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Prep football preview: Sun Prairie to get a fight from Verona, Madison Memorial in Big Eight

Prep football preview: Sun Prairie to get a fight from Verona, Madison Memorial in Big Eight
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2018 STANDINGS

Sun Prairie 8-1 (10-2 overall); Madison Memorial 8-1 (8-2); Verona 7-2 (7-3); Middleton 6-3 (6-4); Janesville Craig 6-3 (6-4); Madison La Follette 4-5 (4-6); Madison West 3-6 (3-6); Beloit Memorial 2-7 (2-7); Madison East 1-8 (1-8); Janesville Parker 0-9 (0-9).

2018 WIAA Division 1 playoffs: Sun Prairie advanced to quarterfinals; Madison Memorial, Verona, Middleton, Janesville Craig and Madison La Follette lost in first round.

Third-seeded Sun Prairie def. sixth-seeded Middleton 42-36 in first round of WIAA Division 1 playoffs, def. seventh-seeded Sussex Hamilton 31-13 in second round, lost to top-seeded Fond du Lac 33-7 in quarterfinals; eighth-seeded Madison La Follette lost to top-seeded Fond du Lac 56-14 in first round; fourth-seeded Verona lost to fifth-seeded Hartland Arrowhead 63-21 in first round; second-seeded Madison Memorial lost to seventh-seeded Sussex Hamilton 35-21 in first round; fourth-seeded Janesville Craig lost to fifth-seeded Wales Kettle Moraine 36-6 in first round.

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS

First teamOffense: Zach Veium, sr., OL, Janesville Craig; Gunnar Kilen, sr., OL, Verona; Luke Vitale, sr., OL, Madison La Follette; Jason Ceniti, sr., QB, Madison Memorial; Kallion Buckner, sr., RB, Middleton; Kam Marshall, sr., RB, Madison Memorial; Haakon Anderson, sr., WR, Verona; Charlie Kunkel, sr., WR, Madison La Follette. Defense: Billy Johnson, sr., DL, Middleton; Dominick Landphier, sr., DB, Sun Prairie; Charlie Kunkel, sr., DB, Madison La Follette. Special teams: Jake Wuebben, sr., P, Middleton.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jason Ceniti, 6-1, 195, sr., QB, Madison Memorial: Ceniti returns for the defending co-champion Spartans after throwing for 1,597 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2018. He’s ranked as the No. 2 senior quarterback in the state by WisSports.net.

Billy Johnson, 6-4, 275, sr., OL/DL, Middleton: Air Force Academy commit Johnson is a key figure along the line of scrimmage, particularly on defense, for the Cardinals (No. 5 senior defensive lineman by WisSports.net).

Gunnar Kilen, 6-7, 280, sr., OL/DL, Verona: The heavily recruited Kilen should help the Wildcats put together a formidable offensive line (No. 5 senior offensive lineman and No. 8 overall senior by WisSports.net).

Adam Vandervest, 6-6, 290, sr., OL/DL, Verona: Western Michigan recruit Vandervest gives the Wildcats strength in the trenches (No. 10 senior offensive lineman and No. 18 overall senior by WisSports.net).

Kam Marshall, 5-9, 170, sr., RB, Madison Memorial: Marshall’s running ability complements the Spartans’ passing game. He had 1,116 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in 2018 (No. 7 senior running back by WisSports.net).

Kallion Buckner, 5-10, 165, sr., RB/DB, Middleton: Buckner, who had 1,134 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns last year, leads the Cardinals’ potent rushing attack (No. 8 senior running back by WisSports.net).

Jackson Acker, 6-2, 200, jr., RB/DL, Verona: Acker, who has orally committed to the University of Wisconsin, totaled 528 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns as a sophomore.

Charlie Kunkel, 6-2, 175, sr., WR/DB, Madison La Follette: Kunkel is a significant all-around player for the Lancers, a first-team all-league performer as a receiver and defensive back.

Colin Schaefer, 6-0, 170, sr., WR, Sun Prairie: With Cooper Nelson’s graduation, Schaefer takes on a primary role at receiver for the defending co-champion Cardinals (No. 5 senior receiver by WisSports.net).

Jake Wuebben, 6-2, 231, sr., TE/DL/P, Middleton: Wuebben is a versatile performer for the Cardinals (No. 9 senior by WisSports.net).

Zach Veium, 6-0, 330, sr., OL/DL, Janesville Craig: All-conference guard Veium returns to lead the offensive line for the Cougars.

Dominick Landphier, 6-1, 180, sr., WR/DB, Sun Prairie: Landphier leads a top-notch defensive backfield that includes Jamel Stone and Dominick Backes (Landphier, No. 10 senior defensive back by WisSports.net).

THINGS TO WATCH

Tight league race: Madison Memorial and Sun Prairie shared the Big Eight title last season and are expected to be in the title mix again, this time with Verona and Middleton. Sun Prairie was the league coaches’ favorite, narrowly over Verona and Madison Memorial. Sun Prairie plays host to Madison Memorial in the season opener. Verona’s high-powered offense – including running back Jackson Acker and Keegan Lindell, receivers Aubrey Dawkins and Haakon Anderson, quarterback Adam Bekx and highly recruited linemen Gunnar Kilen and Adam Vandervest – could give the Wildcats an edge. Madison West coach Brad Murphy thought so, calling Verona “hands down” the conference favorite. Wildcats coach Dave Richardson believes his team can compete for a top spot in the conference, but added, “The Big Eight is one of the most competitive conferences in the state, so achieving that goal will be no easy task.” This will be the last year of this configuration of the Big Eight, due to next year’s statewide football realignment, which moves the Janesville schools to the Badger Conference. It also will be the final year of every regular-season game being a conference game.

New leader in Beloit: Beloit Memorial has a new coach in Ken DuBose. He replaces Rodney Wedig, the new Milton coach. DuBose most recently coached in Illinois – as an assistant at South Elgin from 2017-19 and head coach at Rockford Jefferson from 2015-17.

Taking charge in Middleton: Jason Pertzborn is the singular head coach at Middleton after Pertzborn and longtime coach Tim Simon served as co-coaches last year. Simon remains on staff as an assistant. Longtime assistant Tom Cabalka, who had been the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator and was the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association assistant of the year for last year, has retired. Brad Rogeberg steps in after working with Cabalka for 20 years and also playing for him, Pertzborn said.

COACHES’ FAVORITES

1, Sun Prairie; 2, Verona; 3. Madison Memorial.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

BELOIT MEMORIAL

Coach: Ken DuBose, first season (0-0 at Beloit Memorial, 4-14 overall).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 16/21.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 1/3.

The lowdown: DuBose takes over a young team, which he said has many up-and-coming sophomores. “I do feel like we have a great future,” he said. Shelvin Garrett, Fred Davis and Radonis Smith are expected to lead the spread offense. The offense is in the developmental stages, with many of the Purple Knights playing new positions. “We want to play football in space,” DuBose said. The 4-2-5 attacking defense will be led by Theo Brown-El, Matt Gibson and Jackson King.

JANESVILLE CRAIG

Coach: Adam Bunderson, two years (10-8).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 12/25.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 2/3.

The lowdown: Bunderson described the Cougars’ season in 2018 as a “great year.” But Craig had a senior-dominated team, meaning there are many starters to replace and underclassmen competing for those spots. “We are striving to make the playoffs for a third straight year and will need young guys to step up early to make that happen,” Bunderson said. First-team all-conference guard Zach Veium anchors the offensive line for the Cougars, who run a no-huddle, triple-option attack and use multiple formations. Eric Hughes, a second-team all-conference safety, will compete to play quarterback. Parker Glissendorf, who plays fullback on offense, returns at linebacker in the 4-3 alignment. Jon Hernandez and Koby Porter lead the way along the defensive line.

JANESVILLE PARKER

Coach: Clayton Kreger, fifth year (9-29).

