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2018 prep football preview: State champ Waunakee picked once again to rule Badger North

August 6, 2018
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Beaver Dam quarterback Kendric Jimenez fires a first-quarter pass to the flat during the Golden Beavers' game vs. Sauk Prairie on Friday night at H.H. Derleth Athletic Field in Beaver Dam.

2017 STANDINGS

Regular season, overall: Waunakee 7-0, 14-0; Mount Horeb/Barneveld 6-1, 9-2; DeForest 5-2, 6-4; Beaver Dam 4-3, 4-6; Portage 2-5, 2-7; Reedsburg 2-5, 2-7; Sauk Prairie 1-6, 2-7; Baraboo 1-6, 1-8.

WIAA playoffs: Waunakee 5-0 (beat Brookfield Central, 14-13, in Division 2 championship); Mount Horeb/Barneveld 1-1; DeForest 0-1; Beaver Dam 0-1.

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES

Mount Horeb/Barneveld: Cris Pertusatti, jr., P; Malik Winston, sr., RB.

Waunakee: Reed Ryan, sr., DE; Nate Stevens, sr., K; Gabe Zander, sr., C.

SIX PLAYERS TO WATCH

Malik Winston, sr., RB, Mount Horeb: A legitimate All-State candidate in the backfield, the fundamentally sound and smart Winston produced 1,794 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns last season and will again be the focal point of the Vikings’ offense.

Reed Ryan, 6-4, 225, sr., DE, Waunakee: A North Dakota State recruit, Ryan made the game-changing play in last year’s 14-13 victory over Brookfield Central (a forced fumble in the fourth quarter), and should be

Kendric Jimenez, 5-11, 150, sr., QB, Beaver Dam: Jimenez earned all-league honorable mention last year, throwing for 1,134 yards and rushing for 152 more.

Kris Pertusatti, jr., P, Mount Horeb: The first-team All-Badger North punter last year, Pertusatti averaged 37.4 yards on 30 punts, with six downed inside the opposing 20-yard line.

Gabe Zander, 6-0, 235, sr., C, Waunakee: A unanimous All-Badger North pick at center last year, Zander anchored a line that helped running backs Javian Dayne and L.O. Johnson amass a combined 2,858 yards and 44 touchdowns last season.

Nate Stevens, 5-11, 180, sr., K, Waunakee: Earned first-team All-Badger North honors last year. Also earned All-Area baseball Player of the Year honors last spring, and plans to play baseball at Arkansas.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

First step’s a doozy: After two weeks of Badger Conference crossover play against schools from the South, the Badger North conference season begins, the league season begins in Week 3 on Friday, Aug. 31. And right off the bat, conference favorite Waunakee plays host to the pick to be the Warriors’ top challenger, Mount Horeb/Barneveld. That explains why both teams have been busy trying to make up for heavy graduation losses with players who will be battle-ready by the end of the month.

Coaching changes: The only actual change in head coaching positions in the Badger North comes at Mount Horeb/Barneveld, where former Delavan-Darien coach Bret St. Arnauld brings his enthusiastic approach to replace local product Ryan Kleppe. The situation is a bit more complicated at Sauk Prairie. Last August, former Cincinnati Bengals player Scott Schutt returned to the program as interim coach when Scott Mirkes made the surprising decision to step down less than a week before the season opener. This spring, Sauk Prairie athletic director Josh Boyer conducted a search for a replacement coach, but instead decided to keep Schutt in place — still as interim head coach — for one more season.

Waunakee reloading: Last year was a magical season for Waunakee, as coach Pat Rice’s team wrapped up an unbeaten season with a 14-point fourth quarter and a 14-13 win over Brookfield Central in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game. This year, the Warriors must replace eight offensive starters and 10 defensive starters. Still, every other Badger North coach who identified a favorite in the conference race chose the Warriors, who have won more than 90 percent of their games over the last 30 years.

