Williams Bay’s Ian Karcher has played a number of roles for the Bulldogs as one of only two seniors on the squad.

Varsity football is finally back in Williams Bay.

For the first time since 2015, the Bulldogs will take the field under Friday night lights for a full season of eight-man football.

Fans of the more traditional 11-man football may wonder if the eight-man games will look different. But while there are two fewer lineman and the field is 13 yards narrower, eight-man football is easily recognizable to hardcore and casual football fans alike.

If anybody still does not think eight-man football is the real deal, multiple players have gone on from eight-man football to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. In 2018 former eight-man football player Leighton Vander Esch was picked in the first round of the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

Williams Bay enters the fray this season by joining the Great Eight Conference, joining the likes of Oakfield and Wisconsin Heights in a hotly contested league of some of the best eight-man football teams in the state.

It will be a trial by fire for the Bulldogs players as they get acclimated in their first season by playing against perennial top dogs. But the players are not phased by it.

“After the first few games, we should get used to it,” senior Ian Karcher said.

Given that this is the first year of the varsity program, the team skews younger, with Karcher and Xavier Quiles serving as the team’s only seniors. That does not mean the team lacks experience, though, because 13 of the 14 players on last season’s junior-varsity roster return.

Unfortunately for the Bay fans, that one missing player is an important one: Quarterback Kyle Holmes graduated this past spring.

However, last season’s backup quarterback, Cole Oertel, will step up this season under center. While Oertel saw limited playing time a season ago, after a year of learning the game, head coach Jon Tomaszewski has faith in his young starter.

“He’s put in a lot of work, and I’m putting a lot on him. We’re running some pretty advanced concepts for a sophomore quarterback to be running,” Tomaszewski said.

Oertel is hardly the only young player who will be in a prominent position for the Bulldogs this season, and as such, Karcher and Quiles have taken it upon themselves to take the younger players under their wings.

“This year, we have an underclassmen majority, and right now, it’s important to make sure they’re where they need to be to improve,” Quiles said.

If there’s any downsides to Williams Bay’s upcoming season, it is that due to a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association rule about school enrollment averages, the Bulldogs will not be eligible for the playoffs this season. Even though the postseason is off-limits, Tomaszewski has made it clear to his squad that they still have plenty to play for, like going undefeated or earning a spot on the All-Conference list.

He also believes that if the Bulldogs have a strong season, it will be hard for the WIAA to justify keeping the Bay out of next season’s playoff picture.

“We’ve got to make a statement where we can, and that’s playing conference games. It’s going to be hard to ignore us if we’re successful in the conference schedule,” Tomaszewski said.

Postseason or not, people around town are buzzing, with varsity football just around the corner in Williams Bay. The players and coaches are excited to be right at the center of the school’s football mania.

“Even when we were playing JV games on Monday nights, we had full bleachers,” Tomaszewski said. “So I can’t imagine what it’ll be like on Friday nights.”

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