Adam Bunderson believes a strong start to the season could be the difference between a third straight playoff berth for Janesville Craig or a step back to mediocrity.

The Cougars open the season Friday night by hosting Beloit Memorial at Monterey Stadium in the final Big Eight Conference game between the two schools. They play crosstown rival Janesville Parker in Week 2.

Parker and Beloit were were a combined 2-16 last season.

“We don’t have the experience coming back that we’ve had the last couple of years, so we’ve got to build confidence as a football team early on, especially with the number of underclassmen we’re going to have playing,” Bunderson said. “We’re still going to be a team that takes things one game at a time.

“There are so many guys gone off last year’s team that were three-year starters for us that graduated, and so our job as coaches is to find enough capable guys, regardless of what year they are, to fill those spots. We’re going to dress seven or eight sophomore, and they’re going to play.”

Craig will once again run an option-based offense. The Cougars averaged 22.4 points per game last season but must replace two-year starting quarterback Ben Coulter. Bunderson believes he has a very capable replacement in senior Eric Hughes.

“I think Eric is a perfect fit as far as what we ask our quarterbacks to do,” Bunderson said. “He’s a big, strong kid now as a senior, very athletic and very smart. I only have to tell him something once.

“And because he’s got such a good baseball background, he’s got a very strong arm and has been very sharp (in) practices as far as finding the open receiver.”

Sophomore Marshaun Harriel, senior Cuame Harriel, junior Eli Shucha and sophomore Demarcus Devalk are expected to see plenty of carries in the backfield, while senior Parker Glissendorf and junior Kyle Wynn will serve as lead blockers at fullback.

“We’re a lot thinner at running back than we have been, but all four of those guys are talented,” Bunderson said. “As long as we stay healthy, we’ll be fine there.”

The offensive line will be anchored by Zach Veium, who was a first-team all-Big Eight selection last season. The 6-foot, 330-pound senior will play left guard, with senior Ben Suter slated at center. The 6-2, 290-pound Suter missed all of last season with an injury.

Brady Schenk, Markis Burks and Marshawn Gilmore are also expected to start on either the offensive or defensive lines.

Senior Magnus Jenson returns at tight end, with sophomore Caleb Brager and junior Eric McLevige starting at wide receiver.

“Early on, McLevige is probably our most improved player, and Jenson is going to have a good year for us,” Bunderson said. “If we can protect Eric and give him some time to throw, he’s got some weapons to throw to.”

Craig will stay in its standard 4-3 base defense. Bunderson likes to have four linemen with their hands on the ground and two safeties.

“I gave up calling the offensive plays so I could concentrate a little more on everything else that was going on, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Bunderson said.

“In our league, you have to be able to not only stop the run but pressure the quarterback. That’s something that we’re really going to emphasize this year.”

Craig allowed 168 points last season in its four losses and only 49 in its six wins.

Senior Jon Hernandez returns at nose tackle for the Cougars, with junior Koby Porter back at defensive end.

Glissendorf and Wynn return at linebacker, with senior Mitchell Schumann and sophomore Jordan Thompson vying for the other starting spot.

Hughes was a second-team all-conference defensive back last season and should lead an athletic and talented secondary. Marshaun Harriel will start opposite Hughes at cornerback, with senior Sam Hart also in the mix. McLevige, Brager and Cuame Harriel are the safeties.

Junior Chip Dose will handle the placekicking and punting duties.

Craig’s overall numbers are down in terms of roster size, but Bunderson said that seems to be the norm conference-wide.

“Five or six coaches that I talked to are in the same boat as us,” Bunderson said. “Madison West doesn’t even have enough for a freshman team.

“But I’m very pleased with the guys we do have and the way they’ve competed thus far. We’ll be young, but if we can build some confidence early, you never know.”

Janesville Craig 2019 roster

No. Name Yr. Ht. Wt. Pos.

2 Marshaun Harriel So. 5-9 160 RB/DB

3 Cuame Harriel Sr. 6-1 165 RB/DB

4 Eli Shucha Jr. 5-7 155 RB/DB

5 Kaden Hodgkinson So. 6-1 170 QB/DB

6 Eric Hughes Sr. 6-1 180 QB/DB

8 Mitat Ibraimi Sr. 5-9 130 RB/DB

9 Kyle Wynn Jr. 6-0 190 RB/LB

10 Jack Foley Jr. 5-9 160 RB/LB

11 Josh Udefhofen Jr. 6-0 165 WR/DB

12 Sam Hart Sr. 5-11 175 QB/DB

15 Dan Deltgen Jr. 5-11 170 QB/DB

16 Caleb Brager So. 6-1 150 WR/DB

17 Adam Babler Sr. 5-11 195 WR/DB

20 Demarcus Devalk So. 5-9 160 RB/DB

21 Davon Serrano Sr. 5-3 155 RB/DB

22 Brandon Hanna Jr. 6-0 170 WR/DB

24 Eric McLevige Jr. 6-3 180 WR/DB

25 Ben Kealy Sr. 6-0 150 WR/DB

26 Armani Bates Sr. 5-9 180 RB/DB

31 Jordan Thompson So. 5-7 160 RB/LB

32. Matthew Staver Sr. 5-11 175 WR/DL

33 Parker Glissendorf Sr. 5-10 180 RB/LB

35 Mason Ehret Jr. 5-10 205 RB/LB

40 Addison Frasier Jr. 6-0 160 WR/LB

41 David McWilliams Sr. 5-6 170 RB/DL

45 Nathan Hargarten Sr. 6-2 200 TE/LB

46 Caleb Choulnard Jr. 5-10 200 WR/LB

47 Trey Bock So. 6-1 190 TE/LB

50 Mitchell Schumann Sr. 5-11 205 OL/LB

51 Braeden Hopkins Jr. 6-2 210 OL/DL

54 Jon Hernandez Sr. 5-10 235 OL/DL

57 Ben Suter 6-2 260 OL/DL

60 Brady Schenk Jr. 5-10 245 OL/DL

61 Alex Martine Jr. 5-6 215 OL/DL

63 Brennan McCombs Jr. 5-9 260 OL/DL

64 Marshawn Gilmore So. 5-9 210 OL/DL

65 Jesus Alfonso Sr. 5-10 210 OL/DL

67 Draven Hutto Jr. 6-0 200 OL/DL

68 Zach Veium Sr. 6-0 330 OL/DL

70 Daniel Greene Jr. 6-4 280 OL/DL

71 Joe Olson Sr. 6-2 150 WR/DB

72 Jacob Leith Jr. 6-2 215 OL/DL

73 Koby Porter Jr. 6-1 220 OL/DL

74 Jayden Leavy Jr. 6-1 290 OL/DL

75 Markis Burks Jr. 6-5 220 OL/DL

76 Andrew Rinehart Sr. 6-0 350 OL/DL

80 Joe Olson Sr. 6-2 150 WR/DB

81 Alex Thompson Jr. 6-5 220 TE/DL

82 Cole Bertagnoli Jr. 6-0 180 WR/LB

83 Ben Lane Jr. 5-11 150 WR/DB

85 Ross Fitzgerald Sr. 6-0 170 TE/DL

87 Magnus Jenson Sr. 6-2 185 TE/DL

88 Chip Dose Jr. 6-2 255 K/P