In some leagues, a strong sophomore class could help a high school football team contend for a conference title or at least a playoff berth.
The Big Eight Conference is not one of those leagues.
That fact was not a revelation to Janesville Parker head coach Clayton Kreger. But with relatively small senior and junior classes in his program a year ago, he was forced to turn to a bevy of sophomores and to see what happened.
The results were predictable. The Vikings went 0-9, scoring more than seven points just twice and giving up an average of 42 points per game.
The senior class remains small in numbers in 2019, but Kreger believes the group is strong when it comes to leadership. That, combined with a junior class that got a slew of experience last season, has Kreger and the Vikings optimistic that they will take a step forward.
“We’re still going to be young, but we’re going to be experienced, as well,” Kreger said. “I think (after last year) you really realize sophomores are young. And when they’re playing against 18-year-old men on the varsity level, that’s challenging.
“I thought our kids fought last year all the way through, and they’ve had pretty good offseasons, so we’re excited.”
Nathan White and Bryce Heerey are the Vikings’ two senior captains who had breakout campaigns a year ago and will play both ways.
“They’re three-sport athletes who both feel like sons to me,” Kreger said. “They’re taking the juniors under their wings. They care about the entire program, no matter how many games we win now or in the future. They really care.”
White and Heerey will anchor the left side of an offensive line that returns all five starters. The remaining three returners are all juniors in center Jesse Severson, guard John Simons and tackle Jake Oehrke.
Additionally, junior Matthew Hartwig returns as a tight end who can both block and catch passes. He’s the team’s leading returning receiver.
“He’s got the best hands I’ve seen in a long time and is another one of those sophomores last year who got thrown into the mix,” Kreger said. “So the entire front line is coming back, which is awesome.”
Exactly who that front line will be blocking for or catching passes from was still up in the air when this edition went to print.
Due mostly to injuries, Parker rolled through four different quarterbacks a year ago before then-sophomore Sam O’Leary settled in as the top option down the stretch.
O’Leary returns and was attempting to fend off Braxton Conners—who was in line to start last year before breaking a finger in the opener—as well as Kaden Vernon and Jamel Everson, a 6-foot-4 transfer.
“It’s a battle,” Kreger said. “Obviously Sam has the upper hand, being the starter last year. A kid we can trust, with a 4.0 or 3.9 GPA, a kid who does the right things.
“But it’s an open battle, and Sam knew that and put in the offseason … to try and keep that spot.”
Parker also returns its top rusher from a year ago in junior Garrett Sanwick. Sanwick ran for 268 yards and four touchdowns as a fullback.
Senior Michael Anderson returns as a tailback after getting some work there last year, with Jax Spoden a newcomer that can work at either running back position.
Other receiving targets in the lineup could include Ian Ramirez, Vernon, Everson, Domanic Bowen, Patrick Mahaffey and Nick Lux.
“We looked back … and we threw the ball almost 50 percent of the time last year,” Kreger said. “So maybe getting back to more of the Parker way—using the run to set up the pass.”
Heerey was the team’s leading tackler a year ago with 53, including four for losses. White had a team-best seven tackles for loss.
Seniors Justin Schoville and Zach Schoville return at linebacker.
Kreger identified several players—including lineman Salvador Acosta, linebacker Jacob Law, Andrew Nickols and Ashton Vickers—that had strong offseasons and will look to make an impact defensively.
He also said junior Wyatt Yager has emerged as one of the program’s toughest players and could be used at end or outside linebacker.
“We’re moving to a three-man front,” said Kreger, whose team showed more of a 4-3 look.
Other players who could see time up front are Brandon Gunderson, Devon Shetler and Ethan Ramirez.
A pair of sophomores, Tre Sanda and Anthony Brooks, will start as defensive backs, a unit that also includes Ian Ramirez and Bowen.
Ideally, Kreger will not need to use as many sophomores as he did a year ago.
That said, with an experienced junior class, the Vikings believe they can contend for a playoff spot out of the Big Eight in their final year in the league.
“We don’t have 30 seniors, so I was a little worried going in that we’d only have between five and 10 seniors,” Kreger said. “But Nathan, Bryce and Justin Schoville, they’ve got guys buying in right now.
“Last year, we took our bumps and bruises, but they never gave up then and never gave up in the offseason, either. They’ve got their own team goals, and getting back to the playoffs is one. It’s the last year in the Big Eight … and we want to do something with it.”
