Beaver Dam Golden Beavers - Badger North
Coach: Steve Kuenzi (4th Season), 8-19 Overall (7th Career Season, 12-42 Overall) - 1999-2001 Watertown (4-23)
2016 Result: 3-6 (2-5) - 5th in the Little Ten
Three-Year Record: 8-19
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 2 Honorable Mention (6 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 3 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (18 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (2): RB/LB Mitch Graff (Honorable Mention-LB), Sr.; Joel Riehbrandt (Honorable Mention-LB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/DL Mathew Piekarski, Sr.; ATH(WR)/DB Dillon Livingston, Sr.; WR/DB Max Wiersma, Sr.; RB/DB/RET Blaize Firari, Sr.; RB/LB Mateo Ramirez, Sr.; QB/DB Adrian Calderon, Sr.; QB/DB Marshall Goodrich, Sr.; QB/DB Kendrick Jimenez, Jr.; K Miguel Lemus, Jr.
Conference realignment fever has spread now to the Badger Conference, with Beaver Dam and Watertown joining the North and South respectively for 2017 and beyond.
Beaver Dam Head Coach Steve Kuenzi is pleased with the competition level and the organization of the Badger Conference, but the move is bittersweet as well.
"We feel that we can be and will be competitive in the Badger, but we also know and fully respect the tremendous programs we will face each week, and the storied history of the Badger conference at the state championship level. We are working hard to fit in and not let down the tradition of success that the Badger Conference has established." - Beaver Dam Football Coach Steve Kuenzi
"We're excited about joining the Badger conference," said Kuenzi, in his fourth year at the helm of the Golden Beavers football program after serving as defensive coordinator for a decade. "Yes, we are disappointed that the Little Ten folded after 90-plus years, but all good things must come to an end."
"The loss of the Little Ten is something personal for us, since we were one of the charter members," continued Kuenzi, who played for and graduated from Beaver Dam, "and the only Little Ten school that played in the Little Ten for its entirety."
However, Kuenzi also sees the move as a positive on many other fronts.
"We're excited about the Badger for a variety of reasons, one simply because its something new and there's a degree of excitement in the unknown," said Coach Kuenzi, "but also because we feel we fit the Badger schools more so than the Little Ten. As a small D-2 rural school, we were definitely the odd school in a mostly suburban D-1 conference."
Offensively, Beaver Dam will return close to half of its production and playing time from a year ago, but will need to find a solution at quarterback. Junior quarterback Kendrick Jimenez is one player in the mix. Elsewhere in the backfield, senior Mitch Graff appears to be primed for an increased workload, but several Golden Beavers will get playing time both at running back and at wide receiver.
"We feel our strength on offense is our skill positions," said Coach Kuenzi, noting seniors Dillon Livingston and Max Wiersma are also back to in larger roles this year. Kuenzi said the team has to replace its leading passer, rusher, and receiver from a season ago. More importantly, he said, is finding players to work on the offensive line.
"A weakness on offense is quality depth on the line," said Kuenzi, noting the team has only one returning player with experience at the position. "We have a number of candidates that will compete for time on the line."
Kuenzi, a longtime defensive coordinator and former defensive player at UW-Eau Claire, believes that side of the ball will have it a little easier in terms of replacing seniors. "Our strength this year on paper appears to be our defense, which ranked as one of the better defenses in the Little Ten," said Kuenzi, pointing out that eight of 11 starters are back, including the entire group of starting linebackers.
Leading the way will be honorable mention all-conference honorees Mitch Graff and Joel Riehbrandt at linebacker, with Mathew Piekarski anchoring the front line. Line depth is again the concern here, but the Golden Beavers have several players competing for time in the secondary.
On special teams, Beaver Dam will bring back senior Blaize Firari as a kick and punt returner, and junior Miguel Lemus as a kicker.
Schedule-wise, the opening game will be a familiar opponent, at least, for the Golden Beavers. They will face former Little Ten foe and fellow Badger Conference member Watertown to kick off their season. Last year, the Goslings doubled up Beaver Dam 42-21.
"We're happy to have Watertown, a rival of ours for the past 80-plus years, join us in the Badger as well," said Coach Kuenzi, who previously coached at Watertown at the turn of the century.
A trip down Highway 26 will take the Golden Beavers to their second crossover game against Fort Atkinson, before returning home to host Baraboo in their Badger North opener.
Four road games in six weeks, all versus 2016 playoff teams, await Beaver Dam the rest of the way, including back-to-back road games against Mount Horeb/Barneveld and Reedsburg on September 8 and 15. After a home date against Portage, the Golden Beavers wrap up September by playing at DeForest.
In October, Beaver Dam will play host to Sauk Prairie in the penultimate game of the season, before completing their first regular season in the Badger North with a road game against Waunakee.
"Joining the Badger is not something that's completely new for us," said Kuenzi. "Our middle school participates in the Badger Conference and against many current Badger teams already."
As for goals, Kuenzi is excited about the opportunity to compete in the Badger full-time. "We feel that we can be and will be competitive in the Badger, but we also know and fully respect the tremendous programs we will face each week, and the storied history of the Badger conference at the state championship level," said Coach Kuenzi. "We are working hard to fit in and not let down the tradition of success that the Badger Conference has established."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska