Milton Red Hawks - Badger South
Coach: Matt Lee (2nd Season), 3-6 Overall
2016 Result: 3-6 (2-4), 5th in the Badger South
Three-Year Record: 18-12 (1-2 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 0 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 7 Honorable Mention (9 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 17 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 18 Honorable Mention (47 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): TE/LB Jaxon Soddy (Second Team-LB), Sr.; WR/LB Jerry Lipke (Honorable Mention-LB), Sr.; WR/DB Blake Fuchs (Honorable Mention-DB), Sr.; OL/DL Eric Hessenhauer (Honorable Mention-OL), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB Kameron Van Natta, Sr.; TE/LB Chance Nelson, Sr.; ATH(QB)/DB Mark Bowditch, Sr.; WR/LB Brett Brandenburg, Sr.; WR/DB Payden Belk, Sr.; WR/LB Ben Maldonado, Sr.; OL/LB Ty Cunningham, Sr.; TE/LB Ben Riesterer, Sr.; OL/DL John Keller, Sr.; RB/LB Josh Johnson, Jr.; OL/DL Trenton Jenson, Jr.
BIG Games: vs Monroe September 1, at Stoughton September 8, vs Watertown September 22 (Homecoming), at Monona Grove September 29, vs Fort Aktinson October 6
Milton football's rich history is not lost upon the coaching staff of the Red Hawks, led by second-year Head Coach Matt Lee.
Coach Lee, a 1999 graduate of Delavan-Darien, coached at Milton for ten seasons as an assistant in various roles, before serving as an assistant at Beloit College for a few seasons before taking the head coaching job at Milton prior to last season. In addition to Lee's experience with the program, one of his assistants is WFCA Hall of Fame coach Jerry Schliem. Schliem led the Red Hawks to state championships in 1986 and 1989.
"We had some teams that made playoff runs last season, and I think it is an indicator of the quality football being played right now in the Badger South. I think it will be a battle every week for every team." - Milton Head Coach Matt Lee
The recent history of the program has seen Milton win conference titles in two different conferences: the Southern Lakes (2007) and Badger South (2008, '14, and '15).
Coach Lee's first season as a head coach saw the Red Hawks go 0-6 against playoff-qualifying squads, but the season wasn't a wash. Lee says his outgoing seniors helped set the tone for future generations of Milton football players.
"They brought a ton of energy, fun, and enthusiasm every day," said Coach Lee. "We are hoping to replicate that again this year."
Another large senior class looks to slot in to increased roles on varsity for Milton this season. On offense, the backfield will feature seniors Mark Bowditch (quarterback) and Kameron Van Natta (running back), who saw action at several positions in 2016. Some of their time, at wide receiver, could be filled by returning seniors Chance Nelson, Blake Fuchs, Jaxon Soddy, Jerry Lipke, Brett Brandenburg, Payden Belk, Ben Maldonado, and Ben Riesterer. Those players could also be in the mix for work out of the backfield.
In the trenches on both sides, Milton brings back only one all-conference honoree: Eric Hessenhauer (honorable mention-OL). Some other returning seniors to the offensive line group include Ty Cunningham and John Keller, as well as junior Trenton Jenson.
Defensively, most of the same names on the offensive line will be in the mix for defensive line. In the linebackers group, Jaxon Soddy (second-team all-conference), Jerry Lipke (honorable mention all-conference), and a host of others who could see time on offense will make up a strong second level for the Red Hawks, with Blake Fuchs (honorable mention all-conference) heading up a secondary that could include some of the seniors also looking to earn playing time at skill positions on offense.
Ultimately, the senior class will be leading the way, says Coach Lee. "Those are the athletes who saw significant time last year, and we are hoping that their experience will help them lead this year's team," said Lee.
Milton's path to a return atop the Badger South begins with a pair of crossover games in the Badger, against North foes Sauk Prairie (on the road to open the season) and Reedsburg (at home). Milton defeated Sauk Prairie 28-24 last year.
The Red Hawks' conference opener is against defending Badger South champion Monroe, a home date in Week 3. Then, Milton hits the road for a pair of games, at Stoughton and at Oregon, before Homecoming against conference newcomer Watertown on September 22. Milton defeated Oregon 44-10 in the Red Hawk's biggest win of 2016, but fell by three to Stoughton and by 24 to Monroe a year ago.
Week 7 takes Milton on the road against Monona Grove. The Silver Eagles defeated the Red Hawks 42-14 in the Badger South opener last year. Fort Atkinson comes to town October 6, in a rematch of a high-scoring game won by the Blackhawks 50-28 from last season. Milton wraps up the season for the second straight year playing Edgewood, this time on the road. Last year, the Red Hawks shut out the Crusaders, 21-0.
While the Badger South projects to be difficult, Coach Lee is focused only on the task in front of him: "We are going to focus on competing every day, and try to go 1-0 every week."
As far as the conference itself, Coach Lee is aware of the level of competition he will see each week.
"We had some teams that made playoff runs last season, and I think it is an indicator of the quality football being played right now in the Badger South," said Coach Lee. "I think it will be a battle every week for every team."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska