After starting out 3-0 in 2017, Milton had three one-score losses in a six-game losing streak to end last season. A solid returning core of players, particularly up the middle, bear those experiences of last year as the Red Hawks try to return to the playoffs and the top of the Badger South in 2018.
Matt Lee begins his third season as head coach of the Milton football program, after going 3-6 in each of his first two seasons. 2017 was a handful of points from swinging the other direction record-wise, but some narrow losses kept the Red Hawks out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
"That was one of the things we talked about this offseason," said Lee, discussing the close losses. "I think it motivates the returning players."
Defensively, Milton brings back several capable players from a season ago, mostly in the interior line, linebacker, and safety positions. On offense, the Red Hawks will be working in some new skill position players, but they'll operate behind a line led by two-time all-conference honoree Eric Hessenhauer up front that will have some heft to it, and also on the defensive line.
On special teams, Tyler Hughes is back to handle punting and kicking, while most of the players competing for spots at the skill positions will get their shot at returning kicks as well.
"We've got a good group of hard-working players back," added Lee, who expects competition at most roster spots.
Milton will get two teams who missed the playoffs last year in their crossover games: a home game against Sauk Prairie to open the year and then a road contest at Reedsburg. The Badger South season opens with a drive over to Monroe, before returning home for back-to-back home games against Stoughton and Oregon.
The Red Hawks' five-game stretch of facing 2017 playoff teams continues when they visit Watertown on September 21. Homecoming is September 28, Week 7, against defending conference champion Monona Grove. Milton makes the short hop over to Fort Atkinson on October 5 before finishing the regular season against Edgewood. The Crusaders got their only win of 2017 against Milton in the regular-season finale.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Milton Red Hawks coach Matt Lee:
Milton Red Hawks - Badger South
Head Coach: Matt Lee (3rd Season), 6-12 Overall
2017 Result: 3-6 (1-6), 7th in the Badger South
Three-Year Record: 13-15 (0-1 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 4 Honorable Mention (7 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 11 First-Team, 8 Second-Team, 16 Honorable Mention (35 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): T/DT Eric Hessenhauer (HM-OL in 2017 and 2016), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/CB Josh Johnson, Sr.; T/DT Trenton Jenson, Sr.; WR/S Masyn Ulrich, Sr.; WR/S/K/P Tyler Hughes, Sr.; LB/WR Davyn Miller, Sr.; CB/RB Dalton Soergel, Sr.; CB/WR Joey Smecko, Sr.; LB/WR Drake Williams, Sr.; DT/T Ben Dybas, Sr.; T/DT Brayden Berberich, Sr.; DB/QB Maddigan Brown, Sr.; WR/CB Brad Bowditch, Jr.; RB/LB Jerry Jones, Jr.; WR/S Dane Nelson, Jr.; RB/LB/ST Nate Huber, Jr.; LB/WR Colton Connell, Jr.; S/WR Josh Mussey, Jr.; WR/S Cody Clark, Jr.; LB/OL Colin Schuetz, Jr.; G/DT Booker Burden, Jr.; G/DT Josh Hurley, Jr.; DT/G Austin Piper, Jr.; NT Cameron Scott, Jr.; RB/LB Kyle Dehnert, So.; LB/RB Logan Knutdsen, So.; WR/S Johnathan Storlid, So.
BIG Games: at Reedsburg, August 24; vs Oregon, September 14; vs Monona Grove, September 28 (Homecoming)