The Markesan High School football team was encouraged by its four wins last season — by an average of 25 points. The five losses, by an average of 36 points. Well, that just provided motivation.
The Hornets are looking for more than just that one extra win that would have sent them to the playoffs. They want to join the ranks of the Trailways Large’s best, and it’s clear how they plan on getting there.
“We had the best offseason we’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” sixth-year Markesan coach Kevin Wopat said. “Our kids, I think they got a lot of confidence playing on varsity last year and want to take the next step.”
That has resulted in much greater participation in strength and conditioning programs during the summer. Senior linebacker Brad Wendt estimated that there was almost twice as many players in the weight room this summer than previous years.
“We talked about it as a team, but a lot of kids kind of just figured it out that we need to be stronger and be in there, and that will translate into more success on the field,” Logan Grahn said.
The leader with the weights has been Ryan Kelly, a senior linemen.
A workout warrior, he measured 6-foot, 185 pounds and is one of the smallest players in the trenches. The other returning starter on the offensive line is all-conference junior center Isaac Schwoch (5-11, 276). A pair of big sophomores are penciled in at guards — Matt Stensrud (5-11, 287) and Brandon Schwoch (6-4, 226). One tackle position was still unsettled a week into practice. That group will be called on to open spaces for running back Kyle Jahnke, who ran for 492 yards while splitting carries last season.
“We hope to be able to run the ball much more effectively,” Wopat said. “In 2011, in the games we won we could run the ball. In the games we lost we could not. That’s something we stressed to our kids.”
He’s hoping to call fewer plays for the quarterback-receiver combination of Andrew Gibbons and Grahn, although they certainly impressed last year. Gibbons finished with more than 1,200 passing yards and 655 went to Grahn, a first-team all-league player on offense, defense and special teams.
“We work all the time together throwing and we’re very close off the field,” Grahn said, “so I feel we have a good connection, and we trust each other.”
It was on defense, however, that Wopat was most excited. With Kelly, Vince Stensrud (6-3, 196), Matt Stensrud and Isaac Schwoch, he feels he has guys who have the size and skills to control the line of scrimmage.
“I think they’re going to be hole pluggers,” Wendt said. “They’re going to stop up a lot of those inside runs, not going to let much through.”
Wendt will anchor the linebacking corps that also includes senior Cody Leahy and a combination of underclassmen. Adam Brown and Grahn will be patrolling the secondary as Wopat and his players hope opponents have to take to the air to keep pace with the Hornets, who have their sights set high this year.
“I’m going to say, knock on wood, I feel we can be close to first or second in the conference,” Wendt said. “Because of the passion we have.”