There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the 2017 season for the Madison East Purgolders, in which East didn't get into the win column under first-year head coach and alum Jeremy Thornton. There's also optimism in the program, which is finding an identity heading into Thornton's second year.
For starters, says Thornton, last year, East was young and inexperienced, but says the growth could be seen as the season progressed. "You could see the confidence as the season went on," said Thornton, "and now, we can build on that this season."
Thornton is a man with a plan. "When I took this job, I had very clear goals, year one, year two," Thornton said. "Now, it's year two."
While those goals are mostly kept in-house, Thornton allowed that seeing the week-to-week improvement of his players was at least in the spirit of the program's goals. Coach Thornton says the difference between last year and this year is experience. However, he says, "we're young again."
With the Big 8 graduating an impressive group of seniors, Thornton believes that the conference will be a little more unpredictable week-to-week, in the sense that the team at the top, Sun Prairie, graduated a special class of seniors. While they'll still be one of the favorites, there should still be plenty to play for in a league that sent seven teams to the postseason in 2017.
Defensively, Thornton is looking forward to the contributions of All-City linebacker C.J. Dean, who was also honorable mention all-conference. Up front is where the Purgolders lost some big contributors, but Thyles Henderson is back, another honorable mention all-conference pick, and in the defensive backfield will be returning starter Tyler Owen at free safety. Other two-way players like linebacker Brandon Dixon, defensive backs Keonte Jones and Davion Clay, and defensive end Jevan Boyton could be big factors as well, among others.
On offense, the backfield is returning intact, with their top two quarterbacks from a season ago, including starter Phil Roh, and most of their leading rushers and receivers coming back as well. Clay and Boyton are offensive starters who bring playmaking to the table. Up front will be the biggest challenge, but there's opportunity for pretty much anyone in camp, says Thornton.
Overall, Thronton says the program is finding their identity and he can point to his own career as a model for success at Madison East. "It was the same progression when I was here," says Thornton, who became an all-conference quarterback as a Purgolder in the early 2000's. "So I can relate to their experiences and use that to make them feel confident we're moving in the right direction."
In addition to home games at historic Breese Stevens, Madison East is set to have a brand-new athletic facility set up on campus thanks to a generous donor, which Thornton believes will only help build his program on the east side.
Looking at the schedule, East will play all three city of Madison schools at Breese Stevens this season, as the Purgolders vie for a city championship. After an opening trip to Middleton, East will host Madison West and Madison Memorial in back-to-back weeks to close out August.
September begins with road games at Beloit Memorial and Janesville Parker before returning home to play Janesville Craig in Week 6 on September 21. Including Craig, East will play four straight playoff teams to wrap up the season, with Homecoming against Madison La Follette in Week 8 sandwiched by road games at Sun Prairie and at Verona, their final game of the regular season.
Here is The Big 1070's conversation with Jeremy Thornton, coach of the Madison East Purgolders.
Madison East Purgolders - Big Eight
Head Coach: Jeremy Thornton (Second Season), 0-9 Overall (0-0 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 0-9 (0-9), 10th in the Big 8
Three-Year Record: 6-22 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 0 First-Team, 0 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (5 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 4 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (21 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/LB C.J. Dean, Sr. (HM); OL/DL Thylas Henderson, Sr. (HM); RB/WR/DB Keonte Jones, Jr. (HM); WR/FS Tyler Owens, Jr. (HM)
Other Players To Watch: RB Javier Zarate-Morales, Sr.; RB/WR Zach Hanser, Sr.; QB Phil Roh, Jr.; QB/DB Ian McCosky, Sr.; RB/LB Brandon Dixon, Sr.; K/P Tim Patten [🏈 WSN], Sr.; RB/DB Davion Clay, Jr.; WR/DB Anthony Washington, Jr.; TE/DE Javon Boyton, So.
BIG Games: vs Madison West, August 24; vs Madison Memorial, August 31; at Janesville Parker, September 14; vs Madison La Follette, October 5 (Homecoming)