2018 High School Football Preview: Big 8

posted by Jimmie Kaska - 

Of the seven teams to make it into the playoffs from the Big 8, only Sun Prairie advanced past Level 3, as the Cardinals played Kimberly in the state championship (losing 27-7). Graduation losses might on paper seem to be a big deal for the reigning conference champs, but Sun Prairie brings back more all-conference players than anyone in the Big 8.

Some of the challengers this year could include Middleton, as the transition from Tim Simon to Jason Pertzborn begins as the pair works as co-head coaches this season before Pertzborn takes over full-time after the 2018 season. The Cardinals lose the middle of their defense and their starting backfield, but bring back experienced lines and talented skill position players on both sides of the ball. Verona, despite graduating pretty much everyone, will return experience up front as well as at linebacker, positions that have served the Wildcats well over the years.

The picture isn't as clear after that. Playoff teams Madison West, Madison Memorial, Madison La Follette, and Janesville Craig are in varying stages of transition. For Craig, they'll welcome back perhaps the conferences' top senior in Wisconsin commit Keeanu Benton, but will have to replace starters at key positions. Madison Memorial will have a new head coach this year, former La Follette head man Michael Harris, but will have some big-time talent back in big spots. Speaking of Madison La Follette, the Lancers will have their top two quarterbacks back from last year after missing part of the season with injury, and also bring back dynamic two-way star Kayvion James-Ragland.

Madison West is a different case, in that while some big two-way contributors are back, most of their offensive production is gone from last year, meaning new players will have to step into huge roles for the Regents this season. They'll also have to contend with Beloit Memorial, in year five under Rodney Wedig, as the Purple Knights try to end a generation-long playoff drought. Madison East began forming an identity at the end of last season, and in year two under Jeremy Thornton, could take another step forward. Janesville Parker will be trying to replace starters at nearly every position for the second straight year, but it's a program with history and talent in the ranks.

The Janesville schools appear to be the most directly impacted by the WFCA's football-only conference realignment proposal, as it would send both to the Badger South. It also puts Beloit Memorial on an island, as they would have to travel 3-4 times to the Madison area for games.. Here is The Big 1070's Big 8 Preview, hosted by Jimmie Kaska and WFCA Hall of Fame coach and state champion Mike Stassi, featuring interviews with the coaches in the conference:

 

Big 8 Conference

2018 Full Schedule

Conference Champions: Sun Prairie - 2017; Sun Prairie and Verona - 2016; Middleton - 2015; Middleton - 2014

State Participants: Sun Prairie - 2017 (D1 Runner-Up)

2017 Combined Playoff Record: 7-7 (Sun Prairie 4-1)

2017 Combined Non-Conference Record: Closed Conference / No Non-Conference Games

BIG Games: Sun Prairie at Madison Memorial, August 17 - 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week; Middleton at Verona, August 24 - 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week; Janesville Craig vs Janesville Parker, August 24; Madison West at Madison East, August 24; Middleton at Madison West, August 31; Sun Prairie at Verona, September 14; Madison Memorial vs Madison West, September 14 - 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week; Madison La Follette at Sun Prairie, September 21; Verona at Madison La Follette, September 28 - 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week; Sun Prairie at Middleton, October 5 - 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week; Sun Prairie at Madison West, October 12; Middleton at Madison La Follette, October 12

WSN Top Seniors: LB Ethan Ackley, Sun Prairie; OL Gavin Adler, Middleton; DL Keeanu Benton, Janesville Craig; WR Bryce Carey, Middleton; DB Tegan Christiansen, Janesville Craig; LB Dylan Bourne, Verona; OL Patrick Horvath, Madison West; RB Kayvion James-Ragland, Madison La Follette; OL Ben Johnson, Sun Prairie; LB Jeremiah Jordan, Madison Memorial; LB Hakeem McCullers, Sun Prairie; K/P Tim Patten, Madison East; WR Cooper Nelson, Sun Prairie; LB and P Matthew Wedig, Beloit Memorial; DL Christian Winfield, Beloit Memorial

2018 Big 8 Preseason All-Conference Team

QB: None. (Returning Starters: Ben Coulter (SR), Janesville Craig; Phillip Roh III, (JR) Madison East; Ray Broughton (SR), Madison La Follette; Jason Ceniti (JR), Madison Memorial)

RB/FB: Kayvion James-Ragland [🏈WSN] (SR), Madison La Follette (2); Kelvin Opoku-Appoh (SR), Madison West (2*^); Eric Bridges (SR), Beloit Memorial (H); C.J. Dean (SR), Madison East (H)

WR: Cooper Nelson [🏈WSN] (SR), Sun Prairie (1); Matthew Wedig (SR), Beloit Memorial (1); Bryce Carey [🏈WSN] (SR), Middleton (2); Colin Schaefer (JR), Sun Prairie (2); Jaden Nix (SR), Madison La Follette (H); Ezra Thompson (SR), Madison West (H)