COACHES’ FAVORITES

1, Waunakee; 2, Mount Horeb/Barneveld; 3, DeForest.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Baraboo Thunderbirds

Coach: Steve Turkington, fifth year (7-29); fifth overall (7-29).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 10/20

Starters returning (offense/defense): 7/8

The lowdown: Turkington’s long-term rebuilding program could bear some fruit this season, as the Thunderbirds feature 15 returning starters who have prepared for a year on the rise. The wing-T offense will have a few new wrinkles this year. At the helm will be junior quarterback Brock Turkington (6-2, 185), with Mike Wech (5-9, 190, jr., 424 yards, 4 TDs last year) at halfback and Caden Blum (6-5, 230) at tight end. … Baraboo’s 4-3 defense will be led by senior linebacker Brandon Barbour (5-10, 200), defensive end/linebacker Blum and linebacker Gabe Larson (5-10, 180). “Last season we were competitive in most of our games but failed to finish,” Turkington said. “We have built depth in our lineup and we plan to compete for four quarters in every game this season.”

Beaver Dam Golden Beavers

Coach: Steve Kuenzi, fifth year (12-27); 28th overall.

Letterwinners returning: 21.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 2/2

The lowdown: After jumping from the defunct Wisconsin Little Ten Conference to the Badger North, Beaver Dam thrived, making the playoffs for the first time since 2011, before Kuenzi took over as coach. Despite starting this season with a large number of new, young faces, the coach expects some of the newcomers to provide an upgrade at their positions — including the offensive line, which will have four newcomers in the five spots but still will boast some size and power built around center Brett Mahnke (5-9, 225, jr.). They’ll protect quarterback Kendric Jimenez (5-11, 150, sr.), who earned all-league honorable mention last year, throwing for 1,134 yards and rushing for 152. “We lack the big-play player but like the collection of skill kids at running back and wide receiver,” Kuenzi said. … Defensive leaders will be Adam Bird, a second-team all-Badger North defensive back (50 tackles, five interceptions), and outside linegbacker Parker Leisses (5-11, 160, sr.). … The Golden Beavers open at former Little Ten foe Watertown, trying to wipe away the pain of back-to-back losses to Waunakee by a combined 102-0 score in Week 9 and the first round of the playoffs.

DeForest Norskies

Coach: Mike Minick, 19th year (132-60); 19th overall (132-60).

Letterwinners (returning): 15

Starters returning (offense/defense): 4/2

The lowdown: Minick is looking for balance from a Norskies lineup which he says will “have a lot of new faces.” The focus will be on the running game, thanks in large part to a dependable offensive line, although Minick says the Norskies “will also try to spread the ball to receivers.” Back is junior running back Evan Armstrong (5-11, 180), who earned second-team all-conference honors after leading the team with 857 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Key line returnees are senior John Smozynski (6-3, 210) and Casey Faust (6-2, 290). Also back is senior receiver Logan Hackl (440 yards rushing with six TDs and 82 yards receiving). … The Norskies’ 4-4 defense, adjusting to the uptick in passing in the Badger North, will try to balance its attention between the run and the pass. Two defenders earned all-conference honorable mention last year: end Beck Mayer (6-2, 205) and tackle Cole Schmidtnecht (5-11, 210).

Mount Horeb/Barneveld Vikings

Coach: Bret St. Arnauld, first year; fifth overall (18-22).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 20/25

Starters returning (offense/defense): 4/4

The lowdown: St. Arnauld takes over a team that “will be very hungry to prove ourselves” after 14 starters were lost to graduation. “Now these new seniors want to prove what they can do,” St. Arnauld said. At the top of the list is Malik Winston (5-10, 195, sr.), who tore up opposing defenses for 1,794 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns last year. Ethan Post (6-0, 170, jr.) is taking over at quarterback in the Vikings’ spread offense, with plenty of talented wide receivers to target. Anchoring the line will be seniors Max Olinger (6-4, 240) and Zach Junck (6-0, 215). … “We return few players on the defensive side of the ball and we will be seeking to find our identity early in camp,” St. Arnauld said. “The bar is set high, and the expectation is we will be competitive in every game.”

Portage Warriors

Coach: Bob Hepp, second year (2-7); 22nd overall (105-79 in 21 seasons).

