Brodhead/Juda Cardinals - Rock Valley
Coach: Jim Matthys, 10th Season (74-31*), 2nd in current stint (also coached 2004-11) - 18-9 Playoffs (9 appearances; 2016)
*at publication, we noted that Matthys is 77-31 in his coaching career based on the season-ending record of each year that he coached, but have chosen to use here the information provided to us by Coach Matthys.
2016 Result: 5-5 (5-4), 4th in the Rock Valley (Lost to Lodi in Level 1 of the D4 playoffs, 49-28)
Three-Year Record: 18-13 (1-3 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (10 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 15 First-Team, 14 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (38 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/DB Brekan Day (First Team-DB), Sr.; ATH/DB Parker Johnson (Honorable Mention-WR/ST), Sr.; OL/DL Trent Davis (Honorable Mention-OL), Sr.; FB/LB Jeffrey Williams (Honorable Mention-FB), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/DB Justice Tway, Sr.; OL/DL Nate Lawrence, Sr.; DB/RB Jace Morris, Sr.; TE/LB Kaleb Erb, Sr.; RB Seth Allen, Jr.
If it seems like Brodhead/Juda is always in the playoffs, that's because for now a quarter of a century, they've been in every WIAA state football tournament.
Prior to last season, it almost didn't seem likely the streak could continue. The Rock Valley North merged with the Rock Valley South, which grouped larger schools (with enrollments placing them in Division 3) with smaller schools (such as Clinton, which made it all the way to the state semifinals in Division 5 last season). Brodhead/Juda's playoff streak seemed in jeopardy midway through 2016, when they were 1-3, until the Cardinals, who ended up in Division 4, won four of their five final regular-season games, including their season finale against playoff qualifier East Troy, to clinch a postseason berth for the 25th consecutive time.
"Our senior class has played a of lot of football the past two seasons. Their leadership will be important for our younger guys. We have some really good young players in our program right now, but they lack experience, so the sooner they grow into varsity players, the better we will become." - Brodhead/Juda Head Coach Jim Matthys
The team returns plenty of varsity experience in 2017. 15 of 22 regular offensive and defensive starters return from a year ago, and most of the losses will be along the lines. The Cardinals also lose their leading rusher and starting quarterback from last season. However, with so many starters back, especially at the skill positions, Coach Matthys believes Brodhead/Juda is in good position to contend for another playoff spot this season.
"Returning our entire defensive backfield will be key," said Matthys. The Cardinals return eight players defensively who started regularly in 2016.
Some of those returning include a pair of players who started as sophomores in Jeffrey Williams (both ways, including an honorable mention nod as an all-conference player at fullback and linebacker) and Seth Allen, one of three returning running backs in the Cardinals' offense. They will play important roles supporting a nine-man senior class led by a trio of all-conference performers.
Brekan Day returns to take on a bigger role in the running game one year following a first-team all-conference selection as a defensive back. Two starters return to the offensive and defensive lines in seniors Trent Davis (honorable mention as a defensive lineman last year) and Nate Lawrence. In the backfield with Day and juniors Williams and Allen is receiver-turned-quarterback Parker Johnson, who was an honorable mention all-conference performer on special teams and at receiver. He's also listed as a running back, and scored three touchdowns on the ground in 2016.
In addition to serving as a running back, Jace Morris started last year on defense as a defensive back and returns to a secondary that will retain all of its starters from a year ago. Joining Morris in the defensive backfield is Johnson and Justice Tway, who also starts at receiver on offense. The linebacker group will feature the services of Kaleb Erb as well.
"Our senior class has played a of lot of football the past two seasons," said Coach Matthys. "Their leadership will be important for our younger guys."
While the team will have to replace three offensive line starters and another three in the front lines on defense, the junior and sophomore classes are both talented and deep.
"We have some really good young players in our program right now," said Matthys. "They lack experience, so the sooner they grow into varsity players, the better we will become."
Matthys is also excited about how athletic the players are in his entire program.
"Team speed will be a strength," said Matthys. "Our depth overall should be better than 2016."
On the schedule, because the Rock Valley is a closed conference (the 10 teams play nine games, all against other Rock Valley opponents), Brodhead/Juda will see the same schedule of teams as they did last year, but with reversed venues.
"With a young team, and playing a nine-game conference schedule, we will need to be ready to go in Week 1," said Coach Matthys.
The Cardinals kick off their season with a series of difficult conference contests, much like 2016. First, it's a home date against Big Foot, who topped the Cardinals 28-27 to open the season last year. Brodhead/Juda then turns around and faces defending conference co-champion Clinton the following week on the road. Clinton handed the Cardinals their biggest loss of 2016, 32-0.
Brodhead/Juda returns home to play one of the conference favorites this season in Jefferson, who the Cardinals beat 27-12 on the road in 2016. Then, back to the road go the Cardinals to face Turner, who they lost to by two points last year.
Based on last year's records, the schedule lets up a bit with a stretch of three games (including two home dates) against McFarland, at Edgerton, and back home versus Whitewater.
October figures to be a critical stretch for Brodhead/Juda. First up, they will head a little more than a dozen miles northeast to face rival Evansville/Albany on October 6. The Cardinals wrap up the season against East Troy on October 13 at home.
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. Jefferson features a very strong defense and figures to be one of the favorites in the conference this year. Turner looks to bounce back behind a strong offensive line led by Brandon Malkow. East Troy will rely on a strong offensive line to pave the way towards the playoffs and conference title contention this season. Big Foot will return the conference's offensive player of the year in Jackson Enz. 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. Whitewater returns one of the top players in the state in Jimmy DuVal.
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.
"Our goal every year is to make it to the postseason and contend for a conference championship," said Matthys. "We are expecting some good, young players to grow up fast."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska