As Almond-Bancroft football coach Andrew Bradley scans the practice field, he can’t hide a smile for very long.
Upon closer inspection it’s not too hard to understand why Bradley is feeling pretty good about what the Eagles have back after a 5-4 season in 2012 and a trip to the WIAA Division 7 playoffs.
Take a peak out on the field and he’ll see running backs Joe Beigel, a 5-10, 175 pound senior, and junior Reagan Anderson (5-10, 165) lined up in basically the same positions as a year ago when they combined for 1,167 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“Reagan is more the shiftier runner, while Joe is more the power runner” said Bradley of the complementary running tandem.
Then there is 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior quarterback Evan Pagel taking snaps behind center fresh off a season when he threw for 783 yards and eight touchdowns.
Hauling in Pagel’s passes is All-Central Wisconsin Conference-10 tight end in Cody Meddaugh (6-2, 170).
Bradley peers over on the defensive side of the ball and he watches his blur of a junior defensive lineman Jesse Hunkins (5-10, 170) spend almost as much time in the backfield as the A-B runnings backs and quarterback.
Life is good for Bradley who has a lot of reasons to smile with the 2013 season on the horizon.
“The kids are just more excited around the whole program. We’ve got this where we want it to be,” said Bradley, who shares that excitement entering his eighth season.
“I think there are definitely a few more expectations on us, and we’ve talked about what we need to do to handle those expectations,” Bradley added. “I think we may have snuck up on some people last year. That won’t be the case this season.”
While there are a lot of talented parts returning when the Eagles have the football, Bradley made it clear he would like to see his quarterback shoulder more of the load in 2013.
That is not only true from the aspect of Pagel being more productive in the passing game, but demonstrating a greater desire to take ownership of that side of the ball.
“Evan has to become the leader of the offense, that’s part of playing that position. This is his second year starting now and he needs to take more control out there,” the coach said. “One thing that’s nice is our offense should be able to spread it around more.”
Not all is rosy for the Eagles, however, contrary to what it might appear like from the outside looking in.
At the top of the list is finding someone to pick up the slack left by the graduation loss of Avery Faehling and Brett Beigel, both of whom helped carry the load at running back. Beigel also was an all-conference middle linebacker who was the heart of the defense.
Filling those shoes will fall on Hunkins and sophomore Austin Bunders (6-0, 150).
Then there is the little matter of a potential position change for first team All-CWC guard Ethan Yonke who might just be moving to wide receiver to give Pagel yet another weapon in the passing game.
The move would create some instability in the trenches where seniors Jesse Gneist (6-4, 185), Shelby Swan (5-10, 205) and Jacob Vallery (5-6, 150) will be counted on to take sophomores Cole Warzynski (6-0, 240) and Jordan Keahlier (6-0, 240) under their wings.
Still, Bradley has every reason to believe A-B could be on the brink of a special season.
“We want to improve on last year and continue to build the program,” he said. “I think our defense can be as solid as it was last year, and hopefully we can get a few more big plays with turnovers.
“The offense needs to take the next step and become more explosive team,” Bradley added. “I believe with the speed we’ve added we can have more big-play ability than last year.”