Arrowhead. The Warhawks, coming off back-to-back state championships, head into the 2014 season as the No. 1 team in Division 1, and though the squad will have to reload, several key pieces return. Notably, junior quarterback Johnny Duranso came on strong late last year, and running back Cody Sellhausen is primed for a breakout. Defensive back Andy Hessler is one of the best at his craft, as well.
Germantown. With the return of quarterback Dwayne Lawhorn, Jr. (who threw for more than 2,000 yards last season), its top rusher, top receivers and three top offensive linemen, Germantown has to feel like this is the year it can surpass Homestead in the North Shore chase and work deep into the playoffs. Four starters return on defense, as well.
Greendale (1-0). After a heartbreaking loss in the state title game to Monona Grove last year, the Panthers return All-Suburban Player of the Year Josh Ringelberg, who was a sensation both rushing and passing last fall. Talented linebackers Tristian Pipp and Ty Ramirez are also back, as is defensive back (and Josh’s twin brother) Jack Ringelberg. Greendale will be the favorite to win the Woodland West, and time will tell if it still has the firepower to get back to Madison. A thrilling win over Cedarburg in Week 1 sets the tone.
Homestead. Now a Division 2 staple after many years in D1, the perennial heavyweight will be led by playmaking quarterback Nick Allen on one side of the ball and University of Wisconsin commit David Pfaff on the other side. After shocking Arrowhead last year, Homestead will play in one of the year’s most high-profile games in the Week 2 rematch.
Lake Country Lutheran. After reaching Level 4 for the first time last year, the Lightning return a ton of players and open the season ranked third in the state in Division 7. They could bump up to D6 by the time the postseason arrives, but they still very much have the personnel to reach the highest levels of the postseason.
Oak Creek. Six returning starters on defense, notably Northern Illinois recruit Nathan Veloz on the line and first-team All Conference returnee Elijah Strong in the defensive backfield, will make Oak Creek a very strong foe this season for teams in the Southeast Conference. The league possessed some top-flight talent last year in Franklin and Kenosha Indian Trail, but Oak Creek can atone for losses to those squads in 2014. Leading tackler Jake Regazzi returns, and the Knights face Franklin, KIT and rising Kenosha Bradford all at home this year.
Waukesha West. After reaching Level 4 of the Division 2 playoffs last year and ultimately falling to Kimberly, the Wolverines are loaded again, led by defenders Marcus Kelly, Dyson Chmura and Nick Radloff. Quarterback Conor Blount also returns, and West should seriously challenge Arrowhead for Classic 8 Conference supremacy.
Brookfield Central. Junior Dominic Labellarte is likely to slide into the quarterback role for new coach Jed Kennedy, whose option systems have enjoyed success, particularly when he won the state title with Kenosha Bradford. Matt Patterson and Malik Turner will also play key roles on offense for a team that can realistically contend for the Greater Metro title.
Brown Deer. Few players made as large an impact last year as quarterabck Zack Baun, now a senior and an early frontrunner for NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year. Top running back Nick Coleman and receiver Nyles Williams are also back, but the offensive line will be new. The Woodland East did not have the firepower of the West last year, and the Falcons will still be in position to play for the overall Woodland title.
Catholic Memorial. Straddling the line between this category and the one above it, the Crusaders are always a threat to work deep into the postseason, and this year is no exception. Sam Gromacki returns to anchor the defensive line.
Franklin (1-0). Last year’s Division 1 runner-up lost a boatload of talent but has a number of elite players returning, including linemen Vince Hughes and Bryan Beck. With All-State quarterback Sean McGuire and his stable of receivers now graduated, Gavin Boeck could step into a larger role in the running game, with Giovanni Flores next up on the receiver depth chart. It will be an exciting year for the Sabers regardless with a new artificial-turf field. The team rallied in Week 1 to knock off a strong Sussex Hamilton team.
Menomonee Falls. With its top skill players graduated, notably running back Christian Almonte, players like Bryce McMurtry will need to rise to the forefront to keep the Indians in the chase for the title in a wide-open Greater Metro Conference.
Mukwonago. It's realistically hard to pick the Indians to win the Classic 8 when Arrowhead and Waukesha West lead the pack, but after a run to Level 4 last year, the buzz in the program has built to an even higher level under third-year coach Clay Iverson. Don't expect a huge dropoff despite several new faces.
Pewaukee. It will be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Pirates after an excellent run of seasons, but it's hard to count the Pirates out of the Woodland West chase.
South Milwaukee. After back-to-back league crowns in the Woodland East, Derek Hoff takes over as head coach for long-tenured staple John Galewski, and a staggering 51 lettermen return. Quarterback Justin Oliden and running back Ian Pribyl return to a team that could legitimately be one of the best in the area.
Whitefish Bay. The Dukes have enjoyed a strong run of play over the past few years, but the team loses a wealth of talent from its senior class. Running back Jaren Walker, the second-leading rusher last year, is the team’s lone skill position returnee.
Brookfield Academy. Finished 3-4 last year in the Midwest Classic and missed a playoff spot. Always a threat to rise back into playoff consideration in the Midwest Classic. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, this is a team that should make some noise.
Brookfield East. Losing dual threat Zach Damico (graduation) and possibly top lineman P.J. LeClaire (torn ACL) among other graduation losses will make this a difficult trial for the Spartans, but the conference remains a wide-open race. Kicker/punter Connor Allen is a significant weapon. Coach Tom Swittel’s son, T.C. Swittel, will take over at QB.
Greenfield. The Hustlin’ Hawks are a wild card with new coach (and WFCA Hall of Famer) Joe Koch taking the helm. If track record means anything, Koch will find success quickly, and he has some talent to work with such as returning All-Conference running back Xavier Copeland, quarterback Jeremy Swider and and defensive standout Matt Braatz.
Muksego. Talent isn’t going to keep Muskego from the playoffs; the loaded Classic 8 Conference might. But with 15 returning starters, the Warriors have the ability to knock off one of the four frontrunners in the league (Arrowhead, Catholic Memorial, Waukesha West, Mukwonago) and earn a playoff berth. Lineman Alex Hauke and outside linebacker Brandon Valenza are three-year starters back.
Oconomowoc. It's hard to know exactly what to expect out of the Raccoons after a banner 2014 and graduating a number of top seniors. They may not be favored in the Wisconsin Little Ten, but in a league full of balance and talent, they could sneak back into the title hunt.
St. Thomas More (1-0). After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2005 last year, the Cavaliers will hope to ride that momentum even with a number of players graduating from that team. Lineman Jacob Sachley leads the way.
Sussex Hamilton (0-1). Returning are quarterback Mike Barnes and running back Isaiah Webb, who was first-team All Conference last year even while competing for carries with league Player of the Year Drew Patterson, but this Hamilton squad is inexperienced and filled with question marks. Still, linemen Mike Fryda and Andrew Poenitsch offer some assurance up front, and the Chargers have been too good in recent years to fall off too far. The team suffered an opening week letdown after taking a 21-0 lead against Franklin before falling.
University School. With nine starters back on offense and seven on defense, the Wildcats are in good shape within the Midwest Classic. Michael Tucker had a sensational season last year and returns at running back.
Waukesha South. The Blackshirts looked very good in the early part of 2013 but couldn't sustain the success and reach the playoffs. Still, they bring a wealth of talent back and could pull the necessary upset or two to get back to the dance.
Wauwatosa West. The Trojans didn’t enjoy the same success as they did in a sensational 2012 campaign, but Tosa West is right back in the hunt for the Woodland West, with running back Demaris Purifoy among the best at his position in the state, and fellow first-team All Conference returnee Zach Veit part of the equation.
West Allis Hale. Coming off a one-win campaign, the Huskies nonetheless return a number of starters, including eight on offense, while other members of the Greater Metro do not enjoy a similar luxury. The Huskies could be the best story of 2014 if the cards fall right.
Cudahy. With St. Francis gone from the Woodland East, the Packers will have to fight for every win under new head coach Max Wasikowski.
