Badger football ready to rule SLC
August 25, 2010 | 08:37 AM
Bloomfield Township — For more than two weeks now, the Badger football squad has been putting in hard work on the Lake Geneva Middle School football field.
Two-a-day practices have separated the men from the boys, the starters from the bench players and the strong from the weak-willed.
As a team, the Badgers have made it through the grueling hardship that is training camp and are hungrier than ever to reach the fourth level of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 playoffs or even reach the pinnacle of the high school football world, the state title game in Madison.
But coach Matt Hensler, now in his fourth season as head coach (22-10), knows his guys can't look that far ahead.
"We just try to take things one game at a time," Hensler said. "Last year, we became pretty good at it. But we always look to make the playoffs first and win the Southern Lakes Conference second, or at least be in the upper half."
While Badger will be missing two-thirds of its starting backfield from last year, John Leibforth (will concentrate on wrestling) and Kyle Poplar (graduation), senior Trevor York is back and better than ever already. Although Poplar and Leibforth accounted for 2,066 total yards and 22 touchdowns last season alone, York gained more than half that total, 1,227 yards, with 11 touchdowns, as a junior. And if Saturday's scrimmage against Milton was any indication, this could be a very special year for the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder.
"On one running play, the offensive line opened up a huge hole," Hensler said. "After York ran about six or seven yards up the middle, he stiff-armed a safety and put him on his back, then broke loose for a 40-yard touchdown."
With a deadly combination of size and speed, York is looking to repeat his breakout 2009 campaign. But he won't be the only player carrying the load for Badger this year. The offense runs the triple option, so it needs plenty of guys that can pound the rock.
Hensler will rely on senior tailback Mike McBride to have a big year. McBride has been battling hip and shoulder injuries thus far, but Hensler is confident he will be a key contributor this year.
Last year, Badger advanced to the third level of the playoffs for the first time in school history before falling 27-26 to Franklin in a heart-breaker. Special teams, particularly the kicking game, didn't work too well in that game. So Badger found a stud kicker to help this year.
Senior kicker Brendan Gruenwald-Schmitz, who also currently plays goalie for the Badger soccer squad, has been booming 45-yard field goals every day in practice. He will also punt, and Hensler loves the senior's competitiveness.
"It's pretty neat that he can play both sports at the same time like this," Hensler said. "He's a tremendous golfer, basketball player and an awesome goalie. And he's a great kid. It takes a special kid to play every sport like that. He has convinced his teammates that he's committed to helping the football team despite also playing soccer. He's so smart and works so hard."
Other returning starters will include seniors Brad Nugent (center), Brandon Allen (guard) and Max Fanning at quarterback and defensive back.
Fanning started two games at quarterback last season with Leibforth hurt, and he adds a passing dimension that wasn't in the offense last year.
"Max is quick, shifty and very smart," Hensler said. "He can also play anywhere in the defensive backfield. He has a strong arm with nice touch on his passes."
Hensler also commended the abilities of his backup signal-caller, sophomore Peter Krien.
"Peter is our starting strong safety," he said. "He is really sincere and tries hard. He is coachable and very tough."
Hensler also is excited about the improvements thus far of junior fullback Rory Klean and junior tight end Eric Winger.
"Winger has been the most pleasant surprise so far," Hensler said. "And Rory is getting better with every practice. He is a big kid at 200 pounds, so he can be a hammer running the ball."
The secondary should be solid, with both starting cornerbacks, Rolando Sandoval and Adam Van Schyndl, back for more. Both started six games last year.
"They are both very experienced on the field," Hensler said. "Sandoval broke his leg last year, but he's back and he had a great scrimmage Saturday. Rolando is a track kid, he's fast and he's pretty darn good."
Looking ahead to the conference, Hensler pointed out that several of the state's top-ranked quarterbacks play in the SLC, including Delavan-Darien senior Austin Fritzinger, Waterford junior Zach Fisher, Wilmot junior Chris Nelson and Westosha Central senior Austin Damaschke. Hensler believes Waterford will be Badger's toughest foe, followed by Delavan and Burlington. His sleeper pick is Wilmot.
Badger kicks off its season at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Mukwonago, Hensler's alma-mater. Badger defeated the Indians, 21-16, at Mukwonago, last year. Mukwonago's biggest threat is senior quarterback Derek Hasanoglu.
"Derek is the high school version of Tim Tebow," Hensler said. "He is very gifted and much-improved. We will have our work cut out for us."