Last season was a tough one for the Badger football team. After losing the majority of its starters from 2017, the 2018 team got off to a slow start, losing their first four games.

Head coach Matt Hensler frequently pointed out that those issues came from a poor offseason of workouts. But this year, the team should not see those same early-season struggles.

“One hundred percent of our struggles last year were from offseason stuff. It was commitment issues and general knuckleheadery,” Hensler said. “This year, we’ve been way better about the weight room, way better about leadership.”

Hensler is not the only person who noticed the team’s more focused approach in the weight room and at practice.

“There’s a different energy this year. Last year it was just ‘get there, get it over with.’ This year, it’s ‘get there, get better,’” senior defensive back Chase Hodkiewicz said.

Badger’s squad this year will be a mix of returning players and new faces on both sides of the ball.

On the offensive side, the Badgers lost three of their top four rushers from last season, and with a team that runs the ball as much as Badger does, that is a significant loss. However, they return senior Mitch Rife, who had 469 yards for the second-highest total a year ago, as well as senior Cole Gabor-Pullen, who had 159 yards and two scores.

Badger will have experience under center when the season begins, as senior Grant DuMez will serve as the starting quarterback. After a quarterback competition in the first three games last season, DuMez was named the starter before the Badgers’ Week Four contest. But a broken collarbone early in that game sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Even though he is the clear front-runner for the job, DuMez is not taking it easy in practice.

“Everybody’s willing to compete for their spot. Even though no spot is guaranteed, everybody’s competing,” DuMez said.

Another important offensive returner will be senior guard Kyle Freund, last year’s only first-team All-Conference offensive player for Badger, who will be a leader in the ever-important trenches.

On the defensive side of the ball, in a run-heavy Southern Lakes Conference, the Badgers will need to be stout up front. Luckily for Badger fans, they will be.

A pair of three-year starters return on the defensive line in seniors Dalton Creighton and William Faul. Faul was Badger’s leader with 3.5 sacks a year ago, as well as the only returning All-Conference defensive player, earning second-team accolades.

Even though the boys up front will lead the charge, do not sleep on Badger’s secondary, either. Hodkiewicz led the team in interceptions a year ago with three and should be primed for another strong season of ball-hawking.

After a 4-5 regular season last year, the Badgers just squeezed into the playoffs before a 35-15 loss to Mukwonago in the first round ended their season. With a rich history of playoff success at Badger, this season’s squad believes they are going to return to those winning ways.

“We’re bringing it back this year. We’re going to go deep,” Faul said.

However, his teammate was quick to clarify that returning to their Southern Lakes dominance was priority number one.

“Our first goal is conference, then we’ll worry about playoffs,” Freund said.

While Hensler was proud of his players’ moxie, he had a more measured approach.

“Well, we can’t put the cart before the horse. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’d rather have the guys believe they have an opportunity to be good than stepping into the season and doubting where they’re at,” Hensler said.