Whitewater Whippets - Rock Valley
Coach: Jim Pease (1st Season)
2016 Result: 0-9, 10th in the Rock Valley
Three-Year Record: 3-24
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (6 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 3 First-Team, 9 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (21 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): WR (ATH)/LB Jimmy DuVal (First Team-WR) (Second Team-LB) (Honorable Mention-LB in 2015) (WSN Top 15 Class of 2018 WR), Sr.; QB/DB Daniel Fuller (Honorable Mention-QB), Sr; RB/LB Will Leibbrand (Honorable Mention-LB), So.
Other Players To Watch: WR/LB Tyler Sheffield, Sr.; OL/DL Alex Alvarez, Sr.; OL/DL Carlos Martinez, Sr.; WR/DB Tyler Lippens, Jr.; TE/LB Ismael Barajas, Jr.; WR/DB Julio Espinozo, Jr.; OL/DL Hunter Abramson, Jr; OL/DL Arturo Franco, Jr.; RB/LB Aldo Soto, So.
With the national college football powerhouse UW-Whitewater Warhawks in town, it's easy to overlook the Whitewater Whippets high school football team.
For starters, it's a program that's won just three playoff games in 35 seasons. Last year, the Whippets didn't win a single game, as they battled low numbers and a difficult Rock Valley Conference schedule.
All of that being said, Whitewater appears poised to take a step forward this year, even under an interim coach.
After having only eight combined seniors and juniors in 2016, the Whippets have incoming freshman and sophomore classes with each having roughly double that many players
One big reason for optimism: the Whippets return one of the best players in the state in Jimmy DuVal. DuVal is ranked in the top 15 of all wide receivers in the state for the 2018 class according to WisSports.net, after hauling in over 1,000 yards receiving one season ago. DuVal also made second-team all-conference at linebacker, after finishing with an honorable mention in 2015 at that position, and won first-team all-conference honors at receiver in 2016 as well.
Whitewater also sees a strong 2020 class (incoming sophomores), which earned plenty of varsity experience last season, return after an offseason to mature and develop. That 2020 group is led by Will Leibbrand, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors at linebacker as a freshman.
Whippets interim head coach Jim Pease, who also coaches the Whitewater baseball team, says there's a lot to like about both DuVal and Leibbrand.
"Jimmy is a great kid. He is a very hardworking, intelligent student and athlete. He works very hard and has earned every accomplishment that he has received," said Pease, who coaches DuVal in baseball as well.
"Will [Leibbrand] is also a very hard working athlete, who leaves everything on the field."
Last year, the Whippets program had only three seniors, including the team's leading rusher and tackler from a year ago in Ernie Magana, and five juniors. Those five returning juniors are now seniors: DuVal, second-team all-Rock Valley quarterback Daniel Fuller, receiver/linebacker Tyler Sheffield, returning starting lineman Alex Alvarez, and lineman Carlos Martinez.
The 2019 class, now juniors, includes several players who started as sophomores, including receiver/defensive back Tyler Lippens, tight end/linebacker Ismael Barajas, and receiver/defensive back Julio Espinozo. Some of the returning experienced linemen on the Whippets are from this class: Hunter Abramson and Arturo Franco are back as starters.
The previously-mentioned 2020 class had several freshman who saw opportunities on varsity. In addition to Leibbrand, running back/linebacker Aldo Soto stands out among the sophomores this year. Another large group of players are on the way, as 20 players in the 2021 class played football in eight grade.
For Coach Pease, the decision to lead the Whippets in football was an easy decision. "The district needed a head football coach, and I am glad that I am able to help them out," said Coach Pease. "I have missed coaching football in the past few years, and am excited to get back into it."
Pease, a former UW-Whitewater Warhawks baseball player who has coached high school baseball for 16 years, also has a decade of assistant coaching experience in football. He also believes his baseball experience will help him in his new dual head coaching role.
"Over the past three years of coaching baseball," said Pease, "I have established some strong relationships with the student/athletes, families, and the school district."
Whitewater had hired a different head coach this past offseason originally to lead the program. Jeff Rogers was hired back in May to replace Tom Grosinske, but that fell through. "I've seen some of these guys in baseball," said Pease. "I know how hard they work."
On the schedule, because the Rock Valley is a closed conference (the 10 teams play nine games, all against other Rock Valley opponents), Whitewater will see the same schedule of teams as they did last year. The Whippets open up against Jefferson, a squad that went 7-3 last season.
The next three games will tell plenty about where Whitewater will finish the season, as they play the other three teams that also missed the playoffs from the Rock Valley. First, it's a road game at Turner, a team that features one of the top offensive linemen in the entire state. The Whippets return home to take on McFarland before returning to the road to battle Edgerton. The latter two teams will feature strong underclassmen in several key positions, a situation that the Whippets found themselves in last season.
Whitewater will finish the conference season with five straight games against 2016 playoff teams, including both co-champions of the Rock Valley from last year as well. The Whippets host East Troy and Evansville in back-to-back weeks, then play at Brodhead-Juda. Whitewater will have Homecoming against Big Foot on October 6, then wrap up the regular season against Clinton.
It's typical in the Rock Valley that the race for conference championship is a bit muddled, 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. Edgerton 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. McFarland will have experience at most of its skill positions, with the strength of its team in the junior and sophomore classes.
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 large, talented group of upperclassmen set to increase their roles.
Whitewater looks to slot in among the group of four teams looking to make a trip to the playoffs after missing in 2016. For the Whippets, the first step is getting that first victory out of the way.