Adam Bunderson could not believe the numbers when he started to break them down.
The Janesville Craig head football coach has more than 20 seniors out for the alternate fall season, which begins Friday night with a road game against DeForest.
Given the oddities of the pandemic-delayed season, including spring sports seasons being right around the corner, Bunderson was pleased with that number.
Still, as he started looking down the list of returning starters from fall of 2019, he realized there are just a handful back in the fold.
“We have a pretty good numbers of seniors out, all things considered,” Bunderson said. “But then looking at returning starters, we only have about five. I was surprised how low it was.
“We’ve got the potential to start five sophomores, and we could be really young at some spots. But in a spring season, we can get those guys some reps and experience, and hopefully it pays dividends.”
Craig went 1-8 in 2019 and was set to join the Badger Large Conference this past fall until COVID-19 forced the season to be postponed.
The Cougars have seven games on their alternate fall schedule—the first four on the road (DeForest, Oregon, Waunakee and Fort Atkinson) and the final three at home (Milton, Janesville Parker, Sun Prairie).
Bunderson said he has told his players to enjoy every moment after months of wondering if the Cougars would have a season at all.
“My message to the kids is we’re going to be flexible and we’re happy to be playing,” Bunderson said. “There’s no postseason, there’s no going for a conference championship. And so for everyone, it’s just being happy to have a season.”
Senior Dan Deltgen, who saw action in a few games as a junior, is slated to be Craig’s starting quarterback. He will run the option-based offense that will return to being based out of the pistol formation.
“We had gone away from the pistol a little bit the last couple years to be a little more effective throwing the ball,” Bunderson said. “But we weren’t, so we’re going to be back under center and really focus on running option.”
Senior Eli Schucha, who rushed for 177 yards in 2019, and junior Marshaun Harriel, who rushed for 134, will be the wings. Senior Kyle Wynn will line up at fullback.
Bunderson said Brady Schenk and Braden Hopkins will lead the way on the offensive line.
Defensively, linebacker Caleb Chouinard and safety Eric McLevige are the senior leaders. Chouinard had 43 tackles, including 20 solo, as a junior. McLevige had 40 tackles and intercepted a pass.
“That group of players are kind of the kids that played last year and that are our leaders and go-to guys,” Bunderson said. “They’ve been at every open gym, every practice, and they’re working hard.”
Senior Chip Dose returns as the team’s punter. He plans to punt at UW-Whitewater after high school.
Bunderson said the Cougars are working to make up for lost time heading into the first game of the season.
“I empathize with spring coaches. The weather has not cooperated, kids are on spring break, we’ve got kids with other commitments. So we’re putting in the work we can put in,” he said. “I’m used to starting the season with four hours worth of practice per day, split up over two or three sessions. Practices now, some are two hours.
“That’s been an adjustment, and we’re behind where we normally are going into Week 1.”