After 26 seasons, Hall of Fame coach Al Minnaert stepped down as the head coach of the Edgewood Crusaders. Now, it'll be Ohio native Jesse Norris taking over the program, and he'll be leading a squad that returns roughly half of their starting lineup from a season ago.
Edgewood's 2017 didn't go as intended, losing eight straight games before rallying for a big win in Al Minnaert's final game as head coach in the final week over Milton. The Crusaders, who played in the postseason as recently as 2015, have had a difficult couple of seasons, but have been better than their record would indicate. Several close losses (and victories) have given the younger players a taste of what lies ahead in 2018.
New coach Jesse Norris is excited for the opportunity to lead the program. "There's so much history here," he said, "One thing you notice is the longevity of the coaches. You can coach here, and coach here a long time."
For a program that literally has had a book written about it, Norris hopes that he can make the next chapter as successful as the ones that came before it.
While the team loses some of Edgewood's most recognizable faces, the Crusaders welcome back their starting backfield and a starting receiver. Thomas Hartlieb is back after missing most of the 2017 season with injury to play quarterback, and the team's leading rusher, Greg Zentmyer, is returning as well. Up front, Chase Cannarella, Colin Hanley, Andrew Newton, and Connor Grabins will be a big part of the position group replacing some of the better offensive lineman in recent Edgewood history, who graduated last season. Returning starting receivers Charlie Corcoran and Jackson Wendler will lead a group that will miss a handful of graduated players.
Defense will be a spot that Norris acknowledges will have some work to do, but embraces the challenge of competition in camp for significant roles. A handful of defensive starters are back, including three defensive linemen: Newton, Grabins, and Cannarella. Linebacker was perhaps the hardest hit by graduation, with only Murphy Penwell back as a starter, and safety as well, so there will be fresh faces in the back half of the Crusaders' defense.
Penwell also returns as the team's starting kicker, with Frank Stroncek the top returning punter for the Crusaders.
The season kicks off with a tough home game at Breese Stevens against Mount Horeb/Barneveld. The Crusaders play their second crossover game on August 24 at Sauk Prairie. Edgewood will use their normal home field, Middleton, to host Stoughton in Week 3, and then will host Monona Grove at Breese Stevens on September 7.
A pair of road games at Watertown and Fort Atkinson are followed by home games against Oregon (Breese Stevens) and Monroe (Breitenbach). The regular season wraps up at Milton, the only team that Edgewood earned a win over a year ago.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with the new head coach of the Edgewood Crusaders, Jesse Norris:
Edgewood Crusaders (Madison) - Badger South
Head Coach: Jesse Norris (1st Season) 0-0 (2nd Career Season, 2-8)
2017 Result: 1-8 (1-6), 7th in the Badger South
Three-Year Record: 6-22 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 6 Honorable Mention (10 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 3 First-Team, 8 Second-Team, 28 Honorable Mention (39 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): QB/DB Thomas Hartlieb (HM-QB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/LB Chase Cannarella, Sr.; WR/DB Jackson Wendler, Sr.; WR/DB Charlie Corcoran, Sr.; RB/LB Greg Zentmyer, Sr.; T/LB Colin Hanley, Sr.; G/DT Andrew Newton, Sr.; RB/LB Mitchell Wendler, Sr.; K/LB/RB Murphy Penwell, Sr.; CB/WR Alex Esch, Sr.; LB/OL Noah Rieger, Sr.; LB/TE/P Frank Sroncek, Sr.; DB/WR Jack Powless, Sr.; WR/DB Alec Finger, Sr.; G/DT Connor Grabins, Jr.; QB/DB/K Marcus Thelen, Jr.; T/DT Matthew Koziar, Jr.; RB/DB Payton Smith, Jr.; LB/OL Nick Fox, Jr.; DB/WR Aaron Alston, So.
BIG Games: vs Mount Horeb/Barneveld, August 17; vs Stoughton, August 31; vs Monona Grove, September 7; vs Oregon, September 28
-Home Games at Breitenbach/Middleton: August 31/Stoughton and October 5/Monroe
-Home Games at Breese Stevens Field: August 17/Mount Horeb/Barneveld, September 7/Monona Grove, and September 28/Oregon