TE: Mike Cerniglia (SR), Madison Memorial (H)

OL: Patrick Horvath [🏈WSN] (SR), Madison West (1*); Ben Johnson [🏈WSN] (SR), Sun Prairie (1); Gavin Adler [🏈WSN(SR), Middleton (2); Sam Jessup (SR), Madison Memorial (2*); Thylas Henderson (SR), Madison East (H); Carson Meyer (SR), Madison West (H)

DL: Keeanu Benton [🏈WSN] (SR), Janesville Craig (2); Christian Winfield [🏈WSN(SR), Beloit Memorial; Gary Barnes (SR), Madison La Follette (2); Peter Conley (SR), Madison La Follette (H); Jacob Fieiras (SR), Janesville Craig (H); Sammy Smith (SO), Madison West (H)

LB: Matthew Wedig [🏈WSN] (SR), Beloit Memorial (1*); Dylan Bourne [🏈WSN] (SR), Verona (1); Hakeem McCullers [🏈WSN] (SR), Sun Prairie (1); Jeremiah Jordan [🏈WSN] (SR), Madison Memorial (2*); Ethan Ackley [🏈WSN] (SR), Sun Prairie (2*); Kayvion James-Ragland (SR), Madison La Follette (2); Daryen Gaines (SR), Beloit Memorial (H); Adam Rademacher (SR), Sun Prairie (H); Sam Smith (SR), Janesville Craig (H)

DB: Tegan Christiansen [🏈WSN] (SR), Janesville Craig (2); Kevin Meicher (SR), Middleton; Kelvin Opoku-Appoh (SR), Madison West (2^); Keonte Jones (JR), Madison East (H); Tyler Owens (JR), Madison East (H)

K: Tim Patten [🏈WSN] (SR), Madison East (-)

P: Matthew Wedig [🏈WSN] (SR), Beloit Memorial (1**)

RET: Kelvin Opoku-Appoh (SR), Madison West (1^)

All Selections Are Returning 2017 All-Conference Picks - 1=1st Team, 2=2nd Team, H=Honorable Mention; *indicates multiple-time selection at the position; ^Opoku-Appoh earned his honors in the Capitol South at Marshall

Beloit Memorial Purple Knights - Big Eight

Head Coach: Rodney Wedig (5th Season), 4-34 Overall; 24th Career Season, 145-100 Overall (103-26 at Big Foot, 2009 D4 State Championship, 2008 and 2012 D4 Runners-Up, 7 Conference Titles; 38-40 at Almond-Bancroft)

2017 Result: 3-7 (2-7), 8th in the Big 8 (Defeated Racine Park 33-21 in a plus-one game)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (11 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (4): WR/LB/P/ST Matthew Wedig [🏈 WSN[🏈 WSN] (WFCA All-Region P in 2017, First Team-WR in 2016, First Team-LB in 2017 and 2016, First Team-P in 2017 and 2016, Honorable Mention-P in 2015), Sr.; DL Christian Winfield [🏈 WSN] (Second Team-DL), Sr.; RB/LB Eric Bridges (HM), Sr.; TE/LB Daryen Gaines (HM), Sr.;

BIG Games: vs Janesville Craig, August 17; vs Madison East, September 7; vs Verona, October 5 (Homecoming); vs Janesville Parker, September 12

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)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (11 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (4): DL/OL Keeanu Benton [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-DL), Sr.; RB/DB/ST Tegan Christiansen (2nd Team-DB), Sr.; OL/DL Jacob Fieiras, (HM-DL), Sr.; LB/TE Sam Smith (HM-LB), Sr.

BIG Games: vs Janesville Parker, August 24 (Battle for the Monterey Rock); vs Sun Prairie, September 7; at Middleton, September 28

Janesville Parker Vikings - Big Eight

Head Coach: Clayton Kreger (4th Season), 9-19 Overall (0-1 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 1-9 (1-8), 9th in the Big 8 (Lost Plus-One game to Waukesha South 34-20)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 0 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (6 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (0): None

BIG Games: at Janesville Craig, August 24 (The Battle for the Monterey Rock); vs Madison East, September 14; at Beloit Memorial, October 12

Madison East Purgolders - Big Eight

Head Coach: Jeremy Thornton (Second Season), 0-9 Overall (0-0 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 0-9 (0-9), 10th in the Big 8

2017 All-Conference Honors: 0 First-Team, 0 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (5 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/LB C.J. Dean, Sr. (HM); OL/DL Thylas Henderson, Sr. (HM); RB/WR/DB Keonte Jones, Jr. (HM); WR/FS Tyler Owens, Jr. (HM)

BIG Games: vs Madison West, August 24; vs Madison Memorial, August 31; at Janesville Parker, September 14; vs Madison La Follette, October 5 (Homecoming)

Madison La Follette Lancers - Big Eight

Head Coach: Scott Swanson (5th Season), 25-17 Overall (2-4 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 4-6 (4-5), 5th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the D1 playoffs to Middleton, 41-8)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (14 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/LB Kayvion James-Ragland [ WSN] (2nd Team-RB and LB), Sr.; DL Gary Barnes (2nd Team-DL), Sr.; DL Peter Conley (HM-DL), Sr.; WR Jaden Nix (HM-WR) Sr.

