Wisconsin Heights Vanguards (Mazomanie) - Great 8 (8-Player)
Coach: Jeff Supernaw (2nd year)
2016 Result: 7-2 (4-2), T-2nd in the Great 8 South
Three-Year Record: 9-18
2016 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 1 Honorable Mention
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 3 First-Team, 10 Second-Team, 10 Honorable Mention (23 total)
Returning All-Conference Players: OL Alex Klaschus, Sr. (2nd Team), WR Camden Brown, Jr. (Honorable Mention; 2nd Team in 2015)
Other Players To Watch: TE/WR/LB D.J. Geishirt, Sr.; OL/DL Riley Hutzenbuehler-Harrop, Sr.; OL/DL Logan Drager, Jr.; RB/LB Payton Flamme, Jr.; RB/DB Caiden Eichorst, Jr.; QB Tommy Muschitz, Jr.; RB/DB Jack Fields, So.
BIG Games: vs Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose, September 9, 1pm; vs Oakfield, September 21, 7pm
For the third time in three years, the Wisconsin Heights Vanguards will be playing in a new conference.
After playing 11-man football in the Capitol South, the Vanguards made the switch to 8-man football in 2016, joining dozens of other schools in the state that have taken up the growing brand of football in Wisconsin. Last year, Wisconsin Heights played in the Great 8 South, finishing tied for second behind the undefeated Challengers of Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose.
"The biggest positive for Heights [playing 8-man football] is that it allowed us to play juniors and seniors at the varsity level with underclassmen contributing when they were ready, as a varsity program should be." - Vanguards Coach Jeff Supernaw
This year, Wisconsin Heights and several other Wisconsin schools will compete in 8-man football in a new version of the Great 8, which will feature five schools from the old Great 8 South. Coach Jeff Supernaw, who took over the Vanguards football program last year as the school transitioned to the 8-man game, is a proud proponent of the sport in Wisconsin.
"The 8-man game is definitely growing in the state, and I think it will continue to in years to come," Coach Supernaw said. "I am very proud to be an ambassador for a game that lets these kids keep playing the game they love."
While there are fewer players on the field, 8-man football is more or less the same as the 11-man game, says Supernaw.
"Really, the biggest difference is in the number of people on the field. 8-man offensive and defensive systems are generally pretty close to the 11-man game; however, the 8-man game tends to stress fundamentals even more. Defensively there are no safety nets, forcing you to become a good tackling team, and offensively, it becomes a much more 1-on-1 game, forcing you to be the superior fundamental football player to execute a block or assignment."
The Vanguards' first foray into 8-man football proved successful, and it certainly showed on the field: After going winless in their final season in the Capitol South, Wisconsin Heights won seven games in 2016, which matched their win total for all of their 11-man football seasons from 2010 through 2015 (six seasons).
"The biggest positive for Heights is that it allowed us to play juniors and seniors at the varsity level with underclassmen contributing when they were ready, as a varsity program should be," said Supernaw. "We no longer have to rely on underclassmen to make the jump to varsity football. Not only does this show in the win/loss column, but our as a safety issue, we aren't throwing underclassmen who may not be ready physically or mentally ready onto a field against experienced upperclassmen."
On the field, the first year of 8-man football proved to be a learning experience, both for the team and for then-first year head coach Jeff Supernaw.
"We were able to gain a better understanding of what truly translates from the 11-man game and what doesn't," he said. "We have been able to tweak some systems and improve others."
Supernaw also believes the future is bright.
"With our strong group of returning players, in addition to a large and talented freshman class, we feel we have the pieces for another successful year."
Wisconsin Heights loses some key contributors from last season, including three players who earned all-conference recognition.
"Honestly, every senior we had will be missed due to both leadership and experience," said Supernaw. "Tylan Parman was an all-conference linebacker and running back (and all-conference basketball player), Rickie Williams Jr was an all-conference linebacker (and state-qualifying track athlete), Sandis Eichorst was an all-conference defensive back, Jesse Wood was a 4-year letterman, all-conference defensive lineman, and led our offensive line last year, and Tyler Flamme, Dylan Lemke, and Will Seston were all major contributors as well (Tyler was an all-conference baseball player and Will was an all-conference basketball player). We are losing some very talented athletes."
On the Vanguards' schedule, they will have a chance to avenge their pair of losses from last year on their home turf.
First, it's a September 9 date with Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose, who boasted an undefeated record in 2016. Then, just 12 days later, they will take on Oakfield on September 21 in a Thursday night affair. Oakfield finished 4-2 in the old Great 8 South with Wisconsin Heights in 2016. Both games are State Line Conference games.
As of publication, Heights will play five home games in 2017, beginning with the game against the Challengers on September 9.
The new version of the Great 8 features Jamboree participants Abundant Life/St. Ambrose and Oakfield, who figure to be contenders for the conference title. Great 8 teams will also play independent teams from Northern Illinois to fill out the schedule.
The 8-Man Football Jamboree, in its final year before a WIAA-sponsored 8-team tournament begins next year, allows only schools with a three-year enrollment average below 200, so Heights will not be able to participate, and will finish its 2017 season on October 20.
[Ed. Note: A previous version of this article referred to the 'State Line Conference'. Rather than a true inter-state conference, 8-player teams from Wisconsin and Illinois will play each other in a loose association as 8-player football continues to grow in both states.]