A solid group of seniors returns to help Johnson Creek push for another playoff spot in the deep Trailways Small this season.
After a 7-2 finish in 2017, the Blue Jays fell again in the first round of the playoffs. However, with returning players such as quarterback, defensive back, and special teams all-conference player Justin Swanson, defensive end, punter, and tight end Lucas Sullivan, linebacker and fullback Anthony Purpi, and guard Alex Garza, Johnson Creek will have high-caliber returning players to battle with other tough teams in the Trailways, such as Deerfield, Fall River, and Lourdes Academy.
There will be some work to do, however, in replacing 1,200-yard rusher Brent Berger (who also added another 131 yards receiving and had 21 total offensive touchdowns) and second-leading rusher (510 yards) Ryan Larson. Purpi ran for 339 yards and three touchdowns last year, and Kaleb Hartwig added 113 yards on the ground. Leading receiver Micah Garvey also returns, although the Blue Jays only threw for about 66 yards per game in 2017.
On defense, in addition to Swanson, Sullivan, Garza, and Purpi, the Blue Jays bring back Zach Johnson at linebacker, interceptions leader Sam Budig at cornerback, and Nick Hoffman at defensive tackle. Johnson Creek will have to replace their three leading tacklers from a year ago.
On special teams, two-time all-conference returner Swanson is back, after returning an incredible four punts for touchdowns in 2017. Purpi added a kick return score as well. Sullivan was a first-team all-conference punter and will be one of WisSports.net's players to watch this season, while Swanson handles extra point duties, although Johnson Creek didn't attempt many last year.
Hall of Fame coach Tim Wagner is back for his 32nd season as head coach, sending the Blue Jays to three straight playoff berths after a winless 2014 campaign. Wagner's team loses a few all-conference picks from last season, but brings back as many all-conference players from 2017 as Fall River and Deerfield.
After Parkview cancelled their season opener with Johnson Creek, the Blue Jays found another program battling numbers issues to play, North Fond du Lac, which cancelled their entire season a year ago. In week two, they'll welcome in Shoreland Lutheran of the Metro Classic, a 4-5 team last year.
Conference play begins with a big road game against Deerfield on August 31. After a home game against Cambria-Friesland, Johnson Creek plays at Rio in Week 5. A big home game awaits September 21 against defending champ Fall River, before the Blue Jays head to Randolph in Week 7. October 5 will be another road game against Oshkosh Lourdes, before finishing the season with a home game against Wayland Academy.
Johnson Creek Blue Jays - Trailways Small
Head Coach: Tim Wagner (32nd Season), 163-127 Overall (6-17 Playoffs) - WFCA Hall of Fame 2014
2017 Result: 7-3 (5-2), 2nd in the Trailways Small (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 6 Playoffs to Dodgeland, 37-28)
Three-Year Record: 19-11 (0-3 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 6 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 15 First-Team, 14 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (29 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): DE/TE/P Lucas Sullivan [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-DE and P), Sr.; LB/FB/ST Anthony Purpi (2nd Team-LB), Sr.; QB/DB/ST/K Justin Swanson (2nd Team-DB and ST in 2017 and 2016), Jr.; G/DE Alex Garza (2nd Team-OL), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/LB Micah Garvey, Sr.; LB/OL/TE Zach Johnson, Sr.; RB/DB Kaleb Hartwig, Sr.; G/DT Logan Peot, Sr.; RB/CB/ST Sam Budig, Jr.; RB/LB Isaiah Wollet, Jr.; DT/OL Nick Hoffman, Jr.; T/DT Ben Blanke, Jr.; T/DT Jakob Yoshino, Jr.; C/DT Lukas David, Jr.; S/TE Wyatt Owen, So.; LB/RB Howie Olszewski, So.; T/DT Sam Toebe, So.; G/DT Tyrell Morford, So.
BIG Games: at Deerfield, August 31; vs Fall River, September 21; at Oshkosh Lourdes, October 4