With the Rock Valley appearing as deep as ever, Edgerton's 2018 squad will return pretty much everyone from a 2017 campaign filled with thrilling games to play for their first playoff berth since 2013.
The Crimson Tide only graduate a handful of seniors from a year ago, and bring back all of their top performers at nearly every position. All five players who earned all-conference recognition a season ago are back; the leading statistical performers are in the fold as well. Even their lines return mostly intact.
Head coach Mike Gregory said that experience will be the difference this year from a season ago, when the team's core was primarily sophomores and juniors getting their first taste of life at the varsity level.
"We've got pretty much everyone back at the skill positions," said Gregory, citing several players who have been on varsity since their freshman years. "Everyone's back up front."
Offensively, Edgerton will have senior and three-year starter Jaden Johnson back to lead an offense chock full of incoming juniors that return to prominent roles. Johnson threw for 1,672 yards and 17 touchdowns a season ago. On the receiving end of those passes were two all-conference honorees, Mason Simmons and Skyler Gullickson, who combined for 76 catches, 1,090 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Devin Jorgenson, the team's leading rusher a season ago who has been on varsity since his freshman year, will return, as well as several players who either ran the ball or caught a pass in 2017, many of them from the incoming junior class (2020) that includes Gullickson and Jorgenson.
Up front, all five starters return. The front line on both sides will be led by Jordan Leitz, the senior guard and defensive end who has been all-conference at both spots already in his career.
"It's amazing the confidence level you have when you have seniors coming back," said Gregory. "That's something we haven't had in a couple of years."
Defensively, the news is similarly as good in terms of returning players. Senior defensive back Hunter Reilly led the team in tackles a season ago; in fact, the top four tacklers from last year are all back for the Tiders. Leitz was tied for third on the team in stops, while linebackers Ben Wileman and Mason Simmons were second and tied for third, respectively. Junior linebacker Dominick Reyes rounds out the second level, where he tied for the team lead in interceptions a year ago with do-everything Skyler Gullickson. Lineman Cesar Ochoa, Tyler Bavery, and Trevor Evans all made solid contributions a season ago as well.
Speaking of Gullickson, he returns as the team's primary return threat and kicker. Devin Jorgenson also handled several kicks and punts last year. Mason Simmons averaged 31.2 yards per punt last year, and Sam Veitch also punted in one game in 2017. Even on special teams, Edgerton brings back plenty of experience.
Referring to the other teams in the conference that finished at or near the top, Gregory said that they're the teams that lost plenty of seniors to graduation, which could be an opportunity for Edgerton to use their experience to their advantage.
Edgerton's path towards their first playoff berth since 2013 starts with a home game against another school on a similar trajectory, with loads of talent in the 2019-2021 classes, when they play McFarland. The Tiders head down Highway 59 to take on Evansville/Albany on August 24, before returning home for two games, against Brodhead/Juda and defending Rock Valley champion Clinton.
It doesn't get any easier the rest of September either, since Edgerton will play at Jefferson on September 14 in Week 5, followed by Homecoming against Beloit Turner and then a road game against East Troy. The final two weeks of the season are against the two teams Edgerton beat in 2017, at home against Whitewater and on the road against Big Foot.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Edgerton Crimson Tide head coach Mike Gregory:
Edgerton Crimson Tide - Rock Valley
Head Coach: Mike Gregory (20th Season), 74-89 Overall (1-9 Playoffs) - WBCA (Baseball) Hall of Fame 2017
2017 Result: 2-7 (2-7), 8th in the Rock Valley
Three-Year Record: 6-21
2017 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 1 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (6 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 6 First-Team, 8 Second-Team, 8 Honorable Mention (24 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (5): RB/LB/P Mason Simmons [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-RB; HM-LB in 2016), Sr.; G/DE Jordan Leitz [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-DE and 2nd Team-OL), Sr.; QB/DB Jaden Johnson (HM-QB 2017 and 2016), Sr.; WR/QB/DB/ST/K Skyler Gullickson (HM-ATH), Jr.; T/DT Reed Farrington (HM-OL), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/LB/K Cesar Ochoa, Sr.; DB/RB Hunter Reilly, Sr.; LB/RB Mitchell Popp, Sr.; DB/WR Ethan Ringelstetter, Sr.; C/LB Trevor Evans, Sr.; G/LB/P Sam Vietch, Sr.; G/LB Ben Wileman, Jr.; RB/LB Devin Jorgenson, Jr.; RB/LB Micah Boyd, Jr.; QB/DB Brian Rusch, Jr.; WR/DB Jared Aokoh, Jr.; WR/DE Nick Spang, Jr.; DB/WR Dominick Reyes, Jr.; C/DT Sam Hedding, Jr.; T/DT Bryce Tate, Jr.; T/DT Tyler Bogan, Jr.; G/DT Matt Cornett, Jr.; WR/LB Clayton Jenny, So.; DB/WR Ethan Krause, So.; QB/LB Drew Hanson, So.
BIG Games: vs McFarland, August 17; at Evansville/Albany, August 24; vs Turner, September 21 (Homecoming); at East Troy, September 28