Dominican. After a hot start in 2013, Dominican missed the playoffs in its first year back to a varsity schedule after missing the 2012 season. Leading rusher Peter Nieman is back to see if the Dukes can take it a step further.
Kettle Moraine. In the second year under coach Dave Pfeiffer, the Lasers still have an uphill battle in the talent-rich Classic 8, but a couple close losses to the league elite last year have to provide some building blocks.
Martin Luther. The Spartans return five starters on both sides of the ball after finishing just shy of the playoffs in 2013 in the refashioned Metro Classic.
Messmer/Shorewood. Transitioning out of the Midwest Classic presents a new challenge for the program that has been building since it left the Woodland eight years ago. The team is young, graduating its top playmakers from last year, particularly its threatening 1-2 punch on defense in Jonathan Carson and Tywan Ramsey.
New Berlin Eisenhower. The Lions have fallen into a rut with back-to-back seasons of missing the playoffs, and Eisenhower returns only one player who netted All-Conference mention last year in specialist Nathan Erickson. But several perimeter players return, as well, for first-year coach Matt Kern. It’s tough to imagine this program down and out for long.
New Berlin West. A pair of late-season wins guided the Vikings into the playoffs, but West lost a number of players from its talented senior class and must now rebuild, though the Western Division may not be the minefield it has been in previous seasons.
St. Francis. Moving from the Woodland East to the Midwest Classic this year, the Mariners are a bit of an unknown this season. One would think they should at least contend for a playoff spot.
St. John's Northwestern Military Academy. Frequently a bit of an enigma at the start of the season, SJNMA is even more so this year with new coach Tim Vice and a new staff. We'll need some time before we know if this team can reach the playoffs.
Waukesha North. Alumnus Matt Harris takes over the program after spending time as offensive coordinator at Brookfield East, and he looks like a guy who can bring winning tradition back to the program.
Wauwatosa East. Quarterback Jackson Telderer threw for more than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns last year as the Red Raiders won three nail-biters in 2013.
West Allis Central. Will Konecny returns at quarterback, but the Bulldogs will be very inexperienced coming off a winless 2013, with new coaches in place and an uphill battle in a league that has a number of strong foes.
Whitnall. The Falcons welcome new coach Jared McGranahan after several close losses sent the team to a 2-7 record last year. Thirteen starters are back (eight on defense), so the cupboard is certainly not bare.
Nicolet has canceled its varsity football season in 2014.
Asking area football coaches their anonymous thoughts on the greater issues of coaching at the prep level:
In light of Greendale's 28-27 overtime win over Cedarburg, in which Greendale stopped Cedarburg going for 2 ... imagine you've just scored a touchdown to pull within one point in the final minute of the game. Under what circumstances, if any, would you go for 2?
Coach 1: If we have no kicker ... or we are heavy underdogs trying to pull off the big upset.
Coach 2: I would prefer to go for two. (Homestead coach) Dave Keel once told me, 'Don't put it on your kicker, he is a kid. Have the guts to make the call and take the blame.' Now there are some things that might alter that, but in general, under a minute, put it on the coach.
Coach 3: If for the balance of the game we were chasing the action and playing catch-up, this might be the best chance we have to ice it. Momentum is on our side, and we are riding high. Strike while the iron is hot! If we are the better team, and haven't played as well, I play for overtime and take my chances there.
Coach 4: I would go for two if I feel that the opponent is physically superior to us.
Photo by C.T. Kruger
Menomonee Falls' Tyler Simcock lays out to block Austin Caveney's punt at home against Oak Creek on Aug. 22. Simcock was called for roughing the kicker when Caveney landed on top of him.
Kettle Moraine defensive back Isaac Scott hauled in three interceptions, including one with 1:18 left in the game to snuff out Oconomowoc's final possession, as the Lasers recorded five takeaways and held on for a 14-7 victory to stage an upset over the Raccoons on the night they unveiled their renovated facilities.
Past Players of Week
A look back at the best of the best from the NOW Newspapers and Lake Country Publications coverage areas.