Parker 2019 roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Wt. Pos.
1 Sam O’Leary Jr. 5-10 160 QB/DB
2 Braxton Conners Jr. 6-0 170 WR/DB
3 Frenchon Johnson So. 5-8 157 WR/DB
4 Kadon Vernon Jr. 6-1 156 WR/DB
6 Jamel Everson Jr. 6-4 222 QB/LB
7 Jesus Leon Hernandez Jr. 5-8 128 RB/LB
8 Domanic Bowen Sr. 5-9 160 WR/DB
9 Jacob Law Jr. 5-9 177 DL/LB
10 Jameel Ceesay So. 5-10 141 QB/DB
14 Patrick Mahaffey Jr. 6-3 162 WR/DB
15 Anthony Brooks So 6-0 170 WR/DB
16 Treveon Sanda So. 6-1 181 WR/DB
19 Blake Krueger So. 5-9 147 QB/DB
20 Jax Spoden So. 5-9 172 RB/LB
21 Mason Barnes So. 5-5 103 WR/DB
22 Cayden Erickson Jr. n/a n/a TE/DL
23 Jazerion Quince So. 5-4 180 RB/LB
24 David Zavala Jr. 5-6 166 K/P
25 Owen Nenno So. 5-4 135 RB/LB
26 Ian Ramirez Jr. 5-2 110 WR/DB
27 Remy Brown Jr. 5-6 162 RB/LB
28 Dre Harris So. 5-11 180 WR/DB
30 Zack Schoville Sr. 5-11 156 RB/LB
31 Jesse Pritchard Jr. 5-10 205 RB LB
33 Evan Terry Jr. 6-2 168 WR/LB
34 Marcellus Johnson Sr. 6-0 180 RB/LB
35 Desmond Johnson So. 5-5 120 WR/DB
36 Nevyn Spenske So. 5-5 129 WR/DB
39 Bryce Heerey Sr. 6-3 197 TE/DL
40 Garrett Sanwick Jr. 5-11 196 RB/LB
41 Michael Anderson Sr. 5-6 150 RB/DB
42 Justin Schoville Sr. 5-10 162 RB/LB
44 Devon Shetler Sr. 5-10 219 RB/DL
47 Grant Voegeli So. 6-0 188 TE/LB
48 Ke’Shawn Prtichard Jr. 6-2 142 WR/DB
51 Bryce Heerey Sr. 6-3 197 OL/DL
52 John Simons Jr. 6-0 242 OL/DL
53 Jesse Severson Jr. 5-8 221 OL/DL
55 Abiathar Curry So. 6-4 252 OL/DL
56 Sam Walters So. 6-1 153 OL/LB
57 Salvador Acosta Jr. 5-6 221 OL/DL
58 Christian Cabrera Fr. 6-0 264 K/OL
59 Trace Jacobson So. 5-8 220 OL/DL
61 Noah Strong So 5-6 209 OL/LB
62 Andrew Nickols Jr. 5-8 196 OL/LB
64 Jayden Yoeun So. 5-5 236 OL/DL
65 Brandon Varela Gunderson Sr. 5-9 335 OL/DL
66 Wyatt Yager Jr. 6-2 179 OL/DL
68 Trenton Grangaard So. 6-4 225 OL/DL
70 Dylan Dummer Sr. 6-0 249 OL/DL
71 Jeremy Schoville So. 6-0 196 OL/DL
72 Jailyn McCumber So. 6-3 278 OL/DL
73 Ethan Ramirez Sr. 5-10 214 OL/DL
75 Nathan White Sr. 5-11 256 OL/DL
76 Colton Sommers Jr. 5-10 243 K/OL
77 Alec Anderson Jr. 5-11 194 OL/DL
78 Ashton Vickers Jr. 6-2 266 OL/DL
79 Jacob Oehrke Jr. 6-0 262 OL/DL
80 Dylan Icenbice Jr. 6-8 174 RB/LB
81 Ian Breidenstein So. 6-2 140 WR/DB
84 Jacob Brost So. 5-11 172 TE/LB
85 Seth Anderson Sr. 5-11 151 WR/LB
86 Nicolas Lux Jr. 5-8 162 WR/DB
87 Matthew Hartwig Jr. 6-2 219 TE/DL