Rock Valley Conference - Full Schedule Here
2016 Standings (Go to team name for full preview)
Clinton - 11-2 (8-1) - Lost in Level 4 of D5 Playoffs to Cedar Grove/Belgium
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 7/9
"It is going to a fun season in our conference. Every week poses a different challenge, and no team can be overlooked. I believe there will be a lot of parity in the conference... it is wide open. I expect the Clinton Cougars to be able to compete for a third straight conference championship." - Clinton Head Coach Jeff Spiwak
Evansville/Albany - 8-2 (8-1) - Lost in Level 1 of D3 playoffs to Fort Atkinson
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 3/13
"Oh, you better be ready," said Evansville/Albany Head Coach Ron Grovesteen, who laughed when reading off the first few opponents on the schedule. "These are really good teams, and they all are in the Rock Valley, but there's no warming up to the competition."
Jefferson - 7-3 (7-2) - Lost in Level 1 of D3 playoffs to Pewaukee
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 4/6
"Anyone is capable of winning on any Friday night in our league. We hope to be one of the top teams in the conference this season, but realize there will be no weeks off." - Jefferson Head Coach Steve Gee
Brodhead/Juda - 5-5 (5-4) - Lost in Level 1 of D4 playoffs to Lodi
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 4/5
"Our senior class has played a of lot of football the past two seasons. Their leadership will be important for our younger guys. We have some really good young players in our program right now, but they lack experience, so the sooner they grow into varsity players, the better we will become." - Brodhead/Juda Head Coach Jim Matthys
East Troy - 5-5 (5-4) - Lost in Level 1 of D4 playoffs to Platteville
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 4/7
"We have a large group of returning players, and I would expect strong competition in each game this year. We will need to be ready to compete each week and get better each game. The conference looks to be very competitive." - East Troy Head Coach Jeff Crandall
Big Foot - 5-5 (5-4) - Lost in Level 1 of D4 playoffs to River Valley
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 5/7
In regards to the teams in the conference and how they will finish in the Rock Valley, Big Foot Coach Greg Enz offered, as means of a prediction: "You could shake [up] the names and pull them out of a hat."
Turner - 3-6 (3-6)
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 5/6
"This will be the strongest team Turner has produced in recent years. That doesn't always translate into success, but we will not be able to use [lack of] strength as an excuse. This could be the team to put us back on top of the conference, but anything can happen in the Rock Valley." - Turner Head Coach Derek Diehl
McFarland - 3-6 (3-6)
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 1/4
"Each week, we will be tested with quality teams... We will be a young team, so the process of getting better will be very important." - Head Coach Paul Ackley
Edgerton - 1-8 (1-8)
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 2/3
While Edgerton will keep most of its linebackers, defensive linemen, and offensive backfield intact, they will see plenty of new faces at wide receiver, defensive back, and sprinkled along the lines. The experience and talent of some of the underclassmen from last year will begin to show this year and next.
Whitewater- 0-9 (0-9)
Returning/Lost All-Conference: 3/2
After having only eight combined seniors and juniors in 2016, the Whippets have incoming freshman and sophomore classes with each having roughly double that many players
Returning 2016 All-Conference Team
QB: Jackson Enz (SR), 1st Team/OPY - Big Foot; Zach Mielke (SR), 1st Team - Evansville/Albany; Tyler Halsted (SR), 2nd Team - Clinton; Jaden Johnson (JR), HM - Edgerton; Daniel Fuller (SR), HM - Whitewater
RB: Zach Krause (SR), 2nd Team - Clinton; Evan Anfang (SR), 2nd Team - Jefferson
WR: Jimmy DuVal (SR), 1st Team - Whitewater; Pedro Sierra (SR), 1st Team - Big Foot; Jake Heidenreich (SR), 2nd Team - Big Foot; Juan Reyes (SR), 2nd Team (ATH-2015) - Turner; Parker Johnson (SR), HM (ATH) - Brodhead/Juda
