Madison Memorial Spartans - Big Eight
Coach: Adam Smith (3rd Season), 11-9 Overall (1-1 Playoffs; 2015)
2016 Result: 3-6 (3-6), 7th in the Big 8
Three-Year Record: 14-15 (1-1 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (8 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 6 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (33 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): OL Sam Jessup (Second Team-OL), Jr.; LB Jeremiah Jordan (Second Team-LB), Jr.; QB Michael Toman (Honorable Mention-QB) (WSN Class of 2018 Players to Watch - QB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB Barrett Hackbart, Sr.; RB/LB Tony Guevara, Sr.; RB/LB Drew Palmer, Sr.; WR/DB Elliott Grays, Sr.; WR/DB Henry Moore, Sr.; WR/DB Connor Miller, Sr.; OL/DL Trevor Jones, Sr.; OL/DL Joe Watson, Sr.; TE/DL Glen Snodgrass, Sr.; OL/DL Liam Enright, Sr.; FB/LB Ty Matthews, Sr.; RB/DB Owen Green, Sr.; LS Ross Matthews, Sr.; RB/DB/RET Arindis Vasser, Jr.; TE/LB Mike Cerniglia, Jr.; OL/DL Cam Bott, Jr.; K/P Mateo Mora, Jr.; RB/DB Kam Marshall, So.; OL/DL Roary Jones, So.; OL/DL Tyson Nash, So.; QB/DL Jason Ceniti, So.; WR/DB/K Kole Kerhoff, So.
BIG Games: at Middleton August 18 (Madison Taxi Game of the Week), vs West August 25 (Mansfield Cup), vs Verona September 8 (Madison Taxi Game of the Week), vs La Follette September 8, at East September 15
If you ask Madison Memorial Head Coach Adam Smith about what went wrong last season, he will offer only one response: "We didn't coach well enough."
Despite being short-handed to start the year, despite starting sophomores on varsity in a senior-dominated Big 8 Conference, and in the face of a number of close losses or games that they let get away, Coach Smith puts the accountability squarely on his own shoulders.
"I believe we're better as a coaching staff. I believe we are teaching a better way. I believe we have the best scheme for the type of players we have. And I believe if we focus on those three things every day, with everything we do, then we'll be in all games and challenge for a conference championship in a very tough conference." - Madison Memorial Head Coach Adam Smith
"We need to be better at coaching," said Coach Smith, entering his third season with the Spartans after a long, successful run with the semi-pro Madison Mustangs. "I think we as coaches need to put our kids in better situations to succeed."
Smith also cited turnovers as a reason for some of the close losses last year, but again put the blame on his coaching. "We didn't coach well enough," he repeated.
An outgoing senior class featured some of the top talent in the state, but couldn't manage a playoff berth in their final year.
"That senior class was extremely talented, and we did not coach or play to where we should have," said Coach Smith. "I believe the greatest impact the outgoing senior class gave was not to waste opportunities. The kids [coming back] know how talented they were, and they do not want to go out the way they did."
Smith will get to work with one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 8, Michael Toman, in his senior year. Toman looks to lead what could be a surprisingly explosive offense in 2017. Coach Smith says he has worked with Toman for a long time and knows he can be a leader for a relatively young Spartans team.
In the backfield, Memorial will have options, according to Coach Smith. "We have horses in the offensive backfield. We are deep at running back," he said.
Among the players expected to battle for carries are junior Arindis Vasser, senior Barrett Hackbart, senior Tony Guevara, sophomore Kam Marshall, and senior transfer Drew Palmer, "Iron sharpens iron," said Coach Smith of the competition of the position. Vasser will start the season opener after leading the team in rushing last year.
Some top pass-catching options for the Spartans will include seniors Connor Miller, Elliott Grays, and Henry Moore at receiver, and junior tight end Mike Cerniglia, all of who will start the opener.
The offensive line will be young as well, with junior Sam Jessup returning as a second-team all-conference guard. The lone starting senior will be Trevor Jones at left tackle, while fellow senior Joe Watson will rotate at right tackle with sophomore Roary Jones. Another sophomore, Tyson Nash, will start at the other guard spot, and junior Cam Bott will man the center spot. All told, the front line won't necessarily be big, but in a spread offense, they will be athletic.
Defensively, three seniors return to man the front line. Glen Snodgrass, Liam Enright, and Joe Watson (rotating with sophomore Tyson Nash) will all anchor a front line with pass rusher Jason Ceniti, a sophomore.
At linebacker, Memorial's leading tackler from last year, Jeremiah Jordan, returns as an all-conference junior, along with the talented Mike Cerniglia, another junior, who will see his role on the team expand to include defensive responsibilities. Manning the middle again will be Ty Matthews, a senior.
In the defensive backfield, three seniors will return in Owen Greene, Henry Moore, and Connor Miller. Arindis Vasser is the lone junior in the secondary. Miller earned the only interception of the group on varsity last year.
On special teams, Vasser is back as a kick returner, piling up 236 yards on returns last year. In the kicking game, Mateo Mora, a junior, could handle all of the specialist positions, but sophomore Kole Kerkhoff is in the running for a spot at kicker.
"We have implemented a lot on new processes and our outlook is to take one week at a time giving championship effort, focus, and strategy," said Coach Smith. "I believe we're better as a coaching staff. I believe we are teaching a better way. I believe we have the best scheme for the type of players we have. And I believe if we focus on those three things every day, with everything we do, then we'll be in all games and challenge for a conference championship in a very tough conference."
Memorial won't get a chance to work in some of the newer faces as they are thrown into the fire from the get-go: a short two-mile trip to Middleton's Otto Breitenbach Stadium to kick off the season again versus the Cardinals. Last year, lightning shortened a Middleton rout, 31-3. This year's game is a Madison Taxi Game of the Week again.
A three-game homestand is next for the Spartans. First up is stadium-mate Madison West, who bring loads of experience back from a team that hung on for a 24-14 victory last season over the Spartans. Memorial then welcomes in Verona for our second Madison Taxi Game of the Week featuring the Spartans, in a rematch of a 26-3 drubbing a season ago at the hands of the Wildcats.
Memorial wraps up the stint at home with a game against La Follette, who the Spartans scored their first win against in 2016, 21-20. Then, Memorial hits the road for three games, all against teams that beat the Spartans last year.
First up is Madison East at Breese Stevens, perhaps the most disappointing loss for the Spartans all of last season as they were defeated 7-6. Sun Prairie is next, and the Cardinals scored a big win over the Spartans last year, 38-14.
If the East loss was the most disappointing, the Janesville Craig loss last year was the nail in the coffin for Memorial's once-high expectations for 2016. The Spartans will get a chance to avenge that loss last year on September 30 at Monterey Stadium in Janesville.
Memorial returns home to face Janesville Parker and Beloit Memorial in back-to-back weeks to wrap up the regular season, both of whom the Spartans beat to finish 2016, ending Parker's playoff hopes and then shutting out Beloit Memorial to end last year on a high note.
After lofty expectations to start 2016, the Spartans' outlook this season on paper puts them in the middle of the pack, but Coach Smith believes that the Big 8 is anyone's game.
"I believe our conference lost a ton of talent, including us, and it is wide open," said Coach Smith, who cited the various coaches and programs in the league as being well-prepared and well-coached. "But, someone is gonna sneak up on [the contenders], and we believe it will be us."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska