Mike Welden figures most everyone came into the high school football season expecting the same old, same old out of Walworth Big Foot.
The Chiefs were coming off back-to-back seasons with 3-6 records and, with a new head coach taking over, few would have been surprised if that was the case for a third straight year.
The Big Foot players, though, were looking for more. And they’ve proven that over the first two-thirds of the season.
The Chiefs head into Week 7 as one of the upstart teams in the area, riding a three-game winning streak to a 4-2 record heading into a road tussle with unbeaten Evansville on Friday night.
“Our motto is ‘Believe,’” said Welden, a long-time assistant at Grafton who is in his first season as a high school head coach. “I think our guys are actually starting to believe they are a good team and that they can win and that they can compete with anybody.
“In my opinion, that’s half the battle, just getting high school kids to be confident in themselves and go out and play like it.
“We’re still an inconsistent team, and that happens when you’re young. But so far I’m just really impressed with the kids’ attitude and energy. They just want to succeed.”
Welden said his group set a tone of physicality in Week 1, even though the Chiefs lost 34-20 to Jefferson.
They followed that up with their first victory when they made a statement with a 42-21 win at Beloit Turner.
After losing 21-14 to East Troy—which scored on two plays of 80 or more yards to build a 14-0 lead in the second quarter—the Chiefs rattled off victories over Whitewater and Clinton, which are a combined 1-11, before opening eyes again last week with a 34-21 Homecoming win over McFarland (3-3).
“It’s big when you get your first win, because they’re like, OK, this is possible,” Welden said. “Then you get some close games, and they start being in battles where you come back in the fourth quarter and get some defensive stops. All those types of things build team confidence.”
It also helps to have explosive playmakers.
Jack Gillingham has more than 700 yards of total offense—396 receiving and 307 rushing—and seven touchdowns. Owen Martin is tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns—six receiving and two rushing—with nearly 500 total yards. Cole Vance also has eight touchdowns and is the team’s leading rusher with 516 yards and seven scores. And quarterback Basil Demco has thrown for 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Defensively, Dan Hereley leads the way with 84 tackles (53 solo), while Gillingham has 55 tackles, four sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception. And Martin has intercepted four passes.
“We’ve got some senior playmakers,” Welden said. “Owen Martin and Jack Gillingham have been our biggest playmakers, and Owen is our most vocal leader.
“We’re playing so many freshmen and sophomores that they needed someone to step up and let them know that things were OK.”
Things have been more than OK for the Chiefs lately, but they’ve got perhaps their two toughest games left on the schedule in Evansville this week and Edgerton in Week 9.
Brodhead/Juda is sandwiched in between, with Big Foot needing one more victory to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016, when the Chiefs went 5-5.
“We’re not making it (needing a win to clinch a playoff spot) a big deal,” Welden said. “The history of Big Foot is that every (team) goes to the playoffs. But in reality, our seniors, unless they were called up as freshmen—and at that point they probably weren’t on the field—none of these kids have ever made the playoffs.
“So they’re curious. But we’ve also reminded them we’ve got a long ways to go. Let’s not start looking at what our record could be at the end, because if you do that, you’re probably going to end up on a three-game losing streak.”
With John Barry out on vacation this week, here’s a look at a couple of area Week 7 games, as well as some predictions from a guy who rarely makes any, so take them with a grain of salt:
Big Foot (4-2 Rock Valley Conference and overall) at Evansville (6-0), 7 p.m., Friday, Ron Grovesteen Field—These teams combined to go 3-15 a year ago but already have double-digit victories.
“No one, I don’t think, really expected us to do much this year, besides us,” Welden said. “And I’m sure people looked at Evansville this year and said, ‘Hey, they were 0-9 last year. Maybe they’ll be a little better, but we’ll see.’
“Good for them for turning out the outside noise. They’re a heckuva football team—fast and physical.”
This one will feature a slew of top area playmakers.
Along with the aforementioned Gillingham, Martin and Vance for Big Foot, Evansville has prolific senior receiver Sulley Geske (26 receptions, 441 yards, 9 TDs), Carson Hill, who has rushed for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns and added 435 receiving yards and a pair of scores, and junior quarterback Tyr Severson, who has thrown for 1,375 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Best guess: Evansville 44, Big Foot 17.
East Troy (4-2) at Edgerton (5-1), 7 p.m. Friday, at Edgerton High—A lot will be sorted out at the top of the Rock Valley standings with the top four teams all taking on each other.
Edgerton was already really good, and it got senior running back Devin Jorgenson back last week in a 33-0 lightning-shortened victory at Turner.
With Reed Farrington and Ben Wileman leading the charge, the Crimson Tide are going to be a handful for any team in the trenches, and East Troy got little to no push against Evansville when I saw those teams play two weeks ago.
Best guess: Edgerton 45, East Troy 7.
Middleton (4-2 overall and in the Big Eight Conference) at Janesville Craig (1-5), 7 p.m., Friday, Monterey Stadium—Middleton’s Kallion Buckner leads the Big Eight with 854 rushing yards through the first six games. He’s rushed for 100 yards in all six games and has at least one touchdown in five—including two four-touchdown games.
The Cardinals are coming off a 54-16 victory over Parker and have scored 100 total points in the past two weeks.
Craig has scored 84 total through six games and is coming off a 28-22 home loss to Madison East in overtime.
Eric Hughes leads the Cougars with 467 yards rushing and 236 more through the air.
Best guess: Middleton 41, Craig 13.
Janesville Parker (0-6) at Madison West (2-4), Friday, 7 p.m., at Mansfield Stadium—The Regents are likely thinking they have a chance to find their way into the playoffs. If they can sweep the Janesville teams the next two weeks, they’ll be 4-4 heading into the season finale at Sun Prairie.
West dismantled Beloit Memorial 42-0 last week, and that win came on the road. Even in losses to Big Eight contenders like Verona, Madison Memorial and Verona, the Regents have kept it respectable, allowing 28 or fewer points against those opponents.
Parker coach Clayton Kreger said he has seen no quit in his team despite its long losing streak, and the Vikings showed that when they put together a couple touchdown drives late in last week’s game at Middleton.
But Parker will likely need to take a major step forward to keep up with West.
Best guess: West 37, Parker 14.
(7 p.m. kickoffs)
Middleton at Janesville Craig
Janesville Parker at Madison West
Madison Memorial at Beloit Memorial
Sun Prairie at Madison East
Madison La Follette at Verona
Clinton at McFarland
Whitewater at Brodhead/Juda
East Troy at Edgerton
Big Foot at Evansville
Turner at Jefferson
Wilmot at Burlington
Badger at Union Grove
Elkhorn at Westosha
Delavan-Darien at Waterford
Monroe at Milton
Stoughton at Watertown
Monona Grove at Oregon
Edgewood at Fort Atkinson
Parkview at Horicon/Hustisford