Prep preview: Area football season kicks off Friday
The 2013 high school football season officially begins Thursday.
There are eight statewide games, including Waunakee at Madison Edgewood in a key Badger Conference battle.
For the majority of area teams, however, the season kicks off Friday night.
And there’s nothing more special than the pageantry that surrounds the opener.
Whether its running out of the tunnel at Monterey Stadium for the first time, or racing out with your teammates to midfield for pregame introductions, opening night is all about hopes and dreams.
Here’s a look at a few storylines to keep an eye on for the 2013 season.
Will Big Foot’s Rock Valley dominance come to an end? The Chiefs have won 43 straight Rock Valley Conference games and six straight Rock Valley South titles.
Is Sun Prairie going to be the best team to come out of the Big Eight in the last 20 years? The Cardinals were runner-up to Hartland Arrowhead in Division 1 a year ago and return a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, including University of Wisconsin recruit Craig Evans.
Can Lake Geneva Badger duplicate its magic from a year ago? The Badgers advanced to the Division 1 semifinal game before losing by a touchdown to Sun Prairie. A Southern Lakes Conference opener at home against defending-champion Waterford should tell us whether the Badgers are going to be contenders or pretenders.
Is Fort Atkinson ready to unseat Monona Grove in the Badger South? The Blackhawks have one of the top talent’s around in James Nachtigal and 11 starters returning. Monona Grove has won four straight Badger South titles and has not lost to a Badger South opponent since 2008.
After playing an eight-game regular-season schedule a year ago with the option for a ninth game, the WIAA has gone back to the nine-game format.
Let the games begin!
Madison La Follette (0-0) at Janesville Parker (0-0), 7 p.m., Friday, Monterey Stadium—These two teams open the Big Eight Conference season with plenty to prove. La Follette finished 3-5 a year ago but took WIAA Division 1 runner-up Sun Prairie down to the wire during the regular season before losing 13-6. The Lancers are “all in” in 2013 as they look for their first playoff berth since 2007. Parker tries to rebound from a 2-7 season that ended with five straight losses. The Vikings missed the playoffs last season for just the second time in the last 17 years.
With uncertainty at quarterback, Parker will have to continue to do what it does best—run the ball. Senior tailback Dai-Von Vance-Jenkins is the key to the ignition and will need to stay healthy if the Vikings are going to get back to respectability in the Big Eight. Vance-Jenkins rushed for more than 700 yards a year ago and earned All-Big Eight second-team honors despite missing three games with an ankle injury.
Parker’s offensive line should be much improved. Seniors Paul Jacobson and T.J. Steinke could be two of the top linemen in the conference and should open enough holes for Vance-Jenkins to top the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
La Follette counters with the top playmaker in the conference in Marcus Collins. The University of Pittsburgh recruit earned all-conference first-team honors a year ago at wide receiver and cornerback, and at 6-foot-4, could cause the inexperienced Viking secondary fits.
Parker and La Follette did not play each other last season due to the WIAA one-year eight-game schedule.
Best guess: La Follette 27, Parker 19.
Janesville Craig (0-0) at Madison East (0-0), 7 p.m., Friday, Lussier Stadium—Two programs headed in opposite directions meet in this Big Eight opener. Craig has shown steady improvement in Ben McCormick’s first four seasons and could be on the verge of the school’s first playoff berth since 2008. East was winless a year ago and has won only 11 games in the last nine years.
The Cougars will be as quick and athletic as any team in the conference but will be physically challenged on the line on both sides of the ball.
Tom Gabower begins his third season as Craig’s quarterback. The senior worked hard on all aspects of his game during the offseason, and McCormick believes the dual-threat signal caller could be poised for a breakout season. Senior speedster Ryan Kind can stretch the field at wideout, while senior Evan Shortreed is a load at fullback at 6-foot, 220 pounds.
Shortreed and Nick Moore will lead Craig’s defense at linebacker, along with senior Sam Plutchak in the secondary.
East continues to battle a numbers problem. The Purgolders were shut out four times last season while allowing nearly 45 points a game. Depth is a major concern for East, as program participation remains a problem.
Best guess: Craig 34, East 6.
DeForest (0-0) at Milton (0-0), 7 p.m., Friday, Milton High School—The Bill O’Leary era begins at Milton. The 1970 Milton High graduate returns to his alma mater trying to right the ship on a program that has failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons. The schedule-makers did the Red Hawks no favor with the Badger North Conference powerhouse Norskies on tap for this opening-night crossover game. DeForest has qualified for the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 years.
Under O’Leary, the Red Hawks will shelve the spread offense in favor of a more ball-control philosophy.
Tyler Westrick will be the catalyst behind the Red Hawk offense. The junior is starting his third season as quarterback but will have his hands full with a DeForest defense that a year ago allowed only 60 points during the regular season.
Milton returns no starters on defense, while DeForest lost its quarterback, leading rusher and receiver from a year ago to graduation.
Best guess: DeForest 21, Milton 13.