Madison Memorial made a somewhat surprising run to a share of the Big 8 title in 2018, but the Spartans won't be sneaking up on anyone in 2019, as they bring back a large number of key contributors from last year's conference championship squad.
Coach Mike Harris, now in his second year at the helm of the program, says that one of the biggest differences this year is that the Spartans won't be the underdogs in any given week.
"Last year, we had a great group of senior leaders that took us to a Big 8 title. This year, we know we're coming in with expectations, and our seniors this year have a different challenge," said coach Harris.
One of those senior leaders is quarterback Jason Ceniti, who will be in his third year starting at quarterback.
"He's an impressive student, scholar-athlete," said Harris. "He works hard and has leadership qualities."
Ceniti started as a sophomore, but as an edge rusher early in the year. He took over the starting quarterback job part of the way through the 2017 season.
"I was actually his teacher before I was his coach that year," said Harris. "It gave me a chance to share my philosophy with him. It was important to develop that relationship with him even then," said Harris.
Ceniti enters the year as one of the top quarterbacks in the senior class in Wisconsin, according to WisSports.net. Ceniti earned first-team All-Big 8 honors in 2018 after throwing for 1,597 yards and 20 touchdowns, adding eight more touchdowns on the ground.
He'll have plenty of help, too. Two of his top targets from 2018 return. Field-stretching threat Max Hoeser is back at wide receiver, as is basketball standout Kwan Lewis, who racked up a team-leading five receiving touchdowns despite missing the team's first three games. All three leading rushers from last year return as well, with second-team All-Big 8 running back Kam Marshall set for a big senior year after dashing for 1,116 yards and eight scores in 2018, along with over 100 yards receiving. Fullback Kabaris Vasser returns too, the second-leading rusher on the Spartans last season. Ceniti was third on the team in rushing.
Up front, Memorial lines up three returning starters, including a pair of second-team All-Big 8 interior linemen in Nick Carl and Tyson Nash.
Defensively, key contributors return at every level. Up front, Roary Jones anchors a defensive line that includes defensive ends Kyle Doll and Logan Younk, key members of last year's unit. At linebacker, Kaden Reetz returns as one of the state's best, and he'll line up to another all-conference honoree in Kyle Murphy. The secondary has shutdown corner Chauncey Cannon back, a second-team All-Big 8 pick and one of the top returning defensive backs in Wisconsin. Kyle Yu, another basketball rotation player, covers the safety slot, and several other players saw varsity snaps in the defensive backfield last year.
On special teams, Kwan Lewis, Kam Marshall, and others returned kicks in 2018, and Kole Kerkhoff is back as kicker.
All told, eight players who received all-conference recognition return for the Spartans, and Madison Memorial enters the season as one of the Big 8 favorites.
The title defense begins with the other co-champion of the Big 8, Sun Prairie. Last year, Memorial shocked the Cardinals with a 32-26 win. The deciding score was a bomb from Ceniti to Hoeser, and kicked of a run all the way to a Big 8 title. In Week 4, the Spartans match up with Middleton. Last year, Memorial won on a Hail Mary to secure a victory. Week 5 features the Battle for Burt Hable's Clipboard against Madison West, and Homecoming will be in Week 7 against perhaps the co-favorite in the Big 8, Verona.
Here's our preview with Madison Memorial coach Mike Harris:
Madison Memorial Spartans
Head Coach: Mike Harris (2nd Season), 8-2; 8th Season Overall, 28-37 (0-2 Playoffs)
2018 Result: 8-2 (8-1), 🏆1st in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 1 playoffs to Hamilton, 35-21)
Three-Year Record: 15-14 (0-2 Playoffs)
2018 All-Conference Honors: 5 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (15 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 6 First-Team, 8 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (29 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (8): QB/DB Jason Ceniti (1T-QB) (WSN-QB 🏈), Sr.; RB/DB/KR Kam Marshall (1T-RB) (WSN-RB 🏈), Sr.; LG/DL Nick Carl (2T-OL) (WSN-OL 🏈), Sr.;LB/RB Kaden Reetz (2T-LB) (WSN-LB 🏈), Sr.; DB/WR/KR Chauncey Cannon (2T-DB) (WSN-DB 🏈), Sr.; C/DL Tyson Nash (2T-OL), Sr.; OL/DL Roary Jones (HM-DL), Sr.; LB/FB/PR Kyle Murphy (HM-LB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/DB/KR Kwan Lewis, Sr.; WR/DB/P Max Hoeser, Sr.; RG/DL Rick McGuire, Sr.; DE/TE Kyle Doll, Sr.; CB/WR Alvin Martin, Sr.; DE/TE Logan Younk, Sr.; K Kole Kerkhoff, Sr.; WR/DB Garret Bergum, Sr.; G/DL Miguel Ruiz, Sr.; QB/DB/H Drew Adams, Sr.; DB/WR Pierce Kaufman, Sr.; CB/WR Nate Francisco, Sr.; RB/LB Monte Meeks, Sr.; DB/WR Devin Friedrich, Sr.; S/WR Kyle Yu, Jr.; FB/LB Kabaris Vasser, Jr.; RB/DB Junior Mitchell, Jr.; DT/OL Patrick McDonald, Jr.; WR/DB Tommy Barrett, Jr.; TE/LB Jaydon Bott, Jr.; LB/RB Isiah Angeles, Jr.; LB/RB C.J. Green, Jr.; DB Cole Kuhne, Jr.; DL Kaleb Schrubbe, Jr.; DL Gavin Schauder, Jr.
BIG Games: at Sun Prairie, August 23; vs Middleton, September 13 (🔊 The Big 1070 Broadcast); vs Madison West, September 20 (Battle for Burt Hable's Clipboard/Mansfield Cup) (🔊 The Big 1070 Broadcast); vs Verona, September 27 (Homecoming)