BIG Games: vs Madison West, August 17; at Sun Prairie, September 21; vs Verona, September 28 [ Madison Taxi Game of the Week] (Homecoming); vs Middleton, October 12

Madison Memorial Spartans - Big Eight

Head Coach: Michael Harris (1st Season), 0-0; 7th Season Overall, 20-35 (0-1 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 4-6 (4-5), 5th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 1 playoffs to Sun Prairie, 35-0)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 0 First-Team, 1 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (6 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (3): LB/RB Jeremiah Jordan [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-LB in 2017 and 2016), JS.; OL/LB Sam Jessup (2nd Team-OL in 2017 and 2016), Sr.; TE/LB/P Mike Cerniglia (HM-TE), Sr.;

BIG Games: vs Sun Prairie, August 17 (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); vs Madison La Follette, August 24; vs Madison West, September 14 (Mansfield Cup) (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); vs Beloit Memorial, September 28 (Homecoming)

Madison West Regents - Big Eight

Head Coach: Brad Murphy (3rd Season), 14-8 Overall (2-2 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 9-3 (7-2), 3rd in the Big 8 (Lost to Sun Prairie in Level 3 of the D1 playoffs, 49-17)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 6 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (13 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (5): OL/DL Patrick Horvath [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-OL in 2017 and HM-OL in 2016), Sr.; OL/DL Carson Meyer (HM-OL), Sr; WR/QB/S Ezra Thompson (HM-WR), Jr.; DL/OL Sammy Smith (HM-DL), So.; RB/DB/ST Kelvin Opoku-Appoh (Transfer from Marshall) (1st Team-ST in 2017, 2nd Team-RB in 2017 and 2016, 2nd Team-DB in 2016; all awards earned in the Capitol South), Sr.

BIG Games: at Madison La Follette, August 17; vs Middleton, August 31; at Madison Memorial, September 14 [🔊 Madison Taxi Game of the Week]; vs Sun Prairie, October 12

Middleton Cardinals - Big Eight

Co-Head Coaches: Tim Simon (15th Season), 112-37 Overall, and Jason Pertzborn

2017 Result: 9-2 (8-1), 2nd in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 2 of the D1 Playoffs 30-27 to Madison West)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 8 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (17 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (3): OL/DL Gavin Adler [🏈WSN] (2nd Team-OL), Sr.; WR/QB/DB Bryce Carey(2nd Team-WR) [🏈 WSN], Sr.; DB/RB/ST Kevin Meicher (HM-DB), Sr.

BIG Games: at Verona, August 24 (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); at Madison West, August 31; vs Sun Prairie, October 5 (Homecoming; 🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week)

Sun Prairie Cardinals - Big Eight

Head Coach: Brian Kaminski (16th Season), 117-46 (15-14 Playoffs)

2017 Result: 13-1 (9-0), 🏆1st in the Big 8 (Lost at State of the D1 Playoffs to Kimberly, 27-7)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 11 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (21 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (6): WR/DB Cooper Nelson [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-WR), Sr; OL/DL Ben Johnson [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-OL), Sr.; TE/LB Ethan Ackley [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-LB; HM-LB in 2016), Sr.; Hakeem McCullers [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-LB), Sr.; LB/RB Adam Rademacher (HM-LB), Sr.; WR/DB Colin Schaefer (2nd Team-WR), Jr.

BIG Games: at Madison Memorial, August 17 (🔊 Madison Taxi Game of the Week); at Verona, September 14; vs Madison La Follette, September 21; at Middleton, October 5 (🔊 Madison Taxi Game of the Week)

Verona Wildcats - Big Eight

Head Coach: Dave Richardson (19th Season), 143-57 Overall; 27th Career Season, 172-94 - WFCA Hall of Fame 2014

2017 Result: 6-3 (6-4), 4th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 1 Playoffs to Kettle Moraine, 28-19)

2017 All-Conference Honors: 5 First-Team, 7 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (17 total)

Returning All-Conference Players (1): LB Dylan Bourne [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-LB), Sr

BIG Games: vs Middleton, August 24 (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); vs Sun Prairie, September 14; at Madison La Follette, September 28 (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week)

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