The last time Austin Behm and his Menasha teammates were together on the football field, they were making history by winning the WIAA Division 2 state championship for their community.
Now, nearly nine months later, Behm will be hitting the turf at Titan Stadium on Saturday for the Division 1-3 game on the North team as part of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s 39th annual All-Star Classic at J.J. Keller Field in Oshkosh.
The 8-man contest kicks off the series at 10 a.m. with the Division 4-7 game at 2 p.m. and the Division 1-3 game at 6 p.m.
“We just got the pads on (Monday) and got popping a little bit,” Behm said. “It felt really good. It was a long time coming and I’ve been waiting a long time for that. I’m still a little sore, but it was good to get back out there.”
Behm, a defensive end/outside linebacker, was Post-Crescent Media’s athlete of the year in football and a first-team Associated Press all-state pick after compiling 18 sacks and 107 tackles, including 21 for loss, in leading the Bluejays to the state crown.
He’s joined on the D1 North all-star team by Menasha teammates Isaac Erdmann, Emanuel Jenkins, Tyler Johnson and Kelvin Medrano.
“You can tell the chemistry is still there,” Behm said. “We were joking around all the time. It’s great having another game together. It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to a long time and something I’ll remember for a very long time as well.”
Behm and Erdmann also said that it was a special moment bringing the championship trophy back to Menasha.
“It gives you a warm feeling in your stomach,” said Erdmann, also an Associated Press first-team all-state pick last fall. “Having the turnout that we did (following the state title) … it’s just amazing.”
Behm said the North players arrived on Sunday at Gruenhagen Conference Center on the UW-Oshkosh campus for a week of two-a-day practices in preparation for Saturday’s game.
Meeting players from other teams, including rivals, was a highlight.
“Once we got there we were all jumping right in, trading helmets and trading stickers,” Behm said. “We were also meeting players from our conference (Bay) and talking about when we played them and laughing about it. It was a great time meeting the other guys from across the state, too. Germantown, Cedarburg, big programs like that. It was cool to learn about them and what they did.”
Hortonville running back Mitch Gerhartz knows about the rivalry with Menasha. His Polar Bears have dropped playoff games to the Bluejays the past two seasons, including last season’s gut-wrenching 21-20 loss in which Hortonville failed on a two-point conversion with 27 seconds left in regulation that would have sent Hortonville to the next round.
Gerhartz said there was no hard feelings meeting the Bluejays players after knowing that Hortonville could have very well reached the title game instead.
“I’ve always gotten along with these guys,” Gerhartz said. “But it’s tough to see what could have been there. But the Menasha guys are good guys. I don’t take it out on them. It’s a team game.”
The North team, coached by Superior’s Bob DeMeyer, is running the option on offense, something Gerhartz is unfamiliar with.
“The first day I had no clue what I was doing,” Gerhartz said. “We didn’t run the option in high school, but everyone is picking it up really fast.”
The various all-star teams also met with patients from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin on Thursday morning. The WFCA All-Star Classic has raised more than a million dollars the past eight years to benefit patient care programs.
The players did their part, each raising money on their own to contribute to the overall fund.
“Everyone here did an amazing job getting their funds raised,” Behm said.
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo
IF YOU GO
What: 39th annual Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Classic.
Where: J.J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium, UW-Oshkosh.
When: Saturday, 8-Man game (10 a.m.); Division 4-7 game (2 p.m.); Division 1-3 game (6 p.m.).
TV: All games will be televised live on Time Warner Cable Sports 32.
Area players competing: D1-3 North — Austin Behm, Menasha; Isaac Erdmann, Menasha; Mitch Gerhartz, Hortonville; Derek Hansen, Kaukauna; Emanuel Jenkins, Menasha; Tom Johnson, Xavier; Matt Kinderman, Xavier; Connor McCormick, Kimberly; Kelvin Medrano, Menasha; Tyler Merckx, Kimberly; Gunnar Roberge, Seymour; Tyler Johnson, Menasha.
D4-7 North — Mike Ehlke, Little Chute; Garrett Gunderson, Shiocton; Riley Wood, Shiocton.
8-Man South — Samuel Jeffers, Stockbridge.