TE: Jeffrey Williams (JR), HM (FB) - Brodhead/Juda
OL: Brandon Malkow (SR), 1st Team - Turner; Chris Storandt (SR), 1st Team - East Troy; Danny Carpenter (SR), 2nd Team - Big Foot; Clayton Hahn (SR), 2nd Team - Clinton; John Marschke (JR), 2nd Team - East Troy; Phyllip Brown (SR), 2nd Team - Turner; Trent Davis (SR), HM - Brodhead/Juda; Eric Paschke (SR), HM - Clinton; Kenny Ballmer (SR), HM - Clinton; Jacob Mast (SR), HM - East Troy; Nate Kleiboer (SR), HM - Evansville/Albany; Aldair Ramirez (SR), HM - Jefferson; Jeb Beck (SR), HM/2015 - Evansville/Albany
DL: Jake Pieper (SR), 2nd Team - East Troy; Nick Hauser (SR), 2nd Team - Jefferson
LB: Connor Mullooly (SR), 1st Team - Clinton; Paul Hollenberger (SR), 1st Team - Jefferson; Jimmy DuVal SR), 2nd Team - Whitewater; Chase Coleman (SR), HM - East Troy; Mason Simmons (JR), HM - Edgerton; Will Leibbrand (SO), HM - Whitewater
DB: Brekan Day (SR), 1st Team - Brodhead/Juda; Zach Krause (SR), 1st Team - Clinton; Juan Reyes (SR), 1st Team/2015 - Turner; Evan Anfang (SR), 2nd Team - Jefferson; Austin Beaumont (SR), HM - Clinton; Tucker Milligan (SR), HM - Big Foot; Tysen White (JR), HM - McFarland; Sereno Ferone (SR), HM - Turner
K: Juan Reyes (SR), 1st Team/2015 - Turner; Nano Reyes (JR), 2nd Team - Turner
P: Jackson Enz (SR), 1st Team - Big Foot; Juan Reyes (SR), 1st Team/2014 - Turner
ST: Parker Johnson (SR), HM - Brodhead/Juda
Based on information from coaches and returning players
Clinton: Last year's co-conference champions made a run all the way to the state semifinals, matching their powerful running attack against the historic passing offense of Cedar Grove-Belgium. While they lose a few important playmakers to graduation, the Cougars bring plenty back for another run this year, including three of five offensive linemen and their entire backfield on the all-conference lists.
Jefferson: Finishing third behind the co-champs of 2016, the Eagles are mentioned as the top team in the conference by a handful of Rock Valley coaches. Many of those coaches credit Jefferson's defense as a reason why they will be difficult to play on a weekly basis, led by Paul Hollenberger but also featuring all-conference picks Evan Anfang and Nick Hauser.
Big Foot: Behind one of the most talented athletes in the state in Jackson Enz, the Chiefs are ticketed for a jump in the win column after going 5-4 in the regular season last year. Big Foot's offense is a reason many coaches consider the Chiefs a legitimate Rock Valley title contender, featuring Enz and a pair of all-conference receivers.
Turner: It's not often you see a 3-6 team in a deep and difficult conference pegged as one of the top teams in the league, but many of the other coaches in the Rock Valley know how many injuries the Trojans dealt with during their 2016 campaign. Juan Reyes (six-time all-conference selection) is healthy and ready for his senior season, and Brandon Malkow is the highest-ranked lineman in a conference swimming in talent at the position.
Evansville/Albany: It's easy to look at how much the Blue Devils lost to graduation, which was a considerable amount of talent, but Ron Grovesteen's program has typically been able to handle the ebbs and flows of classes moving through. Grovesteen's grandson, Zach Mielke, is one of the state's top-ranked quarterbacks, and begins his fourth season as a starter.
East Troy: The Trojans might be the sleeper pick in the Rock Valley, courtesy of their impressive and talented offensive and defensive lines, as well as a pair of juniors in the backfield that finished second and third on the team in rushing a season ago. In a conference ripe with offensive line talent, East Troy boasts three all-conference picks at the position, including two-time selection Chris Storandt.
Brodhead/Juda: For a quarter of a century, the Brodhead/Juda Cardinals have made it into the playoffs. With 15 of 22 starters returning and a pile of talent back to run the football, including all-conference athletes Brekan Day, Jeffrey Williams, and Parker Johnson, it would be foolish to count out Brodhead/Juda for another trip to the postseason, although as one of the smaller schools in the conference, they fly under the radar a bit in pre-season prognostication.
