A big senior class and experience are positive forces for this year's Madison La Follette Lancers, who look to jump back into the Big 8 title picture in 2019.
Injuries at key positions derailed the past two seasons' efforts, especially at quarterback and skill positions. Still, the Lancers made the playoffs each year, and with boatloads of experience back on both sides of the ball, coach Scott Swans feels that the team is ready to take on the challenge of the Big 8 in 2019.
"This group of seniors has been outstanding," said Swanson. "They're great football players on top of being great guys."
An honorable mention selection at a loaded quarterback position in the Big 8 a season ago, multi-sport standout Ben Probst is back at quarterback, and after throwing for over a thousand yards and 15 touchdowns last year, coach Swanson is looking forward to seeing the senior progress this year.
"We really emphasize mutli-sport guys," Swanson said. "We feel like when the pressure's on, the guys who see that in other sports tend to be super-successful for us on Friday nights."
While the backfield will look different, Probst will be throwing to two-way all-Big 8 first team pick Charlie Kunkel, as well as returning starters at the blocking back and tight end positions. The offensive line brings back four of five starters as well, graduating the outstanding Raymond Bailey from last year. This year's star lineman is tackle Luke Vitale, who started at right tackle as a sophomore and left tackle as a junior. He was a first-team All-Big 8 pick as well.
Defensively, Kunkel anchors the back half, while Dakovin Prather is back at cornerback. Prather, another basketball standout, will likely be another big-time two-way contributor along with Kunkel. Both middle linebackers return, with all-conference honoree Mason Saunders and Camron Poelnitz back in the fold, and Erick Lumpkin leads a group of returning seniors to anchor the middle of the defensive line.
While the Lancers will have to replace about half of their defense, the strength is right up the middle in terms of experience.
On special teams, La Follette will have Probst back to handle kicking duties, and Kunkel was last year's starting punt returner.
Swanson is looking forward to the challenge of the nine-game Big 8 schedule.
"It's what gets you pumped up here in August," he added.
They won't have to wait long to get into it, since they will open with Madison West before taking on Madison Memorial the very next week. After getting Verona (in a game we'll broadcast on The Big 1070) in Week 7, the Lancers will wrap up intra-city play with Madison East on October 11 for Homecoming.
Here's our preview with Coach Scott Swanson:
Madison La Follette Lancers
Head Coach: Scott Swanson (6th Season), 29-23 Overall (2-5 Playoffs)
2018 Result: 4-6 (4-5), 6th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the D1 playoffs to Fond du Lac, 56-14)
Three-Year Record: 14-17 (1-3 Playoffs)
2018 All-Conference Honors: 5 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (15 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 12 First-Team, 15 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (42 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (5): T/LS Luke Vitale (1T-OL) (WSN-OL 🏈), Sr.; WR/S Charlie Kunkel (1T-WR & 1T-DB) (WSN-WR 🏈), Sr.; LB/G Mason Saunders (2T-LB) (WSN-LB 🏈), Sr.; RB/DB Jaylend Brown (HM-RB), Sr.; QB Ben Probst (HM-QB) (WSN-QB 🏈), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: C Henry Thies, Sr.; G Jack Kluge, Sr.; WR/DB Dakovin Prather, Sr.; MLB Camron Poelnitz, Sr.; OL/DL Elijah LaBelle, Sr.; DT/OL Erick Lumpkin, Sr.; FB Erik Gessner, Sr.; QB Fabius Tabor, Sr.; P/FB Tyquan Turner, Sr.; RB/DB Isaiah Davis, Sr.; TE Andrew Rajkovic, Sr.; DL Marco Garcia, Sr.; DL Tramale Robinson, Sr.; LB/RB LaDell Cannon, Sr.; CB Nic Cooke, Sr.; DB/WR Mike Seelow, Sr.; DB/WR A.J. Wright, Sr.; LB/OL George Stoeberl, Sr.; LB/RB Keanu Loveless, Jr.; OL/DL Anthony Edge, Jr.; OL/DL Braeden Lueder, Jr.; DL/OL Demetrius Walker, Jr..
BIG Games: at Madison West, August 23; vs Madison Memorial, August 30; at Verona, October 4 (🔊The Big 1070 Broadcast); vs Madison East, October 11 (Homecoming)