with one of his teammates from high school, Cole Harrity, Retzlaff began considering the junior college route, and soon had aspirations of experiencing coastal life in Huntington Beach while playing football for the local junior college.

Once Retzlaff decided on Golden West College, it wasn't long before the Rustlers coaching staff learned what those around Truckee have long known — Retzlaff is the real deal.

Taking notice

It's the start of summer and Retzlaff is working with his new team at Golden West.

His ability to quickly pick up the program's defense, work ethic, and instincts soon impress coaches, who realize they have a player that might man one of the team's two starting linebacker positions on its 4-2-5 defense.

"He got things quicker than normal. For his position — because we don't run the most simplistic defense — for him to get it as quick as he did and to do it as efficiently as he did was a really big blessing for us," said Golden West special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Sean Corcoran. "We learned pretty quickly that he was going to be an immediate impact kind of player, and then not long after that, we were like, 'This is the guy.'"

At 6-foot, 1-inch and 212 pounds, Retzlaff impressed coaches with his physicality, and quickness to the ball, but it was his intelligence as a player that made him stand out during the team's first practices.

"We were really wowed by how fast he got to the football," said Corcoran. "A lot of guys get caught up on certain keys when they are reading the O-line. He can read a key, and then be on to his next key and on to his next key before a lot of the guys have read their first key."

Corcoran said the linebacker is also unique in his approach, constantly asking questions in order to better understand what opposing offenses are doing.

"It's not just asking questions, he asks a lot of the right questions. He asks situational questions," said Corcoran. "He's a little bit of a different breed … he's grateful for every opportunity he gets. He wants to get extra work in all the time."

By putting in extra hours in the weight room, sweating through additional conditioning drills, and finding time to study game tape between classes as an engineering major at Golden West, Retzlaff earned the trust of coaches and more time on the field.

The Rustlers inserted him into the team's shield punt formation, relying on Retzlaff to man the most important blocking position as part of the three players protecting the punter in the backfield.

"As a special teams coordinator that's one of the most important positions in all of special teams," Corcoran said. "If I'm looking for somebody there, it's somebody I have to trust completely. If I have any doubt about this kid at all, he can't be that guy."

Retzlaff also approached coaches about playing offense. As a former high school running back, the Rustlers used him on the team's heavy, 'Money Group,' a combination of defensive lineman and Retzlaff at running back that resulted in two rushing touchdowns.

'I'm finally on the field and I'm at the next level'

The Rustlers opened this past season on Sept. 1, at home against the back-to-back California Community College Athletic Association champions, Fullerton, in what would be Retzlaff's first live action since high school.

And though Golden West suffered a 30-27 defeat, his punishing hit against Fullerton's running back stood out as the moment he realized he'd arrived as a college player.

"I'm finally on the field and I'm at the next level," said Retzlaff on what entered his mind after making the play. "Nice, that's how it is."

Retzlaff finished the game with a team-high six tackles, including a sack. He also recovered a fumble.

By the time the Rustlers' season had concluded, Retzlaff had racked up the third most tackles on the team with 59 stops, including 33 solo tackles. He also had 3.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, and two fumble recoveries in helping guide Golden West to a 6-5 overall record.

"We were really lucky to get him down here," said Corcoran. "He was just a stud for us."

After his standout season, Retzlaff has already begun receiving interest and offers from schools above the junior college level. The first contact day for Division I schools was earlier in the week, and Retzlaff said he's taking his time before deciding where he heads to next. Ideally, he said a school that offers the best academic opportunities and a chance to play is where he'd like to end up, but if push comes to shove, the former Truckee great is leaning on his ability in the classroom over his talent on the field.

"As far as seeing the field, I know I can work to the point where I'll be able to start," said Retzlaff.

After his season on the junior college level, the coaching staff at Golden West said they expect Retzlaff to receive Division I offers in the coming weeks.

"We are expecting him to get offers. He filled the stat sheet for us all year and he has a really good GPA," said Corcoran.

"At our level you never know what you are going to get, and Wulfe was just awesome. He's a one-of-a-kind kid, both as a person and as a player."

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com.

Advice from Wulfe to young players

“Anybody who’s looking for advice on what they should do with football … I wasn’t really planning on coming to a (junior college), but it’s a great way to go if you are still in pursuit of trying to play at the next level. It’s a good stepping-stone for sure, but just always keep a plan in your head and know your what your ambitions and goals are.”