Going from a winless season to a playoff bid is no easy feat, and it took a wild Week 9 game to clinch and get in for the Deerfield Demons in 2017, who hadn't made the playoffs since 2014.
After finishing 0-10 in Deerfield coach Derek Sweger's first season at the helm, the Demons started 0-3 in 2017, a 15-game losing streak for the program at the time. However, Deerfield rallied to win four of their six remaining conference games, including a wild double-overtime win over Oshkosh Lourdes in Week 9 to clinch a playoff spot.
Deerfield would lose to Lourdes the very next week in the first round of the Division 7 playoffs, but consider 2017 a step forward for the program, given that they had gone nearly two seasons' worth of games without a win.
"Coming off an 0-10 season, not much was expected from our program," said Sweger. "We were picked next to the basement of the Trailways Small, but our kids and coaches were confident we were going to open some eyes."
Their first win of 2017, which kicked off their run to the playoffs, came in Week 4. With the Demons down 42-20 at halftime, Deerfield rallied with 40 unanswered points in the second half. Quarterback Tyler Haak tied a state record with eight touchdown passes and led the state of Wisconsin with 460 yards through the air that week.
The season concluded with a loss to Oshkosh Lourdes, to which Coach Sweger says they "ran out of gas." A small, but talented group of seniors (including a trio of two-way first-team all-conference performers), five in total, graduates from the 2017 squad.
Deerfield brings back plenty for 2018, including some outstanding two-way talents in the 2018 class. The Demons bring back second-team all-conference linebacker Logan Gesteland, who played guard and running back on offense and will be called up on for either spot this season. Up front, another senior, Kain Shanks, made second-team all-conference as a defensive end, while also leading the way on offense in terms of experience.
Two others from the senior group who could make a big impact in multiple ways are Simon Furstenburg and Tommy Wilson, both who play receiver but also multiple positions on offense, defensive back, and contribute in big ways on special teams. Furstenburg is the team's long snapper, while Wilson took a kick return to the house last season.
In the junior class, in addition to their quarterback, Haak, who was second-team all-conference in 2017, the Demons bring back Sylvester Ware, who plays multiple roles on offense and also, like most on the team, contributes defensively.
The 2021 class hasn't quite made their mark yet, but appears to be in line for some big roles this season. A quick look reveals some familiar last names, as younger relatives of past Deerfield players (such as Sam Vander Grinten, the younger brother of Nick, a defensive player of the year in the Trailways for the Demons) make their appearance. There are plenty who played varsity in 2017.
Looking ahead to 2018, after an opening road game at Three Lakes, the Demons settle in for three straight home games. First up is Brookfield Academy, followed by a big showdown with Johnson Creek in Week 3. The homestand wraps up with a home date against Randolph.
After that, Deerfield plays four of their last five games on the road, starting with Cambria-Friesland on September 14, Wayland Academy visits Deerfield in Week 6, and then it's a tough three-team gauntlet to finish the season. First, a road game at defending conference champ Fall River, followed by a road date with Rio and a season-ending clash with Oshkosh Lourdes, who the Demons played in Week 9 (and beat to clinch a playoff spot) and then again in Level 1 of last year's playoffs.
Here is The Big 1070's conversation with Deerfield Demons head coach Derek Sweger:
Deerfield Demons - Trailways-Small
Head Coach: Derek Sweger (3rd Season), 4-16 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 4-6 (4-3), 4th in the Trailways-Small (Lost to Oshkosh Lourdes in Level 1 of the WIAA D7 Playoffs)
Three-Year Record: 7-22 (0-1 Postseason, 0-1 Plus-One Game)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 6 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (9 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 9 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (21 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): RB/G/LB Logan Gesteland (2nd Team-LB), Sr.; OL/DE Kain Shanks (2nd Team-DE), Sr.; QB/DB Tyler Haak (2nd Team-QB), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/DB/LS Simon Furstenburg, Sr.; RB/WR/LB/ST Tommy Wilson, Sr.; RB/WR/LB Sylvester Ware, Jr.; OL/DL Oscar Lemke, Jr.; OL/LB Sam Vander Grinten, So.; RB/DB Reily Bonjour, So.; TE/DE Bene Lemke, So.; WR/DB Parker Massey, So.; OL/DL Sean Gjermo, So.; OL/DL Koal Shanks, So.
BIG Games: vs Johnson Creek, August 31; at Fall River, September 28; at Oshkosh Lourdes, October 11