After 43 years coaching Evansville/Albany football, Ron Grovesteen’s season goals don’t change much.
“We want to be in the top four teams in the Rock Valley Conference and make the D3 playoffs,” Grovesteen said.
The Blue Devils usually meet and exceed those goals.
After an 8-1 Rock Valley mark and a first-round playoff defeat last season, the Blue Devils have to overcome the loss of six starters on offense and seven on defense. That may make it difficult to finish ahead of Rock Valley favorites Jefferson and Clinton.
The Blue Devils lost 1,200-yard rusher Brennen Banks on offense, Rock Valley defensive back of the year Chase Katzenmeyer and RVC defensive player of the year Lucius Rinehart.
That left the coaching staff looking closely at last Friday’s scrimmage against New Glarus, Platteville and Monroe.
“Many surprises,” Grovesteen said of the practice session against other teams. “But the facts don’t change that we’re young and trying to get better every practice.”
The Blue Devils do return first-team quarterback Zach Mielke, and that is where they begin to build this year.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior will be the starter for the fourth straight season. It will be difficult to improve on his junior season, when he threw for 1,426 yards and 16 touchdowns and was named first-team all-conference.
“He had a good scrimmage,” said Grovesteen, who happens to be Mielke’s grandfather.
Mielke might be putting up more passing yards this season with the loss of Banks, but Grovesteen maintains the running game will be the priority.
“We want to run the ball,” he said. “You have to run the ball in Wisconsin. We’re under that Wisconsin weather.
“I hope to pass the ball a little more. But we’re not going to be like East Troy or some other teams that pass all the time. We like to run the ball.”
Seniors Logan Katzenmeyer, Tony Paschal, Brady Markee and Owen Boss will attempt to replace Banks’ production.
“They all got the same amount of snaps,” Grovesteen said of the scrimmage. “We’re just trying to piece things together.”
Mielke will be throwing to sophomore Sullivan Geske, who saw action as a freshman, along with seniors Braden Updike and Sam Haegele, and another sophomore, Seth Maag.
Seniors Jeb Boeck (6-4, 330) and Josh Shell (5-11, 215), sophomore Clint Bergsma (5-11, 235) and junior Jaden Mather (6-1, 275) will be the backbone of the offensive line.
“They’re working hard,” Grovesteen said. “But it’s going to be a challenge to replace what we had.”
The only returning starters back on defense are Malcolm Johnson at linebacker and Brady Deegan at defensive back. Nolan Kicmol also saw extensive action at linebacker.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Grovesteen said.
But work on the football field is something that Grovesteen loves to do. His 265-107 record at Evansville proves it, and he intends to add to that.
“If you’re having fun, keep going, right?” Grovesteen said.