The lowdown: Hepp and his Warriors tried to turn things around last year, but Portage lost its last five games, three by single-score margins, to miss what would have been its first playoff trip since 2007. ... A couple of junior skill-position players who served backup roles last year might have the chance to step into the spotlight: Quarterback Brett Walker (5-7, 150) and running back Dale Sheppard, Jr. (5-8, 180, 237 yards rushing, 6 TDs). Also vying for time under center is senior Brandon Hall (5-10, 140). ... Senior lineman Isiah Miller clocks in at 5-10 and 270. ... Miller and linebackers Walker and Sheppard also will be keys on the defensive side. ... For the second consecutive year, the Warriors face a brutal non-conference schedule with Badger crossover games against Stoughton and Monona Grove.

Reedsburg Beavers

Coach: Brian Pottinger, 13th year (73-57); 13th overall (73-57).

Starters returning (offense/defense): 4/4

The lowdown: The turnover-prone Beavers were disappointed to miss the playoffs entirely last year, after making it to the state semifinals each of the previous two seasons. Add to that a large number of graduation losses, and Pottinger’s crew spent the offseason retooling the lineup. … The heavy-on-the-run Beavers’ flexbone offense returns two of last year’s top three running backs, junior Casey Campbell (5-8, 155, 457 yards, 3 TDs) and senior Jason Walls (5-7, 175, 361 yards, 2 TDs). The young line will be led on both sides by junior John Schmitt (6-0, 235, 79 tackles), with senior Nathan Evens (6-2, 200) also back on offense. Other defensive contributors will be senior lineman Wayde Ernstmeyer (6-2, 180, 67 tackles), junior linebacker Robert Losic (5-6, 150, 85 tackles) and senior defensive back Jon Zobel (5-9, 150, 45 tackles).

Sauk Prairie Eagles

Coach: Scott Schutt, seventh year (25-41).

The lowdown: After last season’s gut-punch saw head coach Scott Mirkes resign four days before the season opener to take a teaching position at Oregon, defensive coordinator Scott Schutt (the program’s head coach from 2004 to 2009) led the young Eagles to a 2-7 season. However, not a single Sauk Prairie player — not even class of 2018 seniors — earned mention on the All-Badger North first or second teams. Of the Eagles’ honorable mention picks, only two return this year: junior wide receiver/linebacker Parker Breunig (5-11, 170, 16 catches, 148 yards, 1 TD) and junior offensive lineman/linebacker Garrett Hertzfeldt (6-2, 205). ... The offensive line has some size, led by senior Junior Ochoa (6-1, 210), and junior running back Ben German (6-0, 160) is one of a group of inexperienced athletes looking to break into skill position spots.

Waunakee Warriors

Coach: Pat Rice, 27th year (274-39); 27th overall (274-39).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 20/35.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 3½/1.

The lowdown: Most other teams facing the loss of 18 starters would be downshifting into rebuilding mode. Not Waunakee, the area’s winningest program over the last 10 and 30 years. Rice says he’s “excited about the coming season. … We will need some unproven players to step up and play big. If this happens, we will be in the chase.” The imposing Reed Ryan (6-4, 225, sr.), a North Dakota State recruit, will anchor a defensive line that allowed only 73.3 yards rushing per game last year. … Other returning senior defensive starters are defensive lineman Kellan Campbell (6-0, 190), linebacker Blake McCurdy (5-10, 190) and defensive back Nick Robson (6-0, 180). … The offensive line returns a couple of starters in Nate Miller (6-2, 265) and Gabe Zander (6-0, 235). Also back are senior receiver Sawyer Maly (6-1, 175, 232 yards receiving, four TDs) and senior tight end Austin Keller (6-2, 215).

GAMES TO WATCH

Week One: DeForest at Oregon (Badger crossover), 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17

Week Two: Milton at Reedsburg (Badger crossover), 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24

Week Three: Mount Horeb/Barneveld at Waunakee and DeForest at Reedsburg, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31

Week Four: DeForest at Waunakee, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7

Week Five: Reedsburg at Beaver Dam, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14

Week Six: Mount Horeb/Barneveld at Reedsburg, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21

Week Seven: Reedsburg at Waunakee, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28

Week Eight: Mount Horeb/Barneveld at DeForest, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5

Week Nine: Beaver Dam at Waunakee, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12.

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