McFarland Spartans - Rock Valley
Coach: Paul Ackley (13th season); 59-59 Overall (6 Playoff Appearances; 2014)
2016 Result: 3-6, 7th in the Rock Valley
Three-Year Record: 10-18
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 1 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (3 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 10 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (25 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): DB Tysen White (Honorable Mention), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: HB/DL Cade Werwinski, Sr.; WR/DB Nick Herbst, Sr.; WR/LB Mike Marfori, Sr.; OL/DL Mitch Roeder, Jr.; WR/DB Reece Samuel, Jr.; QB/DB Drew Schwarting, Jr.; QB Cam Schaaf, So.
It's a common refrain every year, but the Rock Valley conference will be talented, deep, and competitive again in 2017.
Paul Ackley, the head coach of the McFarland Spartans, would know. He's coached in the Big Eight, the Badger, and now the Rock Valley.
"Our Rock Valley match-ups will not disappoint," says Ackley, in his 13th year as coach of the Spartans. "The Rock Valley is a very competitive conference once again."
"Each week, we will be tested with quality teams... We will be a young team, so the process of getting better will be very important." - Head Coach Paul Ackley
Last year, the Rock Valley advanced only one team beyond Level 1 in the WIAA Playoffs (Clinton made it to the state semifinal before falling to Cedar Grove-Belgium), but eight of the 10 teams in the conference have made it into the postseason in the last three years, including six in 2016. Six of the teams have claimed at least a share of a conference title in these last few years as well.
The McFarland program hopes to rejoin the scrum atop the conference. While the Spartans will be young, many of the players earned experience along side of last year's outgoing group of seniors.
"The seniors last year were a very hard working group of young men," said Ackley. "They lead their team very well on and off the field. They included many of the underclassmen, and did a good job promoting and instilling a positive team environment."
There will still be several underclassmen in big roles this year. The starting quarterback, either junior Drew Schwarting or sophomore Cam Schaaf, won't be a senior. Some of their key skill position players, like Tysen White and Reece Samuel, will be juniors. The lines on both sides will be anchored by Mitch Roeder, a junior. Plus, many of the large, incoming sophomore class will see time on varsity this year as well, including Connor Frasier, Cordell Kloth, Vivek Tara, Nick Hall, and Donovan Hudson.
That's not to say that the senior class doesn't have its own standouts. Cade Werwinski will be a factor as a two-way player at running back and on the defensive line. Nick Herbst is one of the leaders of the skill position group at receiver and defensive back. Michael Mafori will be "aggressive" at outside linebacker, said Coach Ackley.
Because of the youth of the team, Ackley knows that the biggest goals for his program will be teaching and improvement. "Each week, we will be tested with quality teams," said Coach Ackley. "We are looking to get better every week and be competitive in every game. We will be a young team, so the process of getting better will be very important."
Since the Rock Valley is a closed conference (ten teams means that all nine games will be against the other nine teams in the conference), McFarland's schedule will have the same opponents as 2016, when the Spartans went 3-6. Their wins came over Edgerton, Turner, and Whitewater.
First up for the Spartans will be East Troy at home, who return two-time all-conference honoree Chris Storandt to their offensive line, which features two other all-conference offensive linemen. The Spartans stay at home for their game against Edgerton the following week before heading to Whitewater.
McFarland's schedule kicks up a notch when they battle five playoff qualifiers in a row, starting with defending Rock Valley co-champ Evansville/Albany in week four on September 22. The Spartans finish the season at Turner in week nine.
It's typical in the Rock Valley, but there aren't any clear-cut favorites in 2017. Turner looks to bounce back behind a strong offensive line led by Brandon Malkow. Big Foot will return the conference's offensive player in the year in Jackson Enz. Brodhead-Juda's run game looks to power the Cardinals to another postseason. East Troy's strong offensive line, with three all-conference honorees, will lead their efforts. Jefferson will feature a solid defense in 2016. Whitewater brings back one of the state's best football players in Jimmy DuVal, and Edgerton, like McFarland will lead a youth movement this year behind incoming juniors and all-conference honorable mention players Jaden Johnson at quarterback and Mason Simmons at linebacker.
Of the defending conference champions, Clinton looks poised to be at or near the top of the conference again behind seven returning all-conference players, one year following a run to the state semifinals. Evansville/Albany loses 13 players that earned all-conference honors last season, but have a fourth-year varsity quarterback in Zach Mielke and another talented group of upperclassmen set to increase their roles.
McFarland looks to slot in among the group of four teams looking to make a trip back to the playoffs after missing in 2016. The Spartans swept those other three teams last season, and will need at least four wins to be in the running for the playoffs this year, and five to guarantee a seat at the table.