Lake Mills L-Cats - Capitol North
Coach: Dan Ferkovich (4th Season); 18-22 Overall (2-1 in 1 Playoff Appearance; 2016)
2016 Result: 8-4 (3-2), 2nd in the Capitol North (Lost to River Valley 33-27 in Level 3)
Three-Year Record: 15-16
2016 All-Conference Honors: 4 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 4 Honorable Mention (10 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 8 First-Team, 11 Second-Team, 10 Honorable Mention (29 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): QB Ben Dunkleberger (First Team-QB) (Second Team-WR in 2015 and 2014, Honorable Mention-ST in 2014) (2016 Conference Player of the Year) (Top 50 Overall, WisSports.net Class of 2018) (Top 15 QB, WisSports.net Senior Rankings), Sr.; WR/DB Hayden Iverson (First Team-WR, First Team-WR) (Honorable Mention-WR in 2015) (Top 15 WR, WisSports.net Senior Rankings), Sr.; OL/DL Dan Bruce (Second Team-OL), Sr.; K Adam Mitchell (Second Team-K), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: OL Cal Porter, Sr.; LB J.D. Link, Sr.; OL Harley Jones, Jr.; OL/LB Cooper Buchholtz, Jr.
BIG Games: vs New Glarus/Monticello August 25, vs Lodi September 15, at Columbus October 13
1987 and 1988 were the last two years that the Lake Mills football program won any playoff games.
That changed in 2016, when the L-Cats advanced to the state quarterfinals, falling to eventual state runner-up River Valley, 33-27. The head coach of the Lake Mills L-Cats, Dan Ferkovich, credits a strong outgoing senior class for their efforts in establishing a strong foundation for today's team.
"That group, [they] were freshmen when I first took over here and I knew then they were going to be good," said Coach Ferkovich, entering his fifth year as the head coach at Lake Mills. "That class was loaded with really good kids coming from really supportive families, and they have worked hard in everything over the past 4 years.
"It was hard to lose that Level 3 game knowing my time with that team was over but the impact those kids had was nothing short of impressive," he continued. "They were focused and knew how to practice, and they were great leaders."
"I love having our team in the Capitol North. It prepares you for the postseason if you manage to survive and make it." - Lake Mills Head Coach Dan Ferkovich
It also helped that the outgoing senior class brought numbers to the fold, but more importantly, persistence. Ferkovich, previously an assistant at Germantown and Parkview before taking over at Lake Mills, believes that mentality helped the team find success.
"They started with a class of 18, which was one of the largest groups to play at Lake Mills, and we ended with 16," said Coach Ferkovich. "So, they stuck it out and took the program to places it has not been to, and success it has not seen, in 30 years."
It had been nearly 28 years since the L-Cats last won a playoff game before last season. Now that the program has tasted some of that success, Coach Ferkovich believes it's motivated the returning players to work even harder to achieve even loftier goals, and cited many additional positives to making it to the state quarterfinals, such as community involvement, and says it's been paying immediate dividends in all areas of the program.
"We have improved our weight room numbers, and [last year's success] has given the coaches belief too, that all the meeting time that we put in is helping us make the strides we have been hoping to see," said Ferkovich. "It has shown the younger kids that hard work does pay off, and we have been seeing participation numbers increase too. It shows the work we do all year round helps prepare us for the season ahead."
There is plenty of reason for optimism for success this year as well. Multi-sport stars Ben Dunkleberger and Hayden Iverson return for their senior seasons, and the team brings back plenty of other experienced players.
"Ben and Hayden are two athletic kids that have been playing together forever," said Coach Ferkovich. "They both work extremely hard, in all the sports they play, [and they're] coachable."
Dunkleberger, the reigning offensive player of the year in the Capitol North, has made the all-conference team each of his three seasons on varsity, twice as a receiver, once for special teams, and now as quarterback. He's ranked in the top 3 of all quarterbacks in the state of Wisconsin and in the top 50 of all seniors according to WisSports.net.
Iverson, who has been an all-conference receiver for the past two seasons and added a first-team nod at safety this past year, is rated as one of the top 15 wideouts in the entire state's senior class, according to WisSports.net.
"They are great leaders by example and are have extremely high sports IQs, as well as great school GPAs," said Coach Ferkovich of Dunkleberger and Iverson. "They are also very competitive, which helps fuel their desire to be the best they can be in everything."
With so much success last season, this year's squad will have plenty to live up to. However, despite returning two of the top players in the entire state, the L-Cats will have some work to do to fill some starting roles left by graduating seniors.
"Besides Ben and Hayden, we will have to find four other wide receivers to fill positions vacated by our seniors," said Coach Ferkovich. "Some sophomores and juniors look good in seven-on-seven right now, but we will see when the season comes and the pads get put on."
Along the front lines, Lake Mills returns four of its five starters from last season, which will "help keep the offense moving the ball," said Ferkovich.
Defensively, the L-Cats will sport a different look this year. "We will be switching up our scheme to better fit our players that we have this year," said Coach Ferkovich. "We will be running a 3-5-3."
There will be some new faces defensively as well. "We will be inexperienced but athletic on that side of the ball," said Ferkovich. "We bring back only three starters on that side of the ball. Hayden Iverson will be our leader at the safety position."
Coach Ferkovich relishes the opportunity to play a difficult schedule, and in a difficult conference. "I love having our team in the Capitol North," he said. "It prepares you for the postseason if you manage to survive and make it."
While Lake Mills making a run to the state quarterfinals may have surprised outsiders, count Ferkovich among those who expected success. "We have had good teams in the past and not make the playoffs, so to us, it was not a surprise to make it to Level 3 because every week is like a playoff game for us," he said.
On the schedule, Lake Mills will again be tested week in and week out. They will open up against Marshall, who made the playoffs from the Capitol South a year ago, on the road. The L-Cats will welcome Capitol South champion New Glarus/Monticello to town the very next week. Last year, Lake Mills opened with wins against both the Cardinals and Glarner Knights.
Their string of games against playoff teams from 2016 continues when they play at Mauston on Thursday in Week 3 in a rematch of last year's Level 1 win by the L-Cats, 42-13. Lake Mills will head home for their final non-conference game of the season, at home against Belleville, a team that had a winning record in 2016.
Conference play opens up with one of the other contenders for the Capitol North crown, Lodi. After a road game at Watertown Luther Prep, Lakeside Lutheran will come across town for an intra-city battle with the L-Cats in Week 7. Last year, Lake Mills lost this contest 42-28. "We have split with them the past four years, so each year has been a battle, and sometimes making the playoffs will hinge on that game," said Ferkovich.
Lake Mills finishes its season against Poynette and Columbus on the road, the latter of which went 11-1 in 2016. All told, Lake Mills will see five teams that made the playoffs in 2016 and two others that missed by just one game.
In terms of a conference outlook, there may not be an undefeated conference champion in 2017, since every team will be re-loading for the 2017 season. The conference title favorites figure to be Lodi, Columbus, and Lake Mills, but the remaining three teams all will have their chances to make a run as well. Coach Ferkovich believes his team has what it takes, saying that he thinks the team has the ability to compete for the conference title.