Coleman football coach Jeff Bronson feels his team possesses enough talent to win the M&O Conference title.
The sixth-year coach feels the rest of the teams in the conference do as well.
Bronson believes the difference between whether or not his squad can repeat as the M&O champion will come down to how soon the Cougars can establish a set of leaders.
“Last year we knew who our leaders were coming into the season,” Bronson said.
“This year we’ve got some players with experience, but they’ve never had to be that leader yet. It’s about how long it takes them to assert themselves in that position is going to be crucial to us.”
Coleman went 7-0 in conference play last year to win the title. Crivitz, Gillett and Peshtigo went 5-2 to finish in a three-way tie for second place.
The six M&O teams went 12-0 in crossover games that count toward the conference standings with the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Cougars return about seven starters on offense and defense from its conference championship team.
However, it has to replace a trio of three-year starters and first-team all-conference players in Marc Lansin (running back/defensive line), C.J. Pillath (tight end/defensive end) and Joe Styczynski (offensive line/linebacker).
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Bronson, whose team rushed for 2,814 yards and 39 touchdowns last season. “We have to figure out who this group is first before we worry about anything down the line.”
Blake Margis returns as the starter at quarterback and is one of six seniors on the team, which Bronson said has less depth than last year with 35 players out.
The junior class features 15 players. Bronson is excited about the size of many of the juniors, including tight end/linebacker Gunnar Patz (6-feet-2), lineman Donovan Salewski (6-3), running back/defensive back Austin Tachick (6-2) and tight end/linebacker Josh Pillath (6-5).
“We have to find a way to take advantage of some of the size and speed we can put on the outside,” Bronson said.
“We’re going to have to try to find some more ways every once in a while to manufacture some big plays in the passing game.”
Five teams return starting quarterbacks in the M&O, including Wausaukee senior Eric Arndt, a first-team all-conference choice last season.
Peshtigo junior Justin Thill received second-team all-conference accolades. He completed 104 of 204 passes for 993 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions last season.
The Bulldogs bring back a majority of their running backs and receivers to the pistol-spread offense of second-year coach Eric Seyler.
“They know where they have to get to now,” Seyler said. “They’re more comfortable offensively.”
Peshtigo, a Division 4 team, will be battle-tested heading into the season after competing Friday in a four-team scrimmage against Luxemburg-Casco (D3), Pulaski (D2) and Seymour (D3).
“I was really impressed with how well we played,” Seyler said. “We moved the ball on offense and defensively we held up. Our lack of depth showed up when we got to the end of our plays, but we looked pretty good. As long as we don’t hurt ourselves with penalties and dropped balls, we can move the ball.”
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @andrewpekarek.
M&O Conference at a glance
Coach: Jeff Bronson, sixth year.
2014 record: 8-2.
Overview: The Cougars qualified for the WIAA playoffs for a 10th straight year. The team failed to win a playoff game for the first time since 2007, falling 25-18 to Algoma in a D6 first-round game. Senior quarterback Blake Margis completed 31 of 57 passes for 602 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions last year. Senior Kevin Lansin, who led the team with 828 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, will miss the first part of the season and possibly the entire year with a non-football injury. Senior Jody Styczynski rushed for 418 yards and six TDs last year. Senior Nick Sailer led the team with 149 receiving yards last year.
Coach: Matt Bernier, first year.
2014 record: 6-4.
Overview: Bernier takes over for Jeff Ott, who was head coach the previous six seasons in his second tenure. Bernier was previously the team’s defensive coordinator. The Wolverines are coming off their third straight playoff appearance. Seniors Tyler Slaby (357 yards in M&O play) and Nicholas Chapman (174 yards) return as the team’s leading rushers. Senior Micah Sessler is also back as the team’s leading receiver. Colton Lange has to be replaced at quarterback. Chapman along with senior defensive linemen Austin Ducaine and Trevor Maye were first-team all-conference players last season.
Coach: Rick Kamps, ninth year.
2014 record: 8-3.
Overview: The Tigers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and won a WIAA playoff game for the first time in program history. The team has to replace Monte Noffke, an honorable mention all-state choice by the WFCA. The M&O running back of the year rushed for 1,691 yards and 31 TDs last season, including leading the conference with 888 rushing yards and 16 TDs. Seven starters return on offense and defense, including senior Alex Zeitler, a four-year starter at quarterback, who threw for 986 yards and 11 TDs with two interceptions. Brett Milhans, a second-team all-conference linebacker, will be transitioning from fullback to tailback to help replace Noffke.
Coach: Eric Seyler, second year.
2014 record: 5-5.
Overview: The Bulldogs advanced to the playoffs for a seventh straight year last season, but fell short of picking up their first playoff win since 2009 in a loss to Wrightstown. In addition to junior Justin Thill at quarterback, senior Kyle Gokey returns to the offense after leading the team with 938 rushing yards and 10 TDs, including 732 yards and nine TDs in M&O play. Gokey was a first-team all-conference choice as a running back and defensive back. Senior receiver Jake Romenesko, a 6-foot-4 target, made 24 receptions for a team-high 366 yards and four touchdowns. A majority of the offensive line has to be replaced along with leading tackler Trevor Igl, who made 89 tackles and four sacks as a first-team all-conference choice. Drake Koenigs, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive tackle, returns as a first-team all-conference player.
Coach: Mitch Taylor, 17th year.
2014 record: 2-7.
Overview: The Eagles return 16 letter winners after having only three seniors on last year’s team. Junior quarterback John Christensen returns along with four offensive linemen. Leading rusher and first-team all-conference linebacker Creo VanBellinger (779 rushing yards overall) will have to be replaced. Senior Mark Runge was the team’s leading receiver last year, while senior Mitch Firgens earned second-team all-conference honors as a defensive lineman.
Coach: Grant Russ, first year.
2014 record: 4-5.
Overview: Russ takes over as head coach for Jared Deschane, who remains on the staff as an assistant following four seasons as head coach. The Rangers have to replace Aaron Schlies, who led the conference with 26 receptions for 477 yards and was an unanimous first-team all-M&O choice as a receiver and punter. The team returns a number of third- and fourth-year starters. Seniors Eric Arndt (quarterback/defensive back) and Nick Whitman (lineman) were both first-team all-conference choices on both sides of the ball last season. Arndt led the M&O with 776 passing yards in addition to adding 378 rushing yards. Senior running back Russell Smith is back after totaling 343 rushing yards in conference play.