Monroe Cheesemakers - Badger South
Coach: Toby Golembiewski (2nd Season), 11-1 (2-1 Playoffs); 17th Career Sesason, 74-90 (63-89 in 15 seasons as head coach at Orangeville, IL)
2016 Result: 11-1 (6-0), 1st in the Badger South (Lost to Pewaukee 7-3 in Level 3 of the D3 Playoffs)
Three-Year Record: 19-11 (2-1 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 7 First-Team, 9 Second-Team, 6 Honorable Mention (22 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 10 First-Team, 14 Second-Team, 14 Honorable Mention (38 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (7): RB/LB Travis Wolf (First Team-LB) (WSN Class of 2017 Players to Watch - LB), Sr.; OL/LB Joe Hughes (Second Team-OL), Sr.; OL/DL Tysen Welsch (Second Team-DL), Sr.; TE/LB Mitch Bartelt (Second Team-LB), Sr.; QB/DB Brayden Zettle (Second Team-DB), Sr.; RB/LB/K Dempzy Foley (Second Team-K), Sr.; RB/DB/RET Sam Kind (Honorable Mention-DB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/DL Joe Crubaugh, Sr.; QB/DB/K Anthony Hernandez, Jr.; RB/LB Jacob Amacher, Jr.; RB/LB Wade Sweeney, Jr.; RB/DB Jordan Montgomery, Jr.
BIG Games: at Reedsburg August 18, at Watertown September 8, vs Stoughton September 15, vs Monona Grove (Homecoming) September 22
In the heyday of the Monroe Cheesemakers' football program, Monroe rattled off five state championships in eight state title game appearances in the span of only 11 seasons.
After only one appearance in the playoffs in the past 12 years, the Cheesemakers arrived in a big way in 2016, going undefeated during the regular season to capture a Badger South title before falling in the state quarterfinals by four points, a 7-3 loss to Pewaukee. Monroe did it behind the power of a three-pronged rushing attack (four if you include their quarterback) and a stellar defense, and were led by first-year coach Toby Golembiewski, who wasted no time raising Monroe back into prominence.
Monroe will see six playoff teams from 2016, two of the top quarterback-receiver combos in all of Wisconsin in the span of three weeks, and a crucial stretch of four weeks in the middle of the season when they see the four other postseason squads from a season ago in a row. Even with the benefit of four home games in five weeks to close out the season, Monroe will have their hands full defending their conference title.
Golembiewski enters his second season as a coach after spending the past few years being involved in community youth athletic organizations. That followed his 15-year run as the head coach at Orangeville in Illinois, where he served as athletic director and qualified for the state tournament five times in football with an overall record of 63-89 from 1996 until 2011. Golembiewski also played and coached at his alma mater, UW-Platteville.
While the Cheesemakers do lose their top four runners, three of them 1,000-yard rushers, from a season ago, the defense returns several important pieces, and half of the starting lineup on that side of the ball will contain players that earned all-conference honors a season ago.
That defensive unit is led by senior linebacker Travis Wolf, who led the team in tackles by a wide margin a season ago. Wolf, a first-team all-conference pick and on the WisSports.net Class of 2018 watchlist at linebacker, is joined by a trio of second-team all-conference honorees in seniors Mitch Bartelt (linebacker), Tysen Welsch (lineman), and Brayden Zettle (back). Another senior defensive back, Sam Kind, also returns. Along the lines and in the secondary, some fresh new faces will emerge.
On offense, much of the attention will be paid to the backfield, where virtually all of Monroe's production graduated after the 2016 season. At quarterback, senior Brayden Zettle or junior Anthony Hernandez could step in. Neither threw a pass last year, but Hernandez had a carry on offense. At running back, senior Sam Kind is the leading returning rusher from last year's dominant squad, but he only had 66 yards. Other returning running backs with touches a year ago include juniors Jordan Montgomery, Jacob Amacher, and Wade Sweeney, who will be in the mix to replace the four graduating seniors in the backfield from a year ago that powered the Cheesemakers' offense.
Similarly, the little-used pass game will also be restocking after several players graduated, with only Sweeney and Zettle catching at least one pass on varsity in 2016.
Along the front line, senior Joe Hughes is back after earning second-team all-conference last year. Seniors Tysen Welsch and Joe Crubaugh provide a combined 500 pounds-plus of added power up front.
On special teams, Sam Kind will be back as a kick and punt returner, while second-team all-conference pick Dempzy Foley is also back after kicking 42 of 43 on extra points his junior year, as well as 3 of 6 on field goal tries.
Defending their conference title, Monroe will have to navigate through a difficult Badger South in 2017, which adds the spread passing game of Watertown to the fold this season and beyond.
The Cheesemakers begin the season with a pair of Badger crossover games against 2016 playoff participants Reedsburg (on the road; Monroe shut out Reedsburg in the first round of the playoffs last year 21-0) and DeForest (at home). Monroe's Badger South opener will take them to Milton, where they won on the road last year 42-18.
In Week 4, Monroe will meet conference newcomer Watertown on the road. Watertown features one of the top quarterback-receiver duos in the state and will test Monroe's rebuilt secondary early on.
At the friendly confines of T.R. Holyoke Field, the Cheesemakers will play four of their final five regular-season games at home, as they continue a crucial mid-season stretch against Badger South contenders. First up is Stoughton, who many are figuring as a top challenger to Monroe's title defense. The Cheesemakers dispatched the Vikings 35-13 late last season.
State semifinalist Monona Grove makes the trip south on September 22 for Monroe's Homecoming. In one of the only times the Silver Eagles were grounded last year, Monroe held Monona Grove to just seven points in a 10-7 decision.
September 29 marks an important road test for the Cheesemakers as they square off against Fort Atkinson. The Blackhawks challenged Monroe in both of their October meetings a season prior, with Monroe winning 24-21 to close out the regular season (and a conference title) and then two weeks later again earning the victory in a 41-40 thriller in the second round of the playoffs.
Edgewood and Oregon make the trip to Monroe for the final two weeks of the season. The Cheesemakers defeated both teams last year by multiple scores.
All told, Monroe will see six playoff teams from 2016, two of the top quarterback-receiver combos in all of Wisconsin in the span of three weeks, and a crucial stretch of four weeks in the middle of the season when they see the four other postseason squads from a season ago in a row. Even with the benefit of four home games in five weeks to close out the season, Monroe will have their hands full defending their conference title.
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska