For more than a decade, the Badger football team has built up a tradition of success, and this past season fit in the mold of past years, as the team qualified for the playoffs for the 14th straight season.
Year in and year out, the Badger coaches make sure that the players know that the team’s expectations are to make it to the playoffs, and the school’s history of success reinforces the achievability of that goal.
“Some kids that are on bad teams, they just have a bad mindset going into the season like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ I think a lot of the guys here know we can go deep in the playoffs, so it helps the confidence throughout the year,” senior defensive lineman Will Faul said.
The Badgers’ 6-4 season got off on the right foot with a pair of big road wins in the first two weeks, topping Greendale 20-7 and Kenosha Bradford 42-14.
After losing the first four games of the 2018 season — in part because of a lack of focus during the prior offseason — the Badgers’ ability to buckle down in the summer of 2019 paid dividends in the fast start.
Head coach Matt Hensler believes that the difference in the two seasons has taught the players a valuable lesson.
“I think this group, in particular, understands the power of a great offseason,” Hensler said.
After the quick start, the Badgers rode a roller-coaster in which they lost three games and won two, with the wins and losses alternating each week, setting their season record at 4-3.
With two weeks remaining in the season, the Badgers needed two wins to clinch the playoffs, but could have snuck in by winning just one of the games. The squad mustered up its only shutout of the year 26-0 on homecoming against Delavan-Darien in Week 8, then capped the year in Week 9 with a shocking 17-7 upset of undefeated rival Waterford in a game that goes down as easily the best win of the year.
“That was probably the best part of the season, the high point,” Faul said. “Beating that high-caliber team to secure our spot in the playoffs — that was a huge game for us.”
While the Badgers’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs with a 33-7 loss against Burlington, the team’s 6-4 record was two games better than its 4-6 mark the season before. That improvement came in large part due to the contributions of the senior class, with senior players leading the team in passing, rushing, tackles, interceptions and sacks.
However, Badger’s roster skewed toward youth overall, with a handful of sophomores and freshmen playing plenty of snaps, especially in the latter half of the season. Hensler believes that the seniors leading the way with youngsters contributing where they can is the sign of a successful program.
“I think that’s the makeup of most decent teams,” Hensler said. “I think we were more like that this year, just with seniors leading the way and critical components coming from those other classes.”
The team’s seniors took an active role in leading the way, making sure they were able to help teach the younger players at their positions.
“It’s all about building depth. If you have those leaders at the top that step up and guide the younger guys, that helps them step up to better the program in future years,” senior running back Cole Gabor-Pullen said.
Not only will that leadership help the future teams, thanks to a rash of mid-season injuries that thrust the young players into the spotlight, it helped the Badgers fight their way into the playoffs.
With the offseason now upon them, Hensler has two main areas of improvement for his squad.
First off, the team needs to bulk up. While Hensler was quick to praise the athleticism of his returning players, he hopes that the team can add some size and strength to help them in the upcoming year.
The second is harder to quantify, as he hopes the team can play with a consistent energy level and effort for every play of every game. The Badgers had some ups and downs throughout the year, and if next season’s team can eliminate the lulls, it would make them all the more dangerous.
Having an even keel is an attribute Hensler has noticed in many of the top teams across the state in the past.
“There’s schools that you see that are winning conference championships all the time, and are at the state level all the time, and those schools don’t have the same talent year in and year out,” Hensler said. “You’re not going to stay at that level every year by talent alone, it’s something else. We’re trying to discover what that something else is.”
Meanwhile, the offseason also signals the end of the Badger football careers of the seniors from the squad. And that has been a bit of a tough pill to swallow for the tight-knit bunch.
“The time I’ve spent with all the guys we played with for a bunch of years, it’s hard to get over, it’ll be missed,” Faul said.