The Gazette names second annual all-area football team
Brodhead/Juda has long been known for its ground game, but junior Matt Schmitt helped helped the Cardinals boast one of their more successful passing attacks in recent memory.
Schmitt completed 72 fo 112 pass attempts (64.3 percent) for 1,226 yards and 19 touchdowns. He threw just five interceptions.
Brodhead/Juda was part of a four-way tie for the title in the Rock Valley South, where Schmitt was named the first-team quarterback.
“We're not known for throwing the ball very much, but we had a little bit more team speed and had the opportunity to throw it,” Brodhead/Juda coach B.J. Bockhop said. “We just needed him to progress as a young kid. Gary Larsen, who has been coaching here since the 80s, thinks Matt is the best passer to come through Brodhead. That speaks volumes to how he came on.”
Considering the vaunted three-player rushing attack in Evansville, it's almost hard to pick just one for the all-area team. Nathan Redders, Ryker Brown and Brennen Banks combined for nearly 1,600 yards and 36 touchdowns.
But it was Redders who was named the RVC North's offensive player of the year and an all-region peformer by the WFCA. The senior rushed 146 times for 1,244 yards—good for 124.5 yards per game—and 10 touchdowns. He added five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown through the air, as well.
“Ryker Brown provided good blocking opportunities, and Nate is a shifty runner,” Evansville/Albany coach Ron Grovesteen said. “The last two years he's been pretty successful for us. His hard work and effort, especially this year, paid off.”
Lake Geneva Badger regained its footing to return to Southern Lakes Conference glory and rumble all the way to a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game.
Senior running back Tyler VanDeVelde led the way there. He carried 252 times for 1,546 yards and 15 touchdowns and also caught five passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
VanDeVelde rushed for more than 100 yards nine different times on his way to being named the Southern Lakes' offensive player of the year and an all-region selection.
Big Foot senior Michael Heidenreich put together the area's top season by a receiver, catching 59 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the Chiefs to a share of a ninth straight RVC South title.
Heidenreich added 135 rushing yards and was named the RVC South's offensive player of the year, honorable mention all-state and an all-region selection by the state's coaches.
“I think it was as good a season as I've seen out of a receiver in my years, both statistically and just his ability to make athletic plays on the field,” Chiefs coach Greg Enz said. “He helps your quarterback by making a catch on passes that a lot of other players wouldn't get to.”
Whitewater senior Bryan Parker was the focal point of the Whippets offense this season.
He caught 36 passes for 787 yards and three touchdowns, and added 233 rushing yards with three more scores on the way to being named a first-team all-RVC North receiver.
“He's the kind of kid that can do everything for you,” Whippets coach Tom Grosinske said. “He played recevier, running back a couple games, safety, he returned punts. He was 110 percent all day, every day, at practice or at games. He's a tone-setter and pushed his teammates to work as hard as he did.”
Parker picked up second-team honors at defensive back for posting 69 tackles (39 solo), three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Milton senior Pat O'Leary was a unanimous selection as a first-team all-Badger South tight end.
O'Leary had modest numbers of 12 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns but was dynamic as a blocker both in the rushing and passing game for the Red Hawks.
“He's the prototype of what a high school football looks like,” Milton coach Bill O'Leary said. “He's big, can block, catches the ball when you throw it and can run pretty well. I'm proud that his effort has come through.”
Mylik Williams took over as one of Janesville Parker's key leaders during his junior season, including serving as one of the team's captains.
Williams was named first-team all-Big Eight after he anchored a line that paved the way for DJ Vance, the league's leading rusher. Parker ranked second in the league in rushing as a team and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
“He gets better every single day. He's always in the weight room and is a three-sport athlete in basketball and track and field,” Parker coach Clayton Kreger said. “He's well-rounded, and I think that's what makes him such a good football player.”
Evansville/Albany senior Austin Rupiper was named the RVC North's lineman of the year after he anchored a line that paved the way for a whopping 2,886 rushing yards in 11 games.
The Blue Devils, who went 9-0 in the regular-season and won one playoff game, averaged 262.4 rushing yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry. Rupiper was named an all-region selection.
“Austin is the lineman of the year two years in a row, which doesn't happen too often,” Grovesteen said. “I just think it's his overall lineman ability. Being 6-1 and over 300 doesn't hurt, but he put a lot of time in and provided great leadership.”
Beloit Turner junior Tyler Burt got varsity experience last season but turned his game up a notch in 2015.
Burt was named all-region and the RVC South lineman of the year after he helped lead the Trojans to a share of their first conference title since the early 1990s.
Turner rushed for 1,923 yards (192.3 ypg) this year.
“Tyler really had a breakout year,” Turner coach Derek Diehl said.”He's got good size and athleticism. He just has a dominant run-blcoking concept. What really is his best attribute is his aggression. When he locks up with kids he ends up with a lot of pancake blocks because he doesn't quit.”
Brodhead/Juda had some holes in the trenches this season, and junior Jared Hansen rose to the occasion.
Hansen was named first-team all-RVC South on both the offensive and defensive lines. As a guard, he led a line that paved the way for 2,236 rushing yards this season and also piled up 34 tackles (18 solo) and a pair of sacks as a defensive tackle.
“He was kind of told in the offseason that we were hoping he'd step up and anchor the line, and that's what he did,” Bockhop said.
Lake Geneva Badger came up just one yard shy of 3,500 on the ground the season, chewing up yardage and the clock through a 10-3 season.
Senior lineman Nick Halpin was a leader up front and was named all-region for his efforts in helping the Badgers pile up nearly 6 yards per carry and 40 rushing scores.
It's hard to find a position for Turner sophomore Juan Reyes, who was named all-conference first or second team at four different positions.
Reyes through for one touchdown, caught another and rushed for five. He also returned an interception for a score. And he was the Trojans' kicker, where he accounted for 33 points.
“It's really nice to have that kind of skill and athleticism as a sophomore,” Diehl said. “We're looking for him, over the next couple years, to really make a mark in this conference and in the state. And he's such a good kid. You couldn't ask for more.”
Evansville/Albany defensive lineman Andrew Berra was a menace to opposing lines and helped lead the Blue Devils to four shutouts this season.
The senior—named honorable mention all-state, all-region and first-team all-RVC North—racked up nine sacks to go along with 51 tackles (19 solo), 14 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
“The last two years he's just gotten better and better. I don't think he realized how good he can be,” Grovesteen said. “He's got good strength and good speed. He's just got a certain ability when it comes to rushing the passer and getting off blocks.”
Clinton's Cole Ciochon was named the RVC South's defensive player of the year as just a junior.
Ciochon finished with 100 total tackles, including 57 solo and 20 for loss for a Cougars team that captured its first-ever conference championship. He also had 8.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries—one of which he returned for a touchdown.
“He has a lot of potential and is still growing into his body,” Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak said. “What's really impressive to me is how he impacts the whole game. He was more than a capable blocker for us. He can block punts and kicks. He affected the game in so many ways.”
Phil Smecko was the catalyst up front for another stout Milton defense.
The senior was a unanimous first-team all-conference pick after he totaled 50 tackles (seven solo), including 13 for loss, and eight sacks.
“He's one of those guys you would hate to play against,” O'Leary said. “He's so quick that he's always in your backfield. Size-wise, you'd never think he's an all-conference lineman, but speed-wise and aggressiveness, he was almost beyond comparison.”
When it comes to senior leaders, it's hard to top Turner's Justin Hansen.
He earned first-team all-RVC South honors as both a defensive lineman and running back. Defensively, he had 49 tackles, including 37 solo and five for loss. He amassed 12 sacks and recovered a fumble.
“There were quite a few games where he wasn't able to really match up well because of how we schemed—so probably three games where he was in contain only,” Diehl said. “In a more balanced or passing conference, he could've had a lot more sacks. He's a team player, and whatever role we gave him to be successful he was happy.”
Offensively, Hansen carried 143 times for 939 yards and nine touchdowns.
Delavan-Darien junior Ethan Cesarz tied for eighth in the state with a whopping 149 total tackles this season.
Cesarz was named all-region as both a linebacker and a tight end. Of those tackles, 95 were solo, including eight for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also forced seven fumbles and recovered three—including one for a touchdown.
On offense, Cesarz caught 36 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns for a Comets team that went 5-5 and got back to the playoffs.
Evansville/Albany senior Jordan Meyer turned in his second straight impressive season and was named the Rock Valley North's defensive player of the year.
Meyer, a standout wrestler, led the Blue Devils with 71 total tackles in seven regular-season games. He had 24 solo takedowns, including six for loss and five sacks. He also recovered a fumble.
“It's nice to have senior leadership from a junior that comes back and improves his game,” Grovesteen said. “Being a wrestler, it helps his ability on defense. He can see things and get to the ball very quickly.”
Meyer was also named all-region.
Milton junior Blake Knudsen gave the Red Hawks another unanimous first-team all-league selection as an edge player and was named all-region as a linebacker.
He had 84 tackles (15 solo), including 16 for loss and six sacks.
“We put him on the opposite side of Phil Smecko because of the quickness of those two guys,” O'Leary said. “He spent a lot of time in the opponents' backfield, and when he got his mitts on you, you got tackled.”
Badger senior Mick Borchert was named an all-region inside linebacker for a defense that allowed less than 17 points per game.
Borchert compiled 96 tackles (30 solo), two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Janesville Parker junior Ed Jacobson was the leader of a defense that held opponents to fewer than 19 points per game.
Jacobson led the Vikings with 84 tackles (28 solo) and had four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
“He does a lot of leading by example and is always busting his butt in the weight room,” Kreger said. “Guys see that and they model their intensity after that every single day.”
Defensive player of the year awards are typically reserved for linebackers who have spent all season piling up gaudy tackle statistics, or perhaps for a defensive end with loads of sacks.
Milton's Chase Frye bucked the trend by taking the top defensive honor in the Badger South as a safety. He was also a unanimous first-team all-conference pick and earned honorable mention all-state status.
Frye led the Red Hawks with 86 tackles (32 solo). He racked up six tackles for loss, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
“When you think about that (Frye being defensive POY), that's unbelievable,” O'Leary said. “Nobody wanted to catch the ball over the middle against him because of his ferociousness.”
Clinton junior Jordan Jones missed a pair of games early in the season, but that didn't stop him from putting together electric numbers.
Jones, an all-region defensive back, intercepted eight passes to go along with 27 tackles (11 solo).
“He's the fastest kid we have,” Spiwak said. “He has the ability to make up ground with the ball in the air. He's that fast. He can be beat in man coverage, but the time the ball reaches the receiver he can make up that ground.”
Jones was also a dynamic running back, rushing for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Milton's players voted senior Chaney Passer as the team's MVP during a season in which they won a share of the Badger South for a second straight year.
Passer did a little bit of everything for the Red Hawks. He was first-team all-league as a defensive back for amassing 34 tackles (18 solo), a tackle for loss, three interceptions—including one for a touchdown.
“He was our best cover guy out on an island on the team's best receiver,” O'Leary said. “And he made some huge catches for us. Whatever we needed to do, Chaney did it.”
Passer was also first-team all-conference as a receiver, where he had 376 yards and five touchdowns. He also threw for one score.
Milton defensive coordinator Russ O'Leary credits the leg of linebacker Dylan Swerig for setting his defense up for success.
Swerig rarely allowed an opponent to start a drive past its own 20-yard line. He pinned teams inside the 10 on 13 different occasions. He also had 61 tackles, eight for loss and a sack.
“In high school football, when you kick the ball in the end zone, that's a great weapon,” Bill O'Leary said. “He worked as hard as anyone that I've ever coached at kicking.”