Bay Conference fans probably have the following Fridays circled on their calendars — Sept. 6, Oct. 4 and Oct. 11.
That’s when, in order, Hortonville plays at Seymour, West De Pere plays at Seymour and Hortonville plays at West De Pere.
West De Pere, Seymour and Hortonville finished 1-2-3 in the Bay in 2012 and this year the case can be made for either of those three to finish in first.
Hortonville has excellent team speed and returns, among others, first-team wide receiver Tristan Guyette, second-team all-conference quarterback Andrew Thompson, who threw for 1,190 yards, second-team all-conference running back Alex Laskinski, who rushed for 392 yards and had 307 receiving yards, and second-team all-conference wide receiver Mitch Lillge, who had 275 receiving yards. Defensively, the Polar Bears must replace a pair of first-team all-conference linebackers in J.D. Forsling and Tyler Hyde.
Seymour put up points in bunches last season, scoring 35 or more points in seven games. The Thunder has to replace Bay player of the year Cody Plaster, who rushed for 1,310 yards, and Bret Rottier, who ran for 843 yards. The Thunder does return a real playmaker at quarterback in Dakota Oskey. He’ll be operating behind a big offensive line that includes 330-pound Jon Dietzen, 280-pound Erick Schaumberg and 300-pound Brandon Bloedorn. What running back wouldn’t like to run behind an offensive line with that size? Defensively, the Thunder returns six starters, including first-team all-conference performers Luke Elsner (DE) and Dylan Beyer (DB). The key to Seymour’s defense will be the ability to prevent third-down conversions and explosive plays, which hurt them in their losses to West De Pere and Plymouth.
The Phantoms of West De Pere were a juggernaut in 2012 until falling 16-14 to Waupaca in the playoffs. That was one of two games in which West De Pere was held to fewer than 25 points. The other was against Seymour, when it scored 12. The Phantoms did it with a balanced attack that had Matt DeBaker throwing for 1,231 yards and Zack Rothering rushing for 1,352 yards. DeBaker and Rothering have both graduated. Who will lead the Phantoms? Running back Dominique Conway rushed for 435 yards and 15 touchdowns last year and wide receiver Connor Konshak caught 29 passes for 512 yards. The Phantoms need to replace five defensive players who earned all-conference honors, including defensive player of the year Brad Ambrosius.
New London looks to improve upon last year’s 3-6 overall record with a familiar face taking over as head coach. Marc Marsh, a 1995 New London graduate, is the new head coach and will have his father, Randy Marsh, a former New London head football coach, as one of his assistants. The Bulldogs will have a young, inexperienced offensive line and an overall lack of depth. Linebacker Tyler Raschke, a three-year starter, will anchor the defense. Junior Dylan Keehn returns at quarterback after starting six games as a sophomore.
Predicted order of finish: 1, Seymour; 2, Hortonville; 3, West De Pere; 4, Luxemburg-Casco; 5, Marinette; 6, Shawano; 7, Denmark; 8, New London; 9, Oconto Falls
Who will step up to fill the skill positions in the Olympian/Packerland-Large this season?
Of the 25 skill position players to receive all-conference mention in 2012, 19 were seniors. The returning all-conference skill position players are Wrightstown tight end Doug Fabry, Kewaunee quarterback Caleb Johnson, Southern Door tight end Cal McCarty, Southern Door quarterback Mitchell Neubauer and Sturgeon Bay wide receiver Riley Cordier. Oconto running back Brandon Tousey would also be on this list, but Mishicot and Oconto are in the Olympian/Packerland-Small this year.
With a lot of new players needed to step up, it could make for a wild ride following a 2012 season that had Brillion, Chilton and Wrightstown tie for the title with 7-1 records and Roncalli a game back at 6-2.
Brillion advanced to the WIAA Level 4 playoffs in 2012 but many of the starters from the team have graduated. The Lions return only two starters from last year’s team. The skill position players will all be new. The majority of the line will be new. The good news, though, is that the 14 seniors on this year’s team were all part of the success of last year’s team. That casts them in the role of providing leadership. The Lions will need to stay healthy as depth could be a concern.
Chilton will build its team around a pair of all-conference linemen. Vince Propson earned first-team honors as an offensive lineman and defensive end for the Tigers, while Preston Pethan was an honorable mention selection at offensive line. Defensively, Grant Richman was a second-team selection at defensive back. Two key losses for the Tigers are quarterback Andy Huss and running back Austin Hephner. The duo accounted for approximately 2,000 yards of offense for Chilton. Tigers coach Ray Mlada considers the offensive and defensive lines to be the strengths of this year’s team. Solid play along the offensive line will give the new skill position players time to settle in.
Key returnees for Wrightstown include Fabry (first-team all-conference) and offensive linemen A.J. Craig (honorable mention). Peter Ellis and Mark Baeten are the top returning running backs. The duo combined for less than 500 yards rushing but that was primarily due to workhorse running back Riley Schussler carrying the ball 226 times for 1,517 yards. Wrightstown lost one of its better letterwinners from 2012 when Brandon Brick moved to Tennessee. Wrightstown does get Caleb Emmer back. He missed last season after suffering a knee injury in August.
