2018 was Baraboo's first playoff appearance in over a decade. The 2019 Thunderbirds will look a lot different after graduating a large, talented senior class, but there's plenty of potential in the players filling important roles.
Last year, Baraboo won a win-or-go-home Week 9 game over their biggest rival, Reedsburg. Coach Steve Turkington says it was a culmination of sorts.
"We hadn't been to the playoffs in 12 years," he said, "So winning what was a playoff, play-in kind of game, that was pretty exciting."
Baraboo's season ended with a hard-fought loss to Waunakee in Level 1, which Coach Turkington says was a story of two halves.
"We had it together for a while, but the second half.." he said, trailing off. Baraboo was shut out 27-0, but only trailed 7-0 at halftime.
Just two weeks prior, Waunakee put up 43 points in a shutout win over the Thunderbirds.
All told, the season played out as expected behind a talented, experienced group of seniors. Baraboo finished the year 4-6, with two losses by two scores or less. First-team All-Badger North running back Mike Wech ran for 1,251 yards and 12 touchdowns to pace the offense, while running behind a trio of seniors, Matt Gust, Joe Schick, and Caden Blum (all second-team all-Badger North). Defensively, Gabe Larson and Pablo Ramirez each earned second-team all-conference honors, with Larson piling up five sacks and two forced fumbles, while Ramirez had three fumble recoveries and a scoop-and-score in 2018 as seniors.
2019's outlook has one important factor in Baraboo's favor: the schedule finally changes the crossover games in the final year of the Badger North-Badger South setup. After two years of playing Monona Grove and Stoughton, the Thunderbirds will get Milton and Watertown. While all Badger Conference teams present challenges, not seeing the defending conference champion in the other Badger Conference to open the season could be an opportunity. Only four of Baraboo's nine opponents made the playoffs, and the schedule is fairly balanced in that regard. Also, Baraboo will get the other three Badger North 2018 playoff teams on their home field at Beryl Newman Stadium.
However, 2019 will still be a challenge from the perspective of replacing a large and talented senior class, with just one player back that had any all-conference recognition (incoming senior punter Tyson Fry, who will also play fullback).
"We have a lot of potential, but a small senior group," said Turkington.
The offensive line will be led by senior George Fitzwilliams, who started every game at left tackle last year. On the other side, senior Josh Beale will be counted upon after earning eight starts in 2018.
Linebacker will operate from a position of strength, as senior Ben Florencio moves back to his nominal position after starting each game last year on the defensive line out of need. "Hardest working guy on the team," said Turkington. "Glue guy. Captain material."
Luna Larson, who is an incoming sophomore, will return after making several starts at outside linebacker as well. Behind the linebackers, senior defensive backs Graham Langkamp and Nate McCauley started most of Baraboo's games last year.
Here's our preview with Coach Steve Turkington:
Head Coach: Steve Turkington (6th Season), 11-36 Overall
2018 Result: 4-6 (4-3), 4th in the Badger North (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 2 playoffs to Waunakee 27-0)
Three-Year Record: 8-20
2018 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 4 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 2 First-Team, 9 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (20 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): FB/LB/P Tyson Fry (2T-P), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: QB/LB/K Graham Langkamp, Sr.; TE/LB Ben Florencio, Sr.; OT/LB George Fitzwilliams, Sr.; DL/OL Josh Beale, Sr.; DB Nate McCauley, Sr.; RB/DB Owen Nachtigal, Jr.; RB/DB Campbell Koseor, Jr.; RB/DB Clayton Teasdale, Jr.; QB/LB Luna Larson, So.
BIG Games: vs Waunakee 9/20, vs DeForest 10/4 (Homecoming), at Reedsburg 10/11, vs Mount Horeb/Barneveld 10/18 (Senior Day)
2020 Conference: Badger Small