West Allis Hale returns a boatload of starters, and Lake Geneva Badger is full of young players, but the Badgers are still among the favorites to win a deep and talented Southern Lakes Conference, and Hale remains on the lookout for a foothold in the Greater Metro. The 17-7 Huskies win suggests they might have what it takes to compete for the top tier in this year's GMC.
Keep tabs on the former stars of the NOW/Lake Country coverage area as they suit up on Saturdays and Sundays:
Oakland Raiders: After a tumultuous college career, Shelby Harris (Homestead) hungers for a chance to prove himself.
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas (Brookfield Central - pictured) remains one of the primary reasons why the Cleveland Browns offense can work, regardless of who the quarterback is.
Houston Texans: Grantland takes a lengthy look at the busy life of NFL star J.J. Watt (Pewaukee), including his offseason trips home.
Dallas Cowboys: Ben Gardner (Homestead) believes he can make it back from an injury in his first NFL camp.
New York Jets: Nick Bellore (Whitefish Bay) has been a crucial part of his team's special teams unit.
New Orleans Saints: Travis Beckum (Oak Creek) latched on with another NFL team after the Seahawks cut him early in camp.
Wisconsin: It appears Joel Stave (Whitnall) will be second on the quarterback depth chart behind Tanner McEvoy to open the season. Stave, the incumbent, has battled injuries.
Wisconsin: Chikwe Obasih (Brookfield Central) and Alec James (Brookfield East) have bulked up in their redshirt seasons and will likely contribute this year on the defensive line.
Wisconsin: Linebacker Derek Landisch (Arrowhead) hopes to be ready for the season opener as he battles a hamstring injury.
Wisconsin: Offensive lineman Kyle Costigan (Muskego) will be playing with his mother on his mind.
Wisconsin: Derek Watt (Pewaukee) will see his role expanded in 2014.
Michigan: Punter Will Hagerup (Whitefish Bay) is working back from off-the-field issues.
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WIAA playoff numbers for area programs:
Consecutive playoff berths (through 2013)
Mark Stewart and JR Radcliffe discuss high school sports in this weekly video.
Waukesha West (0-0)
Oak Creek (0-0)
Others receiving votes: Greendale (1-0), Catholic Memorial (0-0), Sussex Hamilton (0-1)
(updated Aug. 22; reflects Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel preseason rankings)
Test your knowledge of the high school football rule book with help from Patrick Miles, a member of the Executive Board of the Milwaukee Officials Association and an official who has worked WIAA state championships, the NCAA Division III national championship and other NCAA contests, including the Big Ten.
Scenario: Getting set to kick off the 2014 season, Team X decides to try an onside kick on the opening kickoff. Seven players line up to the left of the kicker, and three players line up to the right. The ball travels 10 yards, even bounces off a couple members of Team Z and gets recovered by Team X, but a flag gets thrown. Why?
(records portrayed are league, overall)
|West Allis Hale||0||0||1||0|
|West Allis Central||0||0||1||0|
|Nicolet (no varsity)||0||0||0||0|
|Kenosha Indian Trail||0||0||1||0|
|New Berlin West||0||0||0||1|
|New Berlin Eisenhower||0||0||0||1|
|West Bend West||0||0||1||0|
|West Bend East||0||0||0||1|
|Lake Country Luth.||0||0||1||0|
|Living Word Lutheran||0||0||0||0|
|Kenosha Christian Life||0||0||0||1|
|Kenosha St. Joe||0||0||0||0|
|Racine St. Cat.||0||0||0||1|
A look at top upcoming games in the coverage area:
Area statistical leaders (through 2013)
A look at area teams in the state polls:
Wisconsin State Coaches Poll (2013 final)
5. Menomonee Falls
8. Waukesha West
2. Catholic Memorial
6. Lake Country Lutheran
Associated Press Poll (2013 final)
1. Homestead (9-0)
3. Arrowhead (8-1)
5. Greendale (9-0)
Votes: Franklin (8-1), Oconomowoc (9-0)
4. Catholic Memorial (8-1)
6. Pewaukee (8-1)
Votes: Lake Country Lutheran (8-1)