Two years into the 8-player football experience, it looks like the model for the program at Wisconsin Heights is here to stay under third-year coach Jeff Supernaw, who won the Great 8 Conference's coach of the year honor last season.
While the Vanguards are still searching for their first conference title this millennium, the progress towards contender has been a steady rise through two years as a reduced-player program. 2017 marked not only success on the field, but recognition off of it. Supernaw coached the WFCA All-Star team a season ago, and D.J. Geishirt, a first-team player on offense and defense, made all-region and honorable mention all-state as a linebacker.
The progress of the sport as a whole takes a big step forward in 2018, too. The WIAA is implementing a playoff for 8-player (reduced player) football for the first time in state history. Although reduced-player football was prevalent around a half-century ago, it disappeared for decades until some programs began making the switch in the past ten years or so.
Wisconsin Heights, however, won't be able to participate in the new playoff because of a three-year enrollment cap of 200, which Heights exceeds by a few dozen students. So, what are the Vanguards competing for, if they can't participate in the postseason?
"We play to get better every week," says Coach Supernaw. "We play to win."
Supernaw is hopeful that the enrollment cap will change, or at least allow for some flexibility with programs that commit to 8-player football beyond the two-year contract that programs will need to sign in order to participate in the sport. Referring to it as a 'grandfather' rule, Supernaw indicates it hasn't taken hold yet. However, that doesn't change his approach as a coach, citing the strides the program has made in two seasons and what they have to look forward to in 2018.
"We will be hurt by the graduation of two seniors on the offensive line," said Supernaw, adding that the loss of Geishirt will be an impact as well.
"We return our top two leading passers, top five leading rushers, and four of our five leading receivers," Supernaw added.
Wisconsin Heights will also bring back roughly three-quarters of their top defensive performers, at least statistically, for 2018. Players in each of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 classes provided contributions both offensively and defensively as well.
On the schedule, Heights kicks off the season with a bang as they battle conference rival Abundant Life/St. Ambrose on a Saturday afternoon. Three home games follow (with one game to be announced for Week 3), before the Vanguards head to Oakfield for a key conference clash on September 14.
Wisconsin Heights' final home game is September 22, a Saturday afternoon date with Abundant Life/St. Ambrose. Then, it's four straight road games to close out the season, including a game at the Phillips Loggers on October 5 and a game in Illinois against Rockford Christian for a tenth contest in lieu of post-season participation on October 19.
Here is The Big 1070's conversation with Jeff Supernaw, coach of the Wisconsin Heights Vanguards.
Wisconsin Heights Vanguards (Mazomanie) - Great 8 (8-Player)
Coach: Jeff Supernaw (3rd Season), 13-5 - Great 8 Coach of the Year in 2017
2017 Result: 6-3 (2-1), 2nd in the Great 8 (Not eligible for 8-player Jamboree)
Three-Year Record: 13-14 (0-9 11-player, 13-5 8-player)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (8 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 5 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 6 Honorable Mention (23 total)
Returning All-Conference Players: RB/WR/DB Camden Brown, Sr. (2nd Team-RB in 2017 2nd Team-ST in 2017, Honorable Mention-WR in 2016, 2nd Team-WR in 2015); WR/LB Payton Flamme, Sr. (2nd Team-WR and 2nd Team-LB in 2017); OL/DL Logan Drager, Sr. (2nd Team-OL in 2017);
Other Players To Watch: RB/DB Caiden Eichorst, Sr.; QB Tommy Muschitz, Sr.; WR/DB Nicholas Wesolowski, Sr.; WR/LB Jayson Schneider, Sr.; WR/DB Dylan Rickey, Sr.; WR/LB Hunter Hoff, Sr.; RB/DB Jack Fields, Jr.; RB/DB Ace Ayers, Jr.; OL/DL Connor Herrling, So.; OL/DL Dakota Lueck, So.; WR/DB Hunter Walz, So.
BIG Games: at Abundant Life/St. Ambrose, August 18, 1pm; at Oakfield, September 14, 7pm; vs Abundant Life/St. Ambrose, September 22, 1pm; at Phillips, October 5, 7pm.