Quarterbacks set to have a big year in the Madison area

Quarterback is considered the most vital position in football, and in high school, oftentimes, the quarterback is not only usually one of the best athletes on the team, but also one of the smartest. That's what makes the 2019 season exciting in part; several area squads bring back top playmakers from 2018 (or even further back for a few) and those returning quarterbacks are frequently part of programs projected to have a big year in 2019.

In the Big 8, for example, Madison Memorial brings back third-year starter Jason Ceniti, who also plays defensive back. Coach Mike Harris told The Big 1070 before the season began that he knew Ceniti from class when he was a sophomore at Madison Memorial, and was the starting edge rusher for the Spartans. Harris told us that Ceniti is the unquestioned leader of the team, and that as a junior, when the rest of the team decided on captains, he was a unanimous choice.

After throwing a long touchdown pass to put Madison Memorial up in the second half for good against Sun Prairie in the season opener last year, Ceniti snuck in from a yard away to give the Spartans the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of this season's opener with the Cardinals. Along with a Hail Mary completion to beat Middleton last year, it's moments like these that prove way Ceniti is touted as one of the top senior quarterbacks in Wisconsin.

Verona's Adam Bekx took over as the starter last year as a junior, leading an offense loaded with Division 1 college talent. At least two linemen are heading to D-1 programs, and one of several talented running backs in the Wildcats stable, Jackson Acker, made a verbal commitment to play at Wisconsin. While the offense is loaded with playmakers all over the field, it's Bekx who has to keep the bus moving, and in the opener, he threw four touchdowns (completed to three different receivers) as Verona blew out Janesville Parker. Bekx made the Big 8 All-Conference team in 2018 on the second team behind Ceniti and a historic year from Sun Prairie's Richie Gilles, who set the school's all-time passing marks.

Back in the city of Madison, all four of the high schools, including Memorial's Ceniti, bring back starters for 2019. Madison La Follette's Ben Probst threw five touchdowns in his season debut in a win over West and is also one of the state's top basketball players entering his senior year; Madison East's Phil Roh led the Big 8 in passing yardage from week one, with over 300 yards through the air to a stable of receivers that comprise the Purgolders' defending Big 8 champion basketball squad; and Madison West's Ezra Thompson, who was set to start a year ago before an injury took away his entire season. In Thompson's case, he was a starter two seasons ago as a slot receiver but threw passes out of certain formations, but was working on the starting gig for 2019.

Once you look outside of the Big 8, the Badger Conferences have a handful of top returning players as well. Watertown's Ethan Pauly and Mount Horeb/Barneveld's Ethan Post went head-to-head in week one, with Watertown coming out on top. Pauly has made some big improvements ahead of this season, said the Goslings' coach, Benji Kamrath, to The Big 1070 before the season. Watertown's offense is a well-run version of the spread and famously features a ton of passing plays.

In the Badger North, DeForest will once again enjoy the services of Trey Schroeder, along with most of their roster from last year that challenged Waunakee for a conference title. The Norskies throttled Edgewood in their opener 47-0, as Schroeder ran for two scores and threw for another. Speaking of Waunakee, Caden Nelson had himself a night in the Warriors' rout of Monona Grove. Nelson threw three touchdown passes and ran for one more score to help Waunakee blow out Monona Grove 54-6 last Friday night.

Over in the Badger South, many of the conference's teams are turning over at quarterback, including conference champion Monona Grove. That's why 2019 could be as wide open as ever in the league, since both Watertown and Stoughton, the primary challengers to Monona Grove's reign the past two years, return their starters from a season ago. Stoughton will get another season with Adam Hobson, who threw for one and ran in for two more scores as the Vikings soundly defeated Beaver Dam in their season opener. Milton's Evan Jordahl, a junior, racked up four touchdown passes in the Red Hawks' domination of Baraboo, 55-15.

Once you go beyond the Big 8 and Badger conferences, you can see some outstanding quarterback talent at the smaller schools in the area as well. In the Rock Valley, Evansville's Tyr Severson tossed four touchdown passes as the Blue Devils snapped a long losing streak (after going winless in 2018) with a blowout victory over Brodhead/Juda; Severson started all of last year as well. Turner's Kenny Draeving is another returning starter and led the Trojans to a week one victory. Edgerton's Drew Hall will be in the spotlight this year as the Tiders are considered the conference favorite now that they've defeated defending champion McFarland in the opener.

In the Capitol, one of the top junior quarterbacks in the state, as well as a reigning first-team all-conference pick in 2018, is Adam Moen of Lake Mills. While he struggled a bit in the L-Cats' loss to the much larger Menomonie Mustangs, for two-plus quarters, he was slinging the ball around and at one point completed nine straight passes, including a touchdown just before halftime to give Lake Mills a lead at the break.

Expanding the radius a little bit, you can find some very talented quarterbacks, such as multi-sport sensation Isaac Lindsey of Mineral Point. Many of the smaller-school quarterbacks are often exceptional multi-sport types, and frequently find themselves in run-heavy offenses that don't generate the kind of passing statistics that put them on the radar.

All told, the 2019 season will feature these quarterbacks and several more who will emerge, but in terms of depth, it's one of maybe two or three positions that seem to be absolutely loaded this year in Dane County and the neighboring communities. Not to mention, a few of the state's very best are slinging passes right here in our own back yard.

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