The seniors on Milton High’s football team have played together since seventh grade.
One of those seniors, Dane Nelson, said the tight-knit group’s sole mission this season was to go out on top and lay a solid foundation for years to come.
Milton earned a share of the Badger South Conference title Friday night with a 41-27 win over Watertown. It’s the first conference title for the program since 2015.
Nelson and his senior teammates were eighth-graders at that time, and prior to this season Milton had gone 3-6 in three straight seasons..
“Our big dream since seventh or eighth grade was to stick together, have a successful senior season and make a state run,” Nelson said. “And as a senior class, even though we wouldn’t get to see it grow, we wanted to build something new. We’ll be the ones starting a new tradition that, hopefully, carries on after we’re gone.
“I think the tradition and building something new really started when we beat Monona Grove this year. That’s the biggest win Milton’s had in a long time, and we’ve been able to build off of that.”
The Red Hawks are not doing it with smoke and mirrors. They’ve been dominant on both sides of the ball. The offense is averaging 38.6 points per game, while the defense is limiting opponents to 16.7 and has two shutouts.
The senior backfield duo of Nick Huber and Jerry Jones has combined for 1,374 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns, while junior quarterback Evan Jordahl is completing better than 50 percent of his passes and has 20 touchdowns passes.
The 6-foot-3 Nelson is making the most out of out of each and every reception. He has 20 catches, and nine of them have gone for touchdowns.
Milton coach Rodney Wedig said Nelson does much more than lead the team in receiving.
“Dane is one of the best downfield blockers I’ve ever coached,” Wedig said. “When we have a long run, a lot of times that play was sprung because Dane made a big block. He does all the necessary things needed to help his team.”
Jack Weberpal is one of the leaders on defense. The senior is a shutdown cornerback that opposing teams shy away from. He has two interceptions this season and is a big reason the Red Hawks’ defense has shared the spotlight with the offense.
“Jack’s a competitor and the kind of kid that you have to tell him just once to do something and he does it,” Wedig said. “He’s a playmaker and a guy that is never afraid to go one-on-one with the opposing team’s best receiver.
“The thing about Jack is that he hates to lose, whether it’s a drill in practice or anything else. He goes hard all the time.”
Weberpal said practicing daily against the likes of Nelson, Huber, Jones, Jordahl and a talented offensive line has elevated the play of the defense.
“We’ve got two studs at running back and a quarterback that throws really well on the run,” Weberpal said. “Going against them in practice makes us work that much harder and is a great test and seems to make things a little easier on Friday nights.
“Everyone thought with a new coach and a whole new system that we wouldn’t do much this year. But we knew the amount of work we put in over the summer and the talent we had coming back. We’re not surprised at all with where we’re at.”
The Red Hawks now turn their attention to the program’s first postseason since 2015. Milton has not won a playoff game since 2014.
Nelson believes his team can flourish in the postseason.
“I feel like we’ve gotten better each and every week,” Nelson said. “We don’t have a bunch of all-stars on the team, but we do have a bunch of guys that have stuck together, worked hard over the summer and executed the gameplan that coach puts out there for us.
“Everything is kind of clicking for us right now.”
A supposedly rebuilding year with a new head coach has instead turned into a championship season. And it’s not over yet for the Red Hawks and their close-knit senior class.