KIMBERLY — Sustaining success at the high school football level is difficult because new pieces and parts need to be inserted each year.
The replacement parts plugged into the turbo-charged football machine known as the Kimberly Papermakers seem to be made of gold.
The result has been one powerhouse Papermakers team after another.
Kimberly’s deep playoff run this fall is stuffed with a lot of amazing numbers. There is the team’s 12 victories, which has pushed the program’s winning streak to 40 entering Friday night’s Division 1 state semifinal against Marquette. And there is the glittering 46.0 points per game average, which has fueled the Papermakers’ powerful push toward a third straight WIAA state title.
But 19 might be the most remarkable one of them all. That’s the number of new starters unbeaten Kimberly has reloaded with.
Sensational running back Blair Mulholland along with stellar offensive linemen Logan Bruss and Mickey Steger are the only full-time returning starters from last year’s state championship team. Big-play wide receiver Jordan Janssen played plenty of snaps in 2014, but was in and out of the lineup due to injuries.
The Kimberly defense was hit the hardest by graduation. The unit had to replace all 11 of its 2014 starters.
But even with the multitude of changes, the Papermakers have gotten the same result — a steady string of victories by lopsided margins.
“I think it says a lot about our coaching staff and the kind of kids we have in our program,” said Kimberly junior quarterback Danny VandenBoom. “I think we’re the best-coached team in the state. There’s no doubt about that. The kids have bought into the program and I think that’s why you’re seeing the results you’re seeing.”
VandenBoom is one of the first-year Kimberly starters. He replaced another top-notch quarterback, Austin Weyenberg, and has been terrific. VandenBoom leads the state in quarterback efficiency rating (150.6) and has thrown for 2,078 yards and 21 touchdowns with no interceptions. His completion percentage is 69.3.
“He’s probably one of the most intelligent quarterbacks I’ve worked with,” said Kimberly head coach Steve Jones. “He’s very cerebral and has continued to make good decisions game after game. And he’s extremely accurate.”
Granted, Kimberly’s three returning starters were good ones. Steger, a senior, and Bruss, a junior, were first-team all-Valley Football Association-North Division selections and Bruss was chosen as the conference lineman of the year. They are joined on Kimberly’s sturdy offensive line by Bryce Walbrun, Hunter Kluge and Alec Roehrig.
As for Mulholland, all he did was rush for 2,218 yards — the third highest in the state — and score 37 touchdowns, while being named VFA-North offensive player of the year.
“Blair has amazing balance,” said Jones. “He does a great job of keeping his legs moving through contact and he’s a physical kid. He’s tough to bring down.”
Still, to do what the Papermakers have done with so many new starters is impressive.
“In my mind, this team has exceeded expectations,” said Jones. “With what we’ve been done the last few years and the rankings and everything, there were high expectations for us. But as a coaching staff, we realized we were dealing with a pretty inexperienced team. I think we’ve gotten better every single week and are playing our best football right now.
“It’s a combination of a lot of different things. I think I have a great coaching staff here. I’ve been blessed to have some great assistants and we have great kids. They did a nice job in our offseason program and were very dedicated to getting better in the weight room. Plus, you have an administration and a community that’s very supportive.”
Defensively, the Papermakers have been rock solid. Kimberly is allowing 18.1 points per game and even that number is deceptive considering most of the Papermakers’ games were blowouts in which reserves played plenty of minutes.
“Our defense is getting better each week and that’s all we care about,” said junior defensive end Logan McCormick. “We all have to do our job and we play 11 as one. Our defensive line is one of the biggest ones we’ve ever had. And all of us are pretty fast, especially our DBs. They’re really fast.”
McCormick was a first-team all-conference pick along with fellow defensive lineman Brady Heimer, inside linebacker Kyle Mayfield and cornerback Hunter Selle. Safety Connor Zirpel was a second-team pick.
“Defensively, with 11 new starters, we were going through some growing pains earlier in the year,” said Jones. “Our defense has played a lot better the second half of the year and has really improved.”
McCormick and his defensive mates will be tested Friday at Titan Stadium by a Marquette team (9-3) that plays a wide-open spread offense led by quarterback Jack Dwyer, who has thrown for 2,512 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“They’re a spread team that likes to pass the ball a lot,” said McCormick. “We’ve seen some teams that like to spread it out and that should help us.”
The Papermakers pounded Marquette 48-16 in a Division 1 state semifinal last year at Titan Stadium.
“It’s kind of funny how that all worked out — same place, same sideline, same locker room, same everything,” said VandenBoom. “It should be a fun one. We have good film on them from last year. We know what they’re going to do and are looking forward to it. It should be a heavyweight fight. They’re a good team and so are we.”
Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or email@example.com; on Twitter @twfroberg
Kimberly vs. Marquette
What: WIAA Division 1 state football semifinal
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Titan Stadium, Oshkosh