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PREP FOOTBALL

Sun Prairie West football takes to the field for the first time

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SUN PRAIRIE — Sun Prairie West football coach Josh O’Connor and his staff started from scratch.

Sun Prairie has enjoyed a tradition of success in football, but building relationships and a culture among the athletes and coaches were the first steps when constructing a new program.

“The first thing once I was announced (as coach in February) was getting to know the athletes and starting to build relationships with them, which is a key component of building a strong culture,” the 30-year-old O’Connor said. “You have to be relationship driven to have the culture you want in place.”

High school football programs statewide conducted their first practices this season Tuesday.

For Sun Prairie West, it was the first practice in school history in preparation for the Wolves’ initial game against Madison East on Aug. 19 at the Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field. This after the Sun Prairie school district split into two high schools — East and West (in a new building) — for the 2022-23 school year.

“I wanted to be a face for them,” O’Connor said. “It was a very awkward situation that not a lot of high school athletes have to go through, where you are finishing your spring sports at one school and then the next year you will be at a totally different school. So that was a tough transition for them. I really just wanted to be there for them and build connections with them, so they’d feel like they’d have a home when that transition occurred.”

The transition has occurred.

About 105 students (including freshmen to seniors) have registered so far for football, said O’Connor, formerly a football assistant and boys track and field coach at Oconomowoc.

The team’s mindset is to improve each day and “take it one day at a time” while getting ready to play fast and physical in the opener, O’Connor said.

“It might be a little more chaos than I’d like, but it has been exciting,” he said. “The best part is when the kids are here with us they are excited, too. Our priority has been, despite the logistics being at a brand-new location, we’ve wanted to focus on making sure it’s a really good experience for our athletes.”

The Wolves’ day began with meetings at Meadow View Elementary School, because construction at the high school isn’t finished. Players stepped onto the turf practice field adjacent the high school in the afternoon.

“There is a little bit of a learning curve,” Wolves offensive coordinator Demetrius Wade said. “They have been taking it in stride. They are so eager to learn.”

The coaches now can implement their schemes. O’Connor, who will serve as defensive coordinator after coaching outside linebackers and defensive backs at Oconomowoc, said the Wolves will be multiple out of a 3-3 stack base on defense. Wade will run a multiple spread offense.

Since the players are new to the coaches, the staff wanted the system to be as versatile as possible to fit the personnel, Wade said.

“Now, us actually getting out on the field, we are excited about it,” Wade said. “We can’t wait for Thursday to be in pads, so we really can get at it and put the little finishing touches on everything.”

Sun Prairie West players weren’t available for interviews Tuesday, said LaRon Ragsdale, the school’s dean of athletics.

O’Connor expects leaders to include senior offensive lineman Tori Mielke, senior running back and defensive lineman Jay Dayne (former University of Wisconsin standout Ron Dayne’s son), senior receiver and safety Will Davis and junior linebacker and tight end Ean Ackley.

For football, the two Sun Prairie high schools have moved to the Badger-Large Conference, which also includes Beaver Dam, Milton, Oregon, Watertown and defending WIAA Division 2 state champion Waunakee.

Sun Prairie won the Big Eight Conference championship and advanced to the Division 1 state title game last season, falling to Franklin 38-17. Brian Kaminski, the coach of that team, remains as the Sun Prairie East coach. The Cardinals will be led by senior quarterback and North Dakota commit Jerry Kaminski, the coach’s son, and senior running back Cortez LeGrant Jr., both All-State performers last season.

Sun Prairie East and West will meet Sept. 16.

“It’s still love and family to everybody that’s over there (at Sun Prairie East),” Wade said. “But when it’s time to strap it up, we’ll hug it out after the game.”

Wade, 35, played football at Sun Prairie for part of his high school career. He said he was a high school assistant in Arizona for 10 years, including at a new football program, and more recently at Sun Prairie and Stoughton.

“To see it all come full circle and then be able to be part of this era here is kind of cool,” Wade said.

O’Connor, who will teach social studies at the high school, said he believes football is one of the best sports to teach values and skills in pursuing excellence and being the best a person can be.

“That’s what we define excellence as,” he said. “We try to instill in our athletes to be relentless and to be selfless. … If you embrace those, you will be pretty good as whatever you want to be.”

See the State Journal's 2022 spring All-Area boys teams, players and coaches of the year

Lodi's Lucas Heyroth, a University of Wisconsin commit, is the State Journal's All-Area athlete of the year for boys track and field. See who joined him in baseball, golf and tennis. 

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Here are the first team and honorable mention boys track and field selections from the State Journal coverage area.

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Here are the first team and honorable mention baseball selections from the State Journal coverage area.

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Here are the first team and honorable mention boys golf selections from the State Journal coverage area.

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Here are the first team and honorable mention boys tennis selections from the State Journal coverage area.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.

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