After a two-year absence from the postseason, Janesville Craig checked that goal off the list as the Cougars got back into the playoffs in 2017. Behind one of the state's best players, they'll seek to repeat the feat in the always-difficult Big 8 Conference.
"I think for some of our seniors, it motivated them to work hard in the offseason to try and take the next step," said head coach Adam Bunderson. "We have a group of seniors that have worked really hard this offseason."
Bunderson's first year at the helm of the Cougars resulted in a playoff berth, and believed that his first season as head coach has prepared him better for the upcoming campaign. "I don't think I will be surprised or caught off guard when things come up during the season like I was at times last year," said Bunderson. "I probably tried to control a little too much last year, and this year we have added some really good coaches, so I am excited to give them more control and see what we can do."
"Also, realizing that coaching is much more about putting kids in position to be successful that it is about scheme or adjustments," he added, describing some of the lessons learned in 2017.
As far as what is back, on the offensive side of the ball, there will be plenty of turnover at virtually every position on offense, except at quarterback, Bunderson's former position at Janesville Parker. "Ben Coulter returns at quarterback, and Eric Hughes, Dan Deltgen, and Sam Hart round out a really strong quarterback group," noted Bunderson. "They do a good job pushing each other to improve, and I think we have more talent overall and are deeper at that position that we have been in a while."
Up front, four new starters will be installed along the offensive line. Fullback Devin Alderson returns with Coulter as the team's top two rushers from a season ago, but the rest of the returning players combined for 13 carries. Receiver will be a position with opportunity, as only three returning players return that caught a pass in 2017, combining for all of four receptions.
Defense, however, is a bit of a different story, and it starts with Wisconsin Badgers commit Keeanu Benton up front. Benton, an outstanding wrestler who finished runner-up in the heavyweight division his junior year, was fourth on the team in tackles, adding in a pair of sacks and two fumble recoveries as well. Sam Smith, Tegan Christiansen, and Jake Fieiras all were in the top five on the team in tackles in 2017 as well, and all earned all-conference recognition for their work as juniors last year.
Special teams will be a bit of a different adventure, as the only returning player with a punt or kick is Ben Coulter, who booted one rugby-style last season for 27 yards. In the return game, Trevion Moore and Tegan Christiansen fielded kicks last season and are back this year.
For the first four weeks of the season, Janesville Craig won't have to venture very far, with three home games and the opening game of the season at Beloit Memorial. Week 2 brings The Battle for the Monterey Rock, the intra-city clash with Janesville Parker. The Cougars host Verona and Sun Prairie in Weeks 3 and 4 before embarking on a three-game road trip.
That road swing starts at Lussier Stadium, to play Madison La Follette on September 14. Janesville Craig will head back to Madison's east side to play Madison East in Week 6, before heading up to Middleton on September 28. October features a pair of home games, against Madison West and Madison Memorial, to round out the regular season.
Janesville Craig head coach Adam Bunderson provided a written interview rather than an audio segment to The Big 1070, and contributed to all of the information in this preview.
Good luck to Janesville Craig junior heavyweight Keeanu Benton as he wrestles for the State Championship later tonight. pic.twitter.com/WjoyQCK5jq— Craig Athletics (@CraigAthletics) February 24, 2018
Janesville Craig Cougars - Big Eight
Head Coach: Adam Bunderson (2nd Season) 4-6 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 4-6 (4-5), 5th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 1 playoffs to Franklin 45-7)
Three-Year Record: 10-18 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 1 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (28 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): DL/OL Keeanu Benton [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-DL), Sr.; RB/DB/ST Tegan Christiansen [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-DB), Sr.; OL/DL Jacob Fieiras, (HM-DL), Sr.; LB/TE Sam Smith (HM-LB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: QB/DB/P Ben Coulter, Sr.; FB/LB Devin Alderson, Sr.; RB/DB Jacob Reddy, Sr.; WR/DB Devon Minor, Sr.; LB/WR Devontay Minor, Sr.; DB/RB/ST Trevion Moore, Sr.; DB/FB Tressin Kussmaul, Sr.; DB/WR Brandon Ronde, Sr.; DB/RB Cade Scott, Sr.; DB/FB Devin Alderson, Sr.; DB/WR Tremayne Gibbs, Sr.; DB/RB Logan Kahl, Sr.; LB/RB Jarrett Costello, Sr.; OL/DL Tyler McFarland, Sr.; DL/OL Bennett Easton, Sr.; OL/DL Ross Kemp, Sr.; OL/DL Christopher Black, Sr.; OL/DL Josh Kelly, Sr.; K Anthony Saunders, Sr.; OL/DL Zach Veium, Jr.; QB Eric Hughes, Jr.; QB/DB Sam Hart, Jr.; QB Dan Deltgen, So.
BIG Games: vs Janesville Parker, August 24 (Battle for the Monterey Rock); vs Sun Prairie, September 7; at Middleton, September 28