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August 21, 2012 | 05:51 PM
Running the football.

It's what the Badger football team does better than just about anybody. Line up the triple option, make the right read and charge down the field, bowling over anybody in the way.

This simple formula has helped the local boys capture two Southern Lakes titles (2011, 2007) and reach the playoffs in all five of head coach Matt Hensler's seasons.

The defending SLC co-champs (with Waterford and Wilmot) welcome back their offensive leader this fall in senior quarterback Peter Krien, who led the team with 958 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Krien, who enters his third season as starting quarterback, leads a roster chock full of experience on both sides of the ball, including eight players on defense who started at least one game and a battle-tested offensive line and receiving corps.

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The Badgers lost in the first round of the playoffs last year by one point on a blocked field goal just a week after losing to Waterford in double overtime. Badger must replace some serious talent, including Eddy Ruzga, a Division 1 college football player at Army, Eric Winger, a two-time all-SLC tight end, Tom Cychner, an honorable mention all-state selection, all-SLC picks Romo Barriga (DE) and Nate Wilson (C) and fullback Rory Klean, a two-year starter.

At 7-3 a year ago, Hensler said the boys had a very successful season. They averaged an eye-popping 314 yards per game on the ground. Badger must find a way to replace half of that output vacated by Klean and senior Chris Walker, who is not with the team this season. Walker transferred to Hononegah High School in Roscoe, Ill.

But have no fear, city football fans, a host of junior speedsters are poised to step up and carry the ball.

Returners Austin Borst, Matt Reynolds and Andy Cychner should pick up the slack.

"Reynolds is tremendous," Hensler said. "He has been on varsity since he was a freshman so he's like a third-year senior. He's a great leader, and his work ethic and motor are unbelievable. Borst is fantastic, and Cychner will be a big surprise."

Tony Ashley and Christian Sontag should get some carries, and Robert Johnson and Andrew Allen will play fullback.

Hensler admitted the team is focusing a bit more on the passing game, which accounted for less than 10 percent of the offense a year ago.

"We will still hammer the ball as best we can," he said. "But we are a bit more conscious that we need to open things up a bit. We want to call better pass plays at the right time, not just on third and long. As a team and staff, we are paying special attention to it."

Junior quarterback Collin Broderick is a passing threat behind Krien. The two have made each other better players.

"They both do a great job technique-wise, and they really have been pushing each other," Hensler said. "Krien has been fantastic throwing the ball, and Broderick is more physical running the ball."

The boys will have plenty of weapons in the arsenal. Most receivers return, including junior Jake Kozlowski (127 yards, two touchdowns), Mike Szeszol, Bryan Kostein and Tom Ritzman. Also, two monstrous tight ends, Rob Slagle (6-4, 230) and Josh Doyle (6-4, 250), should nicely complement the triple option.

"He's had a great camp," Hensler said of Slagle. "He didn't play a lot last year, but he's been terrific. Generally speaking in high school football, the tight end is open quite a bit."

The offensive line features "a lot of bodies that have played a lot on varsity," Hensler said. Tayler Hildebrandt, Carlos Garcia, Matt Brumm, Cole Radtke and Mike Habrel all were key linemen last year. Newcomers Logan Tenney and Erik Sundstrom are both juniors.

The defense may be the strong suit of the Badgers this season.

Minus an open battle for two defensive end positions, the local boys are loaded in the secondary and return eight kids who started at least one game on defense a year ago.

All four starters return in the secondary, including a fifth player who started at least one game.

"It's a pretty intense competition," Hensler said.

Trent Bobula was a first team all-SLC defensive back last year, and Reynolds earned second team honors. Borst and Ritzman, who can flat-out fly, look "dynamite," according to Hensler. Krien returns at safety, and he will see time at outside linebacker just to have all five players on the field at once.

Evan Gibson (6-0, 214) was a second team all-SLC linebacker last year. Also, Hildebrandt was a second team all-conference nose tackle last season. Along with Garcia, Hensler said he will piece together the defensive line with three or four offensive linemen for rest purposes.

Joining Gibson at linebacker are Johnson, senior Jeremy Fischer, Cychner and Allen.

The two biggest question marks are at defensive end.

"We're getting there," Hensler said. "Brumm, Doyle and Nick Masini have all looked good. Doyle reminds me of Barriga. He's a big, physical, athletic dude. It's fun to start with a big body and mold him."

Habrel and Johnson could also see time at defensive end.

The Southern Lakes is "the best it's been" from top to bottom, Hensler said. He said Waterford, who advanced to the Division 2 state title game a year ago, returns nine players on defense.

Also, look out for Wilmot.

"People are making a huge mistake thinking they'll be down," Hensler said. "They have more all-SLC guys than any other team. They have an all-state receiver and a new offensive coordinator in Keiya Square (who coached for Delavan-Darien last year)."

Hensler added the sleeper pick is Burlington, led by senior quarterback Jayden Essman and senior receiver Ty Dennis, a Lyons resident. Westosha Central and Delavan-Darien should fight for the final playoff spot.

As always, the Badgers' goals are to make the playoffs, win conference and live to play another game come playoff time.

"We'll know more in a couple weeks," Hensler said. "Teams separate themselves by Week 3. Week 1 is just weird, and there's a huge jump from week one to two. You know by Week 3 which direction you're going."

Badger opens the season Friday night at home against West Allis Hale.

"They are very fast and aggressive," Hensler said. "They blitz from every angle. They have a lot of talent and speed. We must capture the intensity we didn't have in the scrimmage. Also, we need no turnovers or penalties and to control the ball. You hear that stuff all the time, but it's true."

A slow start

At Friday's scrimmage at Milton, the Badgers squared off against the Red Hawks and New Berlin Eisenhower, two strong programs.

Badger came out flat, but was able to pass the ball to the tune of 4-for-8 and three long passing scores.

"I was disappointed with our effort," Hensler said. "I don't know if we weren't ready or what was wrong. We jumped on Eisenhower last year, and they took it personal. I don't like when we wait. It's a bad, bad habit. We will be very intense and aggressive next week."

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