From the start, Oregon football coach Dan Kissling was struck by the energy John Klus demonstrated on the football field.

Klus had a non-stop motor.

And that led Klus to becoming the first time Kissling said he ever started a freshman at inside linebacker.

“He just has one of those motors,” Kissling said. “Ever since his freshman year — he had come to our youth camps — you could tell he was special. He had a nose for the ball and could get there.”

The recently graduated Klus, with an outstanding ability to read developing plays, became the Panthers’ all-time tackles leader during his prep career, Kissling said.

Before Klus goes off to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he is eager to compete in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Large School All-Star football game.

John Klus mug


Klus will line up at his accustomed inside linebacker spot for the South team, directed by McFarland coach Paul Ackley, in the Large School game, which begins at 5 p.m. Saturday at UW-Oshkosh’s Titan Stadium.

“I get to work with some of the best players for the South and play against top kids from the state,” Klus said. “It will be great competition. You always like competing against the best of the best in the state. I’m looking forward to it.”

The 6-foot, 215-pound Klus was an Associated Press first-team selection at inside linebacker as a senior and was a first-team choice on defense on the Wisconsin State Journal’s 2018 All-Area football team.

Klus, the Badger South Conference Defensive Player of the Year, led the state in tackles (189), with six tackles for loss, one sack and one interception.

“He’s a good all-around student and football player,” said Kissling, a former linebacker at the University of Wisconsin who coaches linebackers at Oregon, his alma mater. “He has natural instincts. … He’s very smart. He reads (plays) really, really well.”

Klus, who played at 240 pounds as a senior, attributed his strong season to attending summer camps and working on his agility and quickness, which paid off in taking on offensive linemen and shutting down running backs.

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“I put a lot of work into football before the season,” Klus said. “From my junior year to my senior year, I improved a lot. I was very pleased with my performance last year. I just wish we could have played more games.”

Oregon, which finished 7-3, was the Badger South runner-up to Monona Grove. But the third-seeded Panthers were upended by sixth-seeded La Crosse Central, 26-23, in the first round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs last fall.

“I had a great experience at Oregon in academics and athletics,” Klus said. “It was a great four years. I’m sad it’s over, but I’m excited for the next chapter. I had a lot of fun. I made great friends; they will be lifelong friends. I was glad to play so many teammates who I’ve grown up with and known for years.”

Klus also was on the Panthers’ basketball team and played golf in the spring. He took Badger South medalist honors at the conference meet in May at The House on the Rock Resort golf course in Spring Green. Klus and Madison Edgewood senior James Gilmore each shot 76, with Klus taking first in the Badger South after a scorecard playoff.

Klus said he hadn’t played basketball in years, but tried out and made the team in a reserve role as a senior.

“Whatever he does — golf, basketball — he’s really decent at it,” Kissling said.

After the All-Star game, Klus will move on to playing football at UW-La Crosse, coached by Mike Schmidt. Kissling’s son, Peter, is a senior on the UW-La Crosse football team.

“Coach Schmidt is an awesome guy,” Klus said. “And the staff is awesome. It will be a great experience. I’m happy to finally play at a higher level next fall.”

The South’s roster for the Large School game includes numerous area players, including: Klus, Tegan Christiansen, defensive back, Janesville Craig; Casey Faust, offensive lineman, DeForest; Eric Hessenauer, offensive lineman, Milton; Ben Johnson, offensive lineman, Sun Prairie; Austin Keller, tight end, Waunakee; Chase Maier, defensive end, Waunakee; Sawyer Maly, wide receiver, Waunakee; Beck Mayer, defensive end, DeForest; Drew Mickelson, offensive lineman, McFarland; Cooper Nelson, wide receiver, Sun Prairie; Derek Schwarting, quarterback, McFarland; Cade Spilde, outside linebacker, Stoughton; Matthew Wedig, outside linebacker, Beloit Memorial; and Tysen White, defensive back, McFarland.

Ackley’s staff includes several area coaches and assistants, including Stoughton head coach Dan Prahl and Cooper Nelson’s father, Scott Nelson of Sun Prairie.

The Eight-Player All-Star game begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the Small School All-Star game at 1:30 p.m. 

Players raise funds, which go to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. 


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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.