Traditional powerhouse Kewaunee had a rare off year in 2012, finishing with a 3-5 record. It must be noted that three of those losses were by six points or less. The Storm’s key returnee is second-team all-conference quarterback Caleb Johnson, who completed 56 percent of his passes for 966 yards and also rushed for 211 yards.
Take out the 54 points that Little Chute put up on Sturgeon Bay in the first half of its playoff game and the numbers show that the Clippers did it with defense last year. Eight of their 11 defensive players earned all-conference honors last year. With only three of them returning, Sturgeon Bay may have a tougher time winning close games.
Predicted order off finish: 1, Wrightstown; 2, Kewaunee; 3, Chilton; 4, Brillion; 5, Roncalli; 6, Sturgeon Bay; 7, Southern Door; 8, Valders
The Olympian/Packerland-Small has a new look for the 2013 season.
Sevastopol and Gibraltar, which were a combined 2-10 in conference play and 2-14 overall, are now playing eight-man football.
Mishicot and Oconto, which were in the Olympian-Packerland Large, have dropped down to the Small to make it a seven-team league. Those two teams were a combined 4-12 last season.
Generally, Hilbert can be penciled in as the team to beat but this year may be different. The Wolves need to find replacements for the league’s offensive player of the year in Spencer Schulz, defensive player of the year in Austin Schaffer, three offensive linemen who earned all-conference honors, an all-conference running back and six first-team all-conference defensive players. They outscored their conference opponents by a combined score of 365-45. Many of Hilbert’s younger players did gain valuable experience during the team’s extended playoff run. That should help them hit the ground running in a season that starts off with a pair tough nonconference games against Brillion and Chilton.
Runner-up Manitowoc Lutheran has to replace two first-team all-conference running backs but returns quarterback/defensive back Ethan Hilmer and a pair of all-conference offensive linemen.
Reedsville returns second-team all-conference quarterback Brock Gilsdorf and will build around him, while Algoma will feature running back Sam Koss, who rushed for 608 yards.
Newcomer Oconto brings back a pair of all-conference offensive linemen and all-conference running back Brandon Tousey, who is as adept at catching passes as he is running the ball.
St. Mary Central had a young team last year that should be improved. Quarterback Jordan Schmidt threw for more than 1,000 yards and Conner Van Zeeland earned honorable mention all-conference honors after rushing for 232 yards.
Predicted order of finish: 1, Manitowoc Lutheran; 2, Reedsville; 3, Algoma; 4, Hilbert; 5, St. Mary Central; 6, Oconto; 7, Mishicot
Central Wisconsin Conference-8
Amherst won the conference title in 2012 and rode that momentum to the WIAA Division 5 state championship, while second-place Shiocton advanced to the third round of the playoffs before losing to eventual state champion Fond du Lac Springs.
While both teams lost quality players to graduation, both bring back enough talent to make them easy picks to finish 1-2 in the conference.
Shiocton coach Dino Heinemeyer has a squad that has plenty of weapons, starting with quarterback Talon Heinemeyer, who was second-team all-conference last season, and first-team all-conference running back Jacob Van Asten, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Heinemeyer rushed for just less than 800 yards. The duo combined to throw for nearly 900 yards. They’ll get to run behind second-team all-conference picks in Dominic Gunderson and David McNichols. Defensively, Heinemeyer and Van Asten were both first-team all-conference selections and will lead a group that lost five players who earned all-conference honors on defense.
Amherst needs to find a new quarterback to replace Chris Zblewski, who was the league’s player of the year. Whoever earns the QB job, he will be able to hand off to running backs Garth Groshek and Connor Zblewski until he feels comfortable. Groshek and Connor Zblewski combined to score 19 touchdowns in 2012. The Falcons also return three offensive linemen who earned all-conference honors last season.
Manawa finished third in the CWC-8 last year but has a huge hole to fill in running back Logan Hass, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards. The Wolves also need to replace quarterback Donny Sell and all-conference offensive linemen Brandon Bartel and Alex Thompson, who plowed the road for Hass. Sam Koehn and Garrett Griffin combined to rush for more than 600 yards last season. They’ll be seeing the ball a lot more this season.
Weyauwega-Fremont struggled to a 2-5 conference finish last season but with a solid contingent of seniors who have played varsity ball since their sophomore years, the Indians look to move up in the standings. W-F returns running backs Logan Erdmann and Adam Krause, who combined for nearly 800 yards rushing last season.
Predicted order of finish: 1, Shiocton; 2, Amherst; 3, Bonduel; 4, Wittenberg-Birnamwood; 5, Weyauwega-Fremont; 6, Pacelli; 7, Manawa; 8, Iola-Scandinavia
— Jim Oskola: 920-993-1000, ext. 230, or email@example.com