Badgers will rely on chemistry
Team searching for sixth straight playoff appearance
August 17, 2011 | 07:57 AMLeadership. Attitude. Chemistry.
These are the three main qualities coach Matt Hensler is hoping will lead his Badger football team to the promised land this fall.
Although the season starts Friday at Mukwonago, Hensler said preparation began months ago.
"It started back in January," Hensler, now in his fifth season, said Monday. "The seniors took over the weight room. They have tremendous work ethic. And many juniors followed suit."
After plenty of preparation, the Badgers are ready to follow up on a roller coaster 2010 (6-5 overall) which started with a four-game losing streak followed by a six-game winning streak before a loss to powerhouse Kenosha Bradford in the playoffs. The win streak featured Badger's first ever Division 1 playoff victory, a 16-14 home triumph over Janesville Parker.
This season, Badger will have to cope with the loss of several key players from strong playoff runs the last two seasons, including all-conference running back Trevor York, center Brad Nugent, linebacker Branden Allen, lineman Mario Blanquel, safety Mike McBride, cornerback Adam Van Schyndel and kicker Brendan Gruenwald-Schmitz.
"It's the nature of the beast," Hensler said. "Wtih a good program, you have good seniors. I appreciate the efforts of last year's seniors."
The two main cogs to a successful triple option, the quarterback and fullback, are back for the Badgers. Junior quarterback Peter Krien, the team's third-leading rusher with 744 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, and leading rusher Rory Klean (762 yards, nine touchdowns), a senior fullback, will lead the offense.
"The offense starts with the quarterback and fullback," Hensler said.
Filling in the void left by York (871 total yards, nine touchdowns) will be senior running back Ed Ruzga, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound combination of power and speed who qualified for state in track and wrestling this past year. Ruzga also will fill in a gap on special teams, where York returned two kicks and a punt for scores last year.
"Eddy will carry the ball more this year and is pretty darn good," Hensler said.
Badger also welcomes back first-team all-SLC senior tight end Eric Winger and senior offensive lineman Nate Wilson, who switches from offensive tackle to center. Also, three of last year's four starting defensive linemen, including senior defensive ends Romo Barriga and Tom Cychner (first-team all-SLC, all region last year) along with senior defensive tackle Zach Weglarz (5-11, 280), are back.
"I'm very happy with having most of the line back," Hensler said.
Junior starter Chris Walker returns at linebacker, and Krien is a returning starter at safety. Also, Klean will see some time at outside linebacker, but Hensler wants to limit Krien and Klean's defensive snaps due to the physical toll they will take on offense. Defensively, Hensler said the linebacking corp and secondary will be inexperienced.
Hensler has enjoyed the contributions of newcomers Taylor Hildebrandt, a junior lineman, Nate Kendzior, a senior running back, and sophomore safety Matt Reynolds.
"Taylor has been our biggest surprise," Hensler said. "He is one of those kids we've noticed, and he will get a ton of playing time. Nate will see a lot of time and has been excellent so far. Matt is a little guy but is tough as nails. He will also see some time at running back."
Hensler said Walker, Reynolds and sophomore Austin Borst will share time in the return game.
"We have good bodies and decent speed," Hensler said.
Also, three kickers are in the mix to replace Gruenwald-Schmitz, a first team all-conference kicker last year. Sophmore Tom Ritzman and two soccer players, senior Peter Karr and junior Kyle Janikowski, will compete for the spot. Hensler said all three are decent, and Janikowski is kicking better every day despite it being his first time trying out for football.
Right now, Hensler said the team's biggest concern is depth and experience.
"We are not very deep," he said. "We must find some kids to rise up. A lot of starters are doing a good job, but we must get the backups game ready. Our numbers are down a bit. We must get new guys adjusted and catch the new kids up to speed. There are a handful of guys that didn't play much last year."
Mixed bag at scrimmage
Badger worked out some early jitters during Saturday's scrimmage at Milton.
"We had some good and some bad," Hensler said. "I'm optimistic about the offensive line and their pad levels. The quarterbacks made good reads, and the running backs did a good job of running and blocking. The defensive line and linebackers did alright. The line was good against the run. But we got stuck on some blocks and had coverage mishaps. We must be more assignment-sound and eliminate mental errors."
Waterford and Wilmot will be favorites in the Southern Lakes Conference, according to Hensler. Overall, he said the SLC will be competitive.
"Elkhorn, Burlington, Delavan and Westosha Central will all be good," he said. "We have a good conference, and I'm pretty excited. It's definitely our goal to be in the mix with them. We want to compete for the SLC title and make the playoffs. But the most important thing is the SLC season."
For the fourth straight year, Badger will open its season against Mukwonago Friday night at 7 p.m. Badger will visit the Indians, who beat them 36-14 in the season opener last year. Hensler hopes his team starts the season strong.
"They have a very good program," he said. "They have some big, physical kids. We must take a step up and match their level of intensity. It's important to get off to a good start."