An eye-opening winless season. A near-miss at a conference championship. A desire to reset standards.
The football teams at Evansville, Edgerton and Milton each had their own sources of motivation this season. And all three used those inspirations to win a league title.
Evansville went 0-9 in 2018 but nearly completely reversed course, going 9-2, earning a share of the Rock Valley Conference title and winning a playoff game.
Edgerton, which lost out on an RVC title by one game in 2018, matched the Blue Devils with a 9-2 mark overall and 8-1 record in league play to share the crown.
And Milton, which had won three games in each of its previous three seasons, found success behind a driven senior class and first-year coach Rodney Wedig, earning a share of the Badger South Conference title and also making the second round of the WIAA playoffs.
There should be no surprise, then, that those three teams dominate The Gazette’s all-area football team.
Fourteen of the 26 selections came from those three programs.
The all-area team was selected by Gazette sports editor Eric Schmoldt and writer John Barry, with input from area coaches and based on season stats, team success and postseason conference, region and state accolades.
Joining area player of the year Reed Farrington, an all-state small school offensive and defensive lineman, on this year’s Gazette all-area football team are:
Evansville junior Tyr Severson was named the Rock Valley’s offensive player of the year after guiding the Blue Devils to the RVC title in his second season as a starter.
Severson completed 126 of 231 pass attempts for 2,176 yards, tossing 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Severson also ran for four touchdowns, including the game-winner in a comeback victory over Edgerton in Week 2.
“His work ethic was really good, and he put in a lot of time in the summer,” Evansville coach Ron Grovesteen said. “The receivers he had around really helped him, too, but he was able to get outside and run the ball, as well.”
Milton senior Nick Huber put together a 1,000-yard season to earn first-team all-Badger South honors.
Huber carried 155 times for 1,021 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and scored 14 touchdowns. He also added four catches for 70 yards and threw a touchdown pass.
“Nick was a tough runner who could excel between the tackles but also break it outside,” Milton coach Rodney Wedig said. “His size and speed made him a great weapon.”
Brodhead/Juda senior Nick Naramore was a first-team all-conference selection after he helped the Cardinals return to the playoffs.
Naramore rushed for 768 yards on 127 carries (6.0 ypc) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Milton senior Dane Nelson continued to flash his athleticism coming off a spring season where he was one of the top hurdlers in the state in track and field.
Nelson caught 23 passes for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn first-team all-Badger South honors.
“As the year went on and teams tried to load the box to stop the run, Dane made them pay,” Wedig said. “He was one of our captains and had a 97- and 81-yard touchdown reception in our playoff game vs. Waunakee.”
Beloit Turner senior Dai’Vontrelle Strong gives our all-area team another big target.
Strong caught 28 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns and was named first-team all-Rock Valley as an “athlete.”
“He’s a kid we thought would just be a wide receiver, but as the season went on, defensively he really stood out at outside linebacker,” Turner coach Derek Diehl said. “He scored on special teams on a kickoff return. He kind of did everything for us, and with his frame and athleticism could play pretty much any position.”
Milton senior Hunter Pernot was named first-team all-Badger South and all-region for his work at the tight end position.
Pernot caught 15 passes for 122 yards and six touchdowns.
“Hunter was our go-to guy in the red zone,” Wedig said. “He was a great blocker and a great team player. He was a quarterback last year and made it a point to contribute in any way he could this season.”
Janesville Parker junior Matthew Hartwig was the go-to option in the Vikings’ passing game, finishing with nearly half of the team’s receiving yards.
Hartwig caught 27 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns, adding a pair of two-point conversion receptions, as well.
“He is a smart football player, has the best hands on our team and is a pretty good blocker,” Parker coach Clayton Kreger said. “Defenses often manned him underneath and spied a safety over the top, but that didn’t stop him from bringing down five touchdowns.
“In addition, as a defensive end, he proved to be a sure tackler, good edge rusher and is a kid that is just a true competitor who never wants to come off the field.”
He was an honorable mention all-Big Eight Conference selection behind a pair of Division I college-caliber tight ends.
Lake Geneva Badger senior Kyle Freund is one of five players making a second straight appearance on the all-area team.
Freund anchored a Badgers offensive line that helped pave the way for a rushing attack that ranked among the top 30 teams in the state at 315.9 yards per game. The Badgers rushed for 6.8 yards per carry and scored 36 rushing touchdowns in 10 games.
Evansville senior Clint Bergsma was the leader of an offensive line that gave Severson a strong pocket to work with but could also open holes for running backs.
The Blue Devils rushed for nearly five yards per carry.
“He was a four-year starter for us and is a kid who has the size and quickness you need on the offensive line,” Grovesteen said. “Last year we had him at tackle, but we put him at guard this year and he was really effective. We had just one other senior on the line, so we really counted on him for his leadership.”
Milton senior Booker Burden was the best lineman for a team that ranked in the top 50 in the state at 252.1 rushing yards per game.
The Red Hawks finished with a 6.1 yards-per-carry mark in 11 games and scored 36 rushing touchdowns.
“If Booker had not been in a conference with one of the top linemen in the country (Jack Nelson), he would have been conference lineman of the year,” Wedig said of the unanimous all-Badger South first-team pick. “He was smart, tough and near the goal line, everyone in the stadium and the other team knew we were running behind him.”
Big Foot senior Sam Dickerson was the leader of the offensive line for a Chiefs team that returned to the WIAA playoffs.
The Chiefs averaged more than 300 yards of offense per game, including more than 172 on the ground.
“He was our leader up front. We had two juniors and two sophomores on the offensive line, so he kind of had to take that group by the horns,” Big Foot coach Mike Welden said. “He was that confident kid on the field, where when mistakes happened he fixed them and kept the guys calm.”
Bergsma, Freund, Burden and Dickerson were each all-region selections.
Orfordville Parkview/Albany junior Luke Schwengels was the lone first-team all-Trailways Large selection for the Vikings.
They rushed for nearly 200 yards per game and scored 17 of their 22 touchdowns this season on the ground.
Joining the all-area player of the year Reed Farrington of Edgerton are three other all-region selections.
Badger senior Will Faul was the co-defensive player of the year in the Southern Lakes Conference and earned honorable mention all-state status.
He finished with 63 total tackles, including 22 solo and 10 for losses. He had 10 sacks and had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Milton senior Kai Kerl was also honorable mention all-state and was co-defensive lineman of the year in the Badger South.
Kerl, a unanimous first-team all-conference pick, had 96 tackles, including five for loss. He forced five fumbles and recovered four.
“Kai did it all for us while playing many positions,” Wedig said. “All of (the fumbles) came at crucial times. His forced fumble against Stoughton led to the game-tying touchdown.”
Kerl was joined on the all-region squad by his teammate, junior Luke Hessenauer.
Hessenauer had 49 tackles, including 11 for losses. He had 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries and was also the Red Hawks’ kicker.
“Luke has only begun to tap into his potential,” Wedig said. “He made so many big plays, but he an get so much better with hard with this offseason.”
Delavan-Darien senior Ross Gengler is one of two linebackers earning a second consecutive spot on the all-area team.
Gengler, who will be a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin, was the Southern Lakes co-defensive player of the year on his way to earning all-region and honorable mention all-state honors.
He finished with 112 tackles, including 58 solo and 15 for losses. He had six sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Asked to play more of a role offensively, he finished with 576 total yards and five touchdowns.
“He puts himself in position to make big plays because he knows where he’s going,” Delavan-Darien coach Hank Johnson said early in the season. “He’s always running around the field. He can go sideline to sideline. And he does a heck of a job knifing his way through the line.”
Edgerton senior Ben Wileman joins Gengler as a two-time all-area player and an honorable mention all-state pick.
Wileman, who has a preferred walk-on offer to Minnesota but is still deciding on his college choice, led the Crimson Tide with 70 total tackles, including 30 solo and 12 for losses. He recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
“Ben’s been a mainstay for three years,” Edgerton coach Mike Gregory said. “He played guard (on offensive line) but will hang his head on linebacker, and that’s what I think he’ll play at the next level. Great instincts, reads, diagnoses well and just has a body that will only get bigger.”
Janesville Craig senior Parker Glissendorf was the heart and soul of the Cougars’ defense.
He was the only Janesville player to earn first-team all-Big Eight Conference honors this season, and he also added an all-region nod.
Glissendorf piled up 122 tackles, including six for losses and three sacks. He forced three fumbles and recovered one.
“He’s never the biggest, strongest or fastest kid on the field, but he knows how to make a play,” Craig coach Adam Bunderson said. “His motor never stops, and he seemed to be all over the field.”
Glissendorf also led the Cougars with 709 rushing yards and he scored three TDs on the ground and one more through the air.
Evansville senior Jaden O’Bel did a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils.
He earned all-region honors as a linebacker, where he had 77 tackles, including 29 solo and four for losses. He recovered a fumble and had three interceptions.
Offensively, he added 371 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
“From last year to this year, he worked really hard to get where he is,” Grovesteen said. “He had a great year both ways for us as an outside linebacker and a tight end. We could also split him out wide if we needed to, and defensively he was just solid.”
Big Foot had a pair of linebackers earn first-team all-Rock Valley status.
Senior Jack Gillingham was a standout two-way player despite breaking his hand in Week 4.
He made 69 tackles, including 50 solo, nine for losses and four sacks. He forced four fumbles, recovered five—including one for a touchdown—and intercepted one pass.
Offensively, Gillingham totaled nearly 900 yards and nine touchdowns—including 516 and seven as a receiver.
“He could make a play at any given time,” Welden said. “Defensively, he really came off the edge and put pressure on the other team to try and block him. And most teams couldn’t, especially before he broke his hand.”
At inside linebacker, Dan Hereley seemed to be in on just about every tackle for the Chiefs.
He had a whopping 129 total tackles, including 84 solo, six for losses and two sacks. He forced one fumble and recovered two.
“He just has a nose for finding the ball,” Welden said. “Instinctive. He’s a two-year varsity player who was second-team all-conference last year and stepped it up to first-team this year.”
Edgerton senior Skyler Gullickson is the fifth and final back-to-back all-area selection after being named all-region.
He intercepted four passes and finished with 35 tackles. Offensively, he caught 45 passes for 666 yards and six touchdowns.
“He wasn’t on kickoff team, but that was his only break,” Gregory said. “He led the conference in receiving and tied our school’s all-time career reception record.
“But defensively, he was just a lock-down corner. People just didn’t throw much his way.”
Milton senior Jack Weberpal was also an all-region defensive back and was a unanimous all-conference pick.
He led the league with four interceptions and finished with 28 tackles.
“He was our best cover corner, so he did not get tested much,” Wedig said. “But he still had 28 tackles and tied for the league lead in interceptions.”
Big Foot senior Owen Martin was another standout two-way player for the Chiefs.
He was first-team all-conference at defensive back after posting six interceptions with 64 tackles, including two for losses. He forced two fumbles and recovered one.
Offensively, Martin totaled nearly 750 yards with 12 touchdowns.
“He was our heart and soul, vocally,” Welden said. “He really put in a lot of time in the offseason and made huge improvements. He’s someone I can hold up as a standard and say, ‘Look at what he did in one offseason.’”
Edgerton junior Ismael Diaz transitioned from the soccer pitch to the football field seemingly with ease.
He was an honorable mention all-state pick after going 6 of 10 on field goals and 47 of 50 on extra points.
“There isn’t anybody who made a bigger impact on our season than him,” Gregory said. “He had 12 touchbacks, but actually when we got better was when we got him to get the ball to go to the 1- or 2-yard line, and then we could get greedy and tackle them inside the 20.
“He got very, very good at that. In high school, if you’re pinning people inside the 20, that’s tough.” He became an unbelievable weapon.”