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Letterwinners (returning/lost): NA/NA.

Starters returning (offense/defense): NA/NA.

The lowdown: The Vikings seek to make a move up after finishing at the bottom of the Big Eight last season with Kreger saying their approach will be “one day at a time, one game at a time.” The offense is a “power” attack, with Janesville Parker playing a 3-4 alignment on defense. Players who have caught Kreger’s eye includes junior quarterback/defensive back Sam O’Leary, junior wide receiver/defensive backs Ian Ramirez and Kaden Vernon and junior running back/linebacker Garrett Sanwick. In addition to those players, Kreger said others demonstrating strong work entering the season were senior wide receiver/defensive back Domanic Bowen, senior offensive/defensive linemen Bryce Heerey and Nathan White, senior running back/linebacker Zack Schoville, junior offensive/defensive linemen Salvador Acosta and Wyatt Yager, junior defensive lineman/linebacker Jacob Law, junior offensive lineman/linebacker Andrew Nickols and sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Treveon Sanda. O’Leary was a top passer and Sanwick a top rusher for the Vikings in 2018.

MADISON EAST

Coach: Jeremy Thornton, third year (1-17).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 22/10.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 9/9.

The lowdown: The Purgolders return most of their starters on offense and defense and hope to show improvement in the league standings. “We are ready physically and mentally to compete,” Thornton said. “As a team, we have to prepare and execute consistently to win this season.” Madison East will operate out of run-and-shoot offense, while using a 3-5 stack defense. Senior quarterback/defensive back Phil Roh III, senior running back Devion Clay and junior wide receiver Jevan Boyton were among solid contributors last year.

MADISON LA FOLLETTE

Coach: Scott Swanson, six years (29-23).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 18/17.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 6/5.

The lowdown: Swanson has a strong group of seniors, with many three-year starters leading the team. Quarterback Ben Probst, who threw for 15 touchdowns in 2018, directs the attack, featuring a power-run game out of the shotgun. Probst has top receiving targets in Charlie Kunkel (seven receiving touchdowns), Dakovin Prather and Andrew Rajkovich, while running back Jaylend Brown will lead the ground game. Luke Vitale, an all-conference performer and three-year starter at left tackle, leads an offensive line that returns five seniors who have seen extensive playing time and includes a group of up-and-coming juniors. Senior linebacker Mason Saunders, who had 75 total tackles and was the Lancers’ leading tackler last year, is a stalwart in the 4-2-5 scheme. Defensive lineman Erick Lumpkin is a key run stopper. The Lancers have secondary and linebacking depth, with Kunkel leading the defensive backs.

MADISON MEMORIAL

Coach: Michael Harris, second year (8-2); 28-37 overall.

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 19/14.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 7/5.

The lowdown: After sharing the conference title with Sun Prairie last year, Harris said the Spartans are regrouping because of the graduation loss of numerous significant seniors. “Our team is young, but energetic and quick learners,” Harris said. The Spartans’ pro-style offense will be led by senior quarterback Jason Ceniti (regarded as one of the state’s top senior quarterbacks), senior running back Kam Marshall, junior running back Kabaris Vasser, senior wide receivers Max Hoeser, Garret Bergum and LeKwan Lewis and senior offensive linemen Tyson Nash, Nick Carl and Rick McGuire. Madison Memorial runs a 4-2-5 defense, led by several seniors: linebackers Kyle Murphy and Kaden Reetz, defensive back Devin Friedrich, defensive lineman Roary Jones and defensive end Kyle Doll.

MADISON WEST

Coach: Brad Murphy, fourth year (17-14).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 22/10.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/6.

The lowdown: Eleven sophomores and two freshmen started a year ago, and Murphy hopes that experience pays dividends this season. “I love our group of kids and we are excited to get back out on the field,” Murphy said. Quarterback Ezra Thompson returns after being sidelined with a knee (ACL) injury last year, Murphy said. Thompson will run the shotgun pistol offense, featuring split backs. Nazier Jones returns at running back. Will Gutenicht will shift back to tight end after being called on to play quarterback in 2018. “Will is the leader of our football team and I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for him,” Murphy said. Khari Sanford, Zach Mercier and Sammy Smith will be receiving targets. The Regents will use 4-3 and 4-4 schemes on a defense led by defensive back Matt McLain, last year’s leading tackler, and Smith and Gutenicht, who both can play linebacker and defensive line. “Those three kids will set the tone for our defense,” Murphy said.

MIDDLETON

Coach: Jason Pertzborn, second year, 6-4 (was co-head coach last year).

Letterwinners returning: 33.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/4.

The lowdown: Running back Kallion Buckner returns to lead the Pro-I attack for Middleton, which averaged 35 points per game and ran for more than 2,200 yards last year. Seniors Zac Mayhew and Luke McChrystal were key offensive line starters last year. Clay Craker, who started every game as a sophomore but was injured last year, returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and further bolsters the line. Pertzborn will use preseason to identify the team’s quarterback, fullback, receivers and tight end. Quarterback Bryce Carey must be replaced. The Cardinals return their kicking threat, as junior Sawyer Pertzborn begins his third year on varsity as the placekicker. Brad Rogeberg takes over as defensive coordinator of the 4-3 scheme. Defensive lineman Billy Johnson, an Air Force Academy recruit, and defensive end Jake Wuebben lead the way up front, with Ben Litschfield back at linebacker. Senior Jadin Brown and juniors Cole Yanke and Bryce Henson also should be key contributors on defense. Wuebben ranks as one of the state’s top punters.

SUN PRAIRIE

Coach: Brian Kaminski, 17 years (127-48).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 25/18.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 4/4.

The lowdown: Kaminski’s Cardinals shared the conference title with Madison Memorial last and open the season at home against the Spartans, who surprised Sun Prairie in last year’s first game. An athletic 3-5 defense returns for Sun Prairie defensive coordinator Tim Bass, led by its entire secondary, featuring Dominick Landphier, Dom Backes and Jamel Stone. Terrance Briggs leads the way up front. Nathan Schauer, who rushed for 1,071 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2018, headlines the power running game in the spread offense, though Kaminski is concerned how the rebuilt offensive line will perform after five of the linemen graduated. Receivers Colin Schaefer (30 receptions in limited action due to an injury) and Landphier and tight end Peyton Jenkins are dangerous targets. But quarterback Richie Gilles must be replaced. Kaminski believes his team’s kicking game will be strong, led by junior kicker/punter Owen Konopacki.

VERONA

Coach: Dave Richardson, 20 years (150-60).

Letterwinners (returning/lost): 52/19.

Starters returning (offense/defense): 7/5.

The lowdown: Richardson has a whopping 52 letterwinners returning for the final season at Curtis Jones Field and believes Verona is a close-knit team due to the leadership of senior captains Haakon Anderson, Adam Bekx, Ben Cramer and Aubrey Dawkins and dedicated junior and senior classes. The Wildcats’ pistol wing-T offense could be explosive with quarterback Bekx (1,807 passing yards in 2018), running backs Keegan Lindell (727 rushing yards) and Jackson Acker (582 rushing yards) and receiver Anderson (512 rushing yards, 46 receptions for 689 yards). Acker, a junior who’s a standout in the discus in track and field, already orally committed to UW. Dawkins, sidelined most of last season due to injury, returns at receiver. Highly recruited Gunnar Kilen and Western Michigan recruit Adam Vandervest lead the formidable offensive line. The Wildcats will need to replace leading tackler Dylan Bourne, a linebacker who graduated. The 5-2 defense is led by returning secondary starters Cale Rufenacht, Michael Guy and Sam Wood and linebackers Cramer, Kyle Walton and Keegan Lindell. Defensive lineman Tyler LaHam returns and will be joined by Vandervest up front. Senior Xavier Howard and junior Cam McCorkle return from injuries and will add to the secondary depth.

Bucky!

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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.