A skirmish in practice early last week told Janesville Parker football coach Clayton Kreger all he needed to know about the current state of his team.
Coming off a 1-9 season, the Vikings had clearly ratcheted up the intensity.
Kreger preached all offseason about the team being mentally and physically tougher in 2018, and so far he likes what he sees.
"We had a couple of fights break out in practice between our offense and defense, and even though that's something I don't condone, it showed our coaching staff and myself that they are ready to get after it," Kreger said. "Since I've been here, the intensity level is at an all-time high.
"We have only two or three starters coming back, so guys are literally fighting for positions. But they also know that at the end of the day, we are one team with one big goal, and that's to make it back to the playoffs."
Parker has missed the playoffs in five of the last six years after a stretch of 14 straight postseason berths.
If the Vikings are going to regain respectability in the rugged Big Eight Conference this season, they have to find a way to score. Parker averaged only 8.9 points per game last season and scored six or fewer points in five of 10 games.
Heading into last Friday's scrimmage at Cudahy, Kreger was trying to find a quarterback among six candidates. Sophomores Evan Terry, Kaden Vernon, Braxton Conners, Sam O'Leary and Levi Johnson were getting snaps behind center, along with senior Tremar Curry.
"We're going to be a different looking offense this year than what you've seen the first couple years I was here," Kreger said. "We scripted our offensive plays before our scrimmage and planned on throwing the ball about 40 percent of the time.
"Hopefully one of those guys steps up and takes charge."
One position not up for grabs is at tailback. Senior Casey Vanderlinden will start, and Kreger expects big things coming from the running back who stands just 5-foot-9 and weighs 149 pounds.
"Because of Casey's size, he has not been getting looks at the D1 level yet," Kreger said. "He is a very talented kid that is getting a lot of interest at the D3 and D2 level. He IS a college level football player. I just feel that his height on paper is why he is not on some schools' radar right now.
The athletic Curry and state track qualifier Brody Lippens provide versatile targets at wide receiver. Seniors Tyler Matijevich, Noah Loui, John Bowers and Andrew Meyers will also see plenty of snaps at wideout.
Senior Bryce Dyer starts at tight end.
"We feel like we've got some real threats with our receivers," Kreger said. "It's going to be up to our quarterback to get them the ball, and for our line to protect.
"You're still going to see us run sweep and trap, but we're also not going to be afraid to throw the ball on first down."
Up front, Kreger expects seniors Nic Graffin and Nathan Davis to anchor the offensive line.
"Our offense put our defense in a bad position too many times last season with a turnover or a penalty," Kreger said. "We've got to avoid that, along with doing a better job of finishing drives."
Parker's defense was good, at times, last season but surrendered far too many big plays that led to several blowout losses. Kreger believes the defense, under the guidance of former Parker and UW-Whitewater star Matt McCulloch, will be much improved.
"It simply comes down to the fact that you're going to see a much physically tougher defense this year from us, because the kids got after it in the offseason," Kreger said. "And now Matt has a year under his belt, as well. Last year, he found out about a week before practice that he was going to be our D coordinator, and that's a lot to take on."
Curry and Lippens will play both ways and start in the secondary. They will be joined by seniors Adrian Pritchard and Brandon West.
Senior Toby Garvoille--who was fourth on the team with 51 tackles last season, returns at linebacker, with seniors Dalton Trewyn and Dylan Haggerty manning the defensive line.
Although Kreger knows things have to fall into place for the Vikings to return to the postseason, he does expect a much improved product on the field in 2018.
"It still comes down to blocking and tackling," Kreger said. "If you can't do those two things, you're going to struggle.
"All we asked of the team was to be mentally and physically tougher than they were last year, and the results so far have been good. Hopefully, that translates into our games."
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