Edgerton: There will be plenty of new faces at the skill positions, but their classes of 2019 and 2020 look very strong. They have two all-conference juniors and a couple of standouts in the sophomore class as well, so the Tiders may be a team on the rise in the near future. For now, they bring back seven two-way seniors to push for a playoff spot in 2017.
McFarland: Many of the standouts on the Spartans are sophomores and juniors, with some talent rising from the freshman class as well to aid a few returning seniors. Tysen White was an all-conference selection as a sophomore last year, and there will be at least a few sophomores starting this year that had varsity experience as freshman. Another team that expects to be in the mix in a year or two.
Whitewater: Last year, the Whippets had just eight combined seniors and juniors. This year, it's still a small senior class, but the junior class coming in is a little larger, and there is plenty of talent in the 2020 class, led by all-conference pick Will Leibbrand. The incoming freshman class will also contribute. It will be interesting to see what Jimmy DuVal, rated as one of the top players at receiver in the state, will be doing on offense under an interim coach who has hinted at changes from the way things have been done in past years.
Of the nine coaches who responded to our preseason survey, four pegged Clinton as the team to beat in the conference, while three picked Jefferson. Every coach had at least six teams on their list of squads that could contend for a conference title. Six of the ten teams have won or shared a conference title in the Rock Valley in the past three years (the Rock Valley was split in two divisions in 2014 and 2015). Only two of the ten teams haven't made the playoffs since 2014. Most coaches believe there won't be an undefeated Rock Valley champion this year.
Week 1: Clinton at Evansville/Albany - We won't have to wait long for the first game between last year's conference co-champs. The Blue Devils won this game to open 2016, and then the Cougars rolled off 11 straight wins before losing in the state semifinals.
Week 2: Evansville/Albany at Jefferson - The Blue Devils ended up losing to Jefferson the very next week a season ago, and it'll be another tough start to the year for E/A. Jefferson gets an early chance to once again position themselves as a conference title challenger, as they did a year ago.
Week 3: Clinton at Big Foot - Last year's most successful Rock Valley squad faces off against the highest-ranked player in the conference, Jackson Enz for the Chiefs. This has all the makings of a great game.
Week 4: Big Foot at Jefferson - Jefferson's stout defense will be tested by the powerful Chiefs offense in a mid-season battle with plenty at stake for both teams.
Week 4: Clinton at East Troy - A battle of the "big uglies" as both teams feature multiple all-conference linemen. Field position will be at a premium in this slugfest.
Week 5: Jefferson at Clinton - A low-scoring game could break out between two solid defenses, but it will be the type of game that will go a long way towards determining playoff seeds and the conference title.
Week 5: Turner at Big Foot - The undercard in week five will be a big match-up between two schools positioning themselves, after falling out of contention relatively early last season for the conference title, for a run at the Rock Valley crown.
Week 6: Clinton at Turner - Not much ground to cover here between the schools, and on Turner's Homecoming, the Cougars will try to steal a win against the talented Trojans, who are expected to be a prime contender for the conference title.
Week 6: Jefferson at East Troy - Much like the other games in the conference, this one has all the makings of a bruiser, with Jefferson's defense going up against some very talented blocker for the Trojans.
Week 7: Turner at Jefferson - It will be interesting to see how Turner's highly-touted offensive line can hold up against the vaunted Eagles defense this late in the season, and what kind of conference title or playoff implications it will have.
Week 8: Brodhead/Juda at Evansville/Albany - A short 12-mile drive between the schools, this could be a huge game in terms of playoff eligibility depending on how things go in conference play.
Week 8: Turner at East Troy - Like the other week eight match-up, this will probably have some bearing on the playoff-eligible teams from the conference. Another good one for those who live for the battles in the trenches in this war of the Trojans on East Troy's Homecoming.
Week 9: East Troy at Brodhead/Juda - Will this be a play-in game for either school? While the Cardinals have loads of experience, the Trojans bring size to the table.
Week 9: Evansville/Albany at Big Foot - The premiere quarterback showdown in the Rock Valley this year comes again in the final week of the regular season. Zach Mielke of the Blue Devils will face off one final time against Jackson Enz of Big Foot, as both players begin to wrap up outstanding four-year varsity careers.
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska