2017 High School Football Preview: Badger North

Badger North Conference - Full Schedule Here

2016 Standings (Go to team name for full preview)

Waunakee - 10-1 (6-0) - Lost in Level 2 of D2 Playoffs to Monona Grove

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 18/9

All told, the Warriors lose seven starters from last year and over half of their letterwinners, but bring back a good deal of talent for the 2017 season, including three of the top 50 seniors in the state according to WisSports.net and 18 total all-conference winners from last season.

Mount Horeb/Barneveld - 8-2 (5-1) - Lost in Level 1 of D3 Playoffs to Delavan-Darien

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 10/11

"Every week in the Badger is a challenge, and we need to be mentally and physically prepared to execute to the best of our ability. I expect us to compete at the top of the conference, with a lot of returning starters and plenty of varsity experience, and we are going to work our tails off each day to improve and reflect on ways we can push each other to get better." - Mount Horeb/Barneveld Coach Ryan Kleppe

Reedsburg - 4-6 (4-2) - Lost in Level 1 of D3 playoffs to Monroe

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 5/8

"It was already a grind every year trying to win three games in the conference to reach the playoffs. Now, we have to win four games [with the addition of Beaver Dam] to be guaranteed, but that won't change our expectations at all. We tell constantly tell our players that if they're an athlete and a competitor, they will look at this as a challenge. Therefore, we'll expect to compete for a playoff spot again this year." - Reedsburg Head Football Coach Brian Pottinger

DeForest - 4-6 (3-3) - Lost in Level 1 of D2 playoffs to Waunakee

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 6/7

The Norskies lost six games in 2016, all to playoff teams, but only by an average of fewer than nine points per game in the first four contests

Baraboo - 3-6 (2-4)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 1/4

"Our senior and junior football players have worked extremely hard this offseason, while the majority are three-sport athletes. We have been so impressed with their work ethic. We believe we have created great depth within our program with our strength and conditioning program." - Baraboo Football Coach Steve Turkington

Sauk Prairie - 1-8 (1-5) *Preview contains information prior to former coach Scott Mirkes' resignation on August 14

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 0/4

Some of the returning players for the Eagles on offense include a pair of seniors in the backfield, running back Elijah Jorgenson and quarterback Dawson Evert. They'll be supplemented by juniors Bryant Schaaf and Ben Hilliard at the skill positions. Along the front lines, Francis Sprecher and Baxter Peetz are seniors leading a wave of linemen competing for playing time.The same players will also be contributors defensively.

Portage - 1-8 (0-6)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 1/2

"The Badger is the best D-2, D-3 conference in the state. It's a tough league. You have to fight every Friday night. There's so many great coaches and players. There's no shortcuts or gimme games in the Badger." - Portage Head Coach Bob Hepp

Beaver Dam - 3-6 (2-5) - Played in Wisconsin Little Ten in 2016

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 2/4

"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

Returning 2016 All-Conference Team

OFFENSE

QB: Nate Carter (SR), First Team - Waunakee

RB: Javian Dayne (SR), First Team/OPY - Waunakee; Malik Winston (JR), Second Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; L.O. Johnson (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Logan Kvalo (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Brady Gassman (SR), HM - Mount Horeb/Barneveld

WR: Nolan Paul (SR), First Team - Portage; Jarrett Klein (SR), Second Team - DeForest; Logan Hackle (JR), Second Team - DeForest; Riley Zuhde (SR), Second Team - Waunakee

TE: Luke Laufenberg (SR), First Team - Waunakee; Bryce Duffy (SR), Second Team - DeForest

OL: Brian Kaminski (SR), First Team - Waunakee; Blake Flynn (SR), Second Team - DeForest; Eli Williams (SR), Second Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Preston Post (SR), Second Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Spencer Nellis (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Alan Olkowski (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; James Ignatius (SR), HM - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Michael Griffin (SR), HM - Reedsburg

DEFENSE

DL: Hunter Pretti (SR), First Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Jake McGlynn (SR), First Team - Reedsburg; Brady Gassman (SR), Second Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Jacob Frey (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Nolan Thole (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Cade Czerwonka (SR), HM - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Reed Ryan (JR), HM - Waunakee; Javian Dayne (SR), HM/2015 - Waunakee

LB: Scott Hall (SR), Second Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Jackson Madonia (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Kyle Pahnke (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Bryson Girten (SR), Second Team/2015 - DeForest; Brandon Barbour (SR), HM - Baraboo; Mitch Graff (SR), HM- Beaver Dam; Joel Riehbrandt (SR), HM - Beaver Dam; Trevor Steffen (SR), HM - Reedsburg

DB: Travis Klassy (SR), First Team - Mount Horeb/Barneveld; Lucas Statz (SR), First Team - Waunakee; Nolan Paul (SR), Second Team - Portage; Mason Steffen (SR), Second Team - Waunakee; Colton Coates (SR), HM - DeForest; Tobais Brown (SR), HM - Reedsburg; Jeremy Werner (SR), HM - Waunakee

SPECIALISTS

K: Mason McMillen (SR), Second Team - Reedsburg; Cris Petrusatti (SO), HM - Mount Horeb/Barneveld

P: Mason McMillen (SR), First Team - Reedsburg; Logan Beier (SR), Second Team - Waunakee

Prediction Time

Based on information from coaches and returning players

Conference Favorite:

Waunakee: With 18 all-conference performers coming back for the Warriors, Waunakee is picked to be not only a conference favorite, but a common selection to be among the top teams in all of Division 2 this year in the entire state. The only caveat here is that Waunakee plays a difficult road schedule (at Watertown, Mount Horeb/Barneveld, DeForest, and Reedsburg).

Contenders:

Mount Horeb/Barneveld: Unlike Waunakee, the Vikings will see most of their key opponents on their home field, which should help MH/B contend for the conference title. The week three match-up against Waunakee looms large (a game we'll be airing, by the way) and it should be a great one, with both teams bringing back plenty (MH/B has 10 all-conference players back).

Reedsburg: This is a senior-laden team at a program with plenty of history, including back-to-back state semifinal appearances in 2014 and 2015. If Jake McGlynn, Mason McMillen, and the rest of the class of 2018 can find the right mix of experience to replace last year's offensive production, this is a team to watch as the season rolls along.

DeForest: Bringing back several returning starters aids the Norskies' chances of competing in the Badger North this season, who last year were in every game until their final two contests, in which they lost to two of the top teams in the state by wider margins. With talent in multiple classes coming back and loads of experience at virtually every position, DeForest is another under-the-radar team that should get better as the season progresses.

Playoff Push:

Beaver Dam: Citing a defense that was in the upper ranks of the old Little Ten, Golden Beavers Coach Steve Kuenzi believes that the Badger North is the 'right fit' for his program at multiple levels. Beaver Dam brings back eight of 11 starters on defense this year, but their Achilles' heel may be their lines, where they will be working in some younger players.

Baraboo: After missing out on a playoff spot by one game and losing two conference contests by a combined six points, Coach Steve Turkington believes that the Thunderbirds are close to ending their now-decade-long playoff drought. Turkington cited the talented multi-sport athletes that are also aiding the football program as a reason to believe this year, and is optimistic that Baraboo will be in the mix.

Portage: While an immediate turnaround may not be in the offing, veteran head coach Bob Hepp looks to get the Warriors back on track. Hepp dismisses any notion that he's a turnaround specialist, saying that the players, coaching staff, and numbers all dictate the success he's experienced in a coaching career spanning four decades, but Portage will be an interesting team to watch later in the year, especially if they can win a couple of games behind talented two-way senior Nolan Paul.

Youth Movement:

Sauk Prairie: While the Eagles will be led by a small but talented group of two-way senior players, the program recently experienced the sudden resignation of Scott Mirkes this week. Former Sauk Prairie coach Scott Schutt takes over on an interim basis, and will have to find a way to keep the focus on the field as he grooms a young team for the next Sauk Prairie coach.

Notes

All four returning playoff teams in the conference have very talented 2018 classes, but Waunakee returns nearly as many all-conference players (18) as the other three combined (21). The remaining four teams in the conference bring back a combined four all-conference honorees from last year. The Warriors were a unanimous top-of-the-conference pick. Two things to watch will be how Waunakee navigates a difficult road schedule against the top three contenders in the league, and if Mount Horeb/Barneveld can capitalize with hosting most of those same contenders, including Waunakee on September 1. Three coaches in the conference have 100 career victories (Pat Rice at Waunakee with 260, Bob Hepp at Portage with 100, and Mike Minick at DeForest with 125), and only Steve Turkington (Baraboo, 4th season) and Ryan Kleppe (Mount Horeb/Barneveld, 2nd season) have fewer than seven seasons of head coaching experience.

BIG Games

Week 1: Watertown at Beaver Dam (NC) - The former Little Ten rivals will play each other before heading off into Badger Conference play.

Week 1: Oregon at DeForest (NC) - Intriguing from the sense that Oregon is healthy again heading into 2017, and this could be a barometer to see where they may stack up as the season goes against a solid DeForest Norskies squad. For DeForest, this represents a solid opener to work in their new starters.

Week 2: Waunakee at Watertown (NC) - One of the most highly-anticipated early-season games in the state features the passing attack of the Goslings against the powerhouse Warriors. It's a marquee match-up with college prospects on both sides.

Week 3: Waunakee at Mount Horeb/Barneveld (Madison Taxi Game of the Week Broadcast) - Last year's champion of the Badger North visits the second-place team in the league to kick off conference play. It was a one-score game last year, and both teams bring back plenty for 2017.

Week 3: DeForest at Reedsburg - Both teams made the playoffs last year, and this game could go a long ways in deciding who will advance this year since the Badger North will require four wins instead of three to become playoff-eligible.

Week 4: Waunakee at DeForest - The regular-season meeting in 2016 was a one-score game, but the Warriors dominated the Level 1 playoff match-up a year ago. This is the third straight road game against playoff teams from a season ago for Waunakee.

Week 5: Beaver Dam at Reedsburg - Battle of the Beavers: Can Badger North newcomer Beaver Dam (the Golden Beavers) take down Badger North power Reedsburg (the Beavers)? Or will tradition prevail? This really needs to be a trophy game, in this humble author's opinion.

Week 6: Reedsburg at Mount Horeb/Barneveld - Another important game in terms of conference and playoff positioning, last year's third-place team visits the second-place team.

Week 7: Beaver Dam at DeForest - This has the potential to be a low-scoring game, as both teams feature excellent defense and this late in the year could be a catalyst to a playoff push.

Week 7: Waunakee at Reedsburg - The "road" Warriors will visit yet another 2016 playoff team in Reedsburg. Despite Waunakee's projection as the top team in the league, they will have a difficult schedule away from home to navigate, and Reedsburg is no pushover.

Week 8: DeForest at Mount Horeb/Barneveld - Norskies vs Vikings projects to be an important battle for playoff positioning, or perhaps a shot at the conference title. Either way, this will be a game to watch late in the season.

Week 9: Portage at DeForest - Portage Warriors veteran head coach Bob Hepp is well-regarded as a program turnaround specialist, and the final week of the regular season could be an important barometer to see how far the rebuild has come. DeForest, meanwhile, may need this game to get into the playoffs.

--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska

Information from WisSports.net was used in this preview. Visit WisSports.net for everything you need to gear up for the high school sports season.

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