Evansville/Albany Blue Devils - Rock Valley
Coach: Ron Grovesteen (36th Season) 268-106 Overall (20-22 in 22 Playoff Appearances; 2016) - WFCA Hall of Fame, 2001
2016 Result: 8-2 (8-1), 1st in the Rock Valley (Lost to Fort Atkinson 49-21 in the D3 Level 1 Playoffs)
Three-Year Record: 24-7
2016 All-Conference Honors: 10 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (18 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 27 First-Team, 16 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (52 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): QB Zach Mielke (First Team-QB) (Second Team-QB in 2015) (Honorable Mention-QB in 2014) (WSN Class of 2018 Top 15 - QB), Sr.; OL Nate Kleiboer (Honorable Mention-OL), Sr.; OL Jeb Beck (Honorable Mention-OL in 2015), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: DB Tyler Aasen, Sr.; LB Owen Boss, Sr.; DB Brady Deegan, Sr.; RB Tony Pascel, Sr.; LB Hunter Overland, Sr.; LB Nolan Kicmol, Sr.; RB/DB Sam Haegele, Sr.; RB Logan Katzenmeyer, Sr.; OL Josh Shell, Sr.; DL Dane Trustem, Sr.; TE Braden Updike, Sr.; DB Sam Urquhart, Sr.; OL Braden Bergum, Jr.; DL Evan Blumer, Jr.; LB Malcom Johnson, Jr.; DL Braden Lange, Jr.; DL Jacob Shotliff, Jr.; OL Clint Bergsma, So.; TE Seth Maag, So.; TE Sullivan Geske, So.
BIG Games: vs Clinton August 18, at Jefferson August 25, vs Turner September 1, vs East Troy September 29 (Homecoming), vs Brodhead/Juda October 6
Ron Grovesteen, Evansville/Albany's head coach for now 36 years (and a longtime assistant prior to that run), chuckled when asked if he had any thoughts about stepping away from football.
"I love coaching," said Grovesteen, a member of the WFCA Hall of Fame for now 16 years. "I figure that I will coach until they tell me to stop coaching," he said, laughing for a few seconds before adding, "I don't see that day coming any time soon."
"Oh, you better be ready," said Evansville/Albany Head Coach Ron Grovesteen, who laughed when reading off the first few opponents on the schedule. "These are really good teams, and they all are in the Rock Valley, but there's no warming up to the competition."
It would be difficult to find a coach with a similar level of achievement, accolade, and diversity in their history. Grovesteen, beyond his football coaching merits, which stretch all the way back to the 1970's as an assistant coach at what is now Beloit Memorial High School, also has a terrific history as a track and field coach, a basketball assistant, and as an official for basketball and baseball. Not only has Grovesteen coached or officiated several sports, but serves on several youth sports advocacy boards and functions, and has long been a proponent of making sure his student-athletes succeed both on and off the field. Grovesteen also believes that athletes should try every sport that they like.
"I think you do yourself a disservice, if you play only one sport the entire year," said Grovesteen, noting that he played multiple sports and coaches multiple sports (Ron is still an assistant basketball coach at Evansville for the boy's team). "You can learn so much about being a leader, a teammate, playing in other sports."
Grovesteen, who coached at Evansville under Bob Berezowitz (who later became the head coach at UW-Whitewater), also coached at UW-Whitewater for a season under Forrest Perkins, for whom UW-Whitewater's stadium is named after. He believes that one thing coaches must learn, no matter how long they've been coaching, is that every season, every team, is different.
"Every season, I enjoy the team I have," said Coach Grovesteen. He said last year's senior class in football was a group of hard workers, and it showed on the field.
The challenge for Evansville/Albany this year will be finding a way to replace 13 players who earned all-conference recognition along the way of winning three straight conference championships.
Probably the most prominent returning Blue Devil is Grovesteen's grandson, who, like his grandfather, plays quarterback. Zach Mielke is now a fourth-year starter at the position, having made the all-conference team in each of his three seasons at the helm of Evansville/Albany's offense.
"It is pretty neat, isn't it?" said Grovesteen, who noted that he also coached his son (Tyler, also at quarterback) in football and other family members in other sports that he also coached.
Up front for the Blue Devils, they will return a pair of seniors who have had all-conference honorable mention honors: Nate Kleiboer and Jed Beck. Another senior, Josh Shell, also looks to return up front, with other players, including junior Braden Bergum and sophomore Clint Brzma, in the mix for playing time as well.
At running back, the Blue Devils will have to replace its three leading rushers from a year ago, including Rock Valley co-offensive player of the year, Brennen Banks. Of the remaining group of seven players who also earned carries in 2016, none eclipsed 9 carries or 47 yards in ten games, so several players will be in the mix. Logan Katzenmeyer, a senior and cousin of Chase Katzenmeyer (who was co-back of the year in the conference a year ago as a first-team all-conference athlete), is one of those players. Others in the mix will be fellow seniors Tony Pascel and Sam Haegele.
With Chase Katzenmeyer and Hayden Reese both graduated, some opportunities will be had at the receiving and tight end positions as well. Sophomores Seth Maag and Sully Geske are both big targets who could step in, as well as senior Braden Updike.
On defense, there will be a good mix of experience at all levels returning, despite losing Rock Valley defensive player of the year, Luke Rinehart. Up front, seniors Braden Lange, Evan Blumer, and Dane Trustem, as well as junior Jacob Shotliff, should be a few of the players manning the lines.
In the linebacker group, seniors Nolan Kicmol, Hunter Overland, and Owen Boss, as well as junior Malcom Johnson, who finished sixth on the team in tackles last year, are front-runners for those positions. In the secondary, seniors Tyler Aasen, Sam Urquhart, Brady Deegan, and Sam Haegele will be among those making their mark on the back end of the defense.
On the schedule, Evansville/Albany will waste no time getting right into the thick of things. The Blue Devils will meet fellow co-champion of the Rock Valley from last season, Clinton, in Week 1, the same as last year (when Evansville/Albany won 21-12). Then, Evansville/Albany will hit the road to take on Jefferson in Week 2, who the Blue Devils lost to in 2016, 20-17.
"Oh, you better be ready," said Coach Grovesteen, who laughed when reading off the first few opponents on the schedule. "These are really good teams, and they all are in the Rock Valley, but there's no warming up to the competition," said Grovesteen, naming off some of each team's strengths of the first few teams that the Blue Devils will face.
In Week 3, Evansville/Albany will host Turner at Ron Grovesteen Field, who many coaches expect to make a jump this year to the upper tier of the conference. Last year, the Trojans missed the playoffs. In fact, the Turner game kicks off a stretch of four games against opponents who missed the postseason in 2016, as Evansville/Albany then heads north to play McFarland on September 8. The Blue Devils host Edgerton on September 15, then play at Whitewater in Week 6.
Homecoming arrives September 29, with East Troy coming to town. Then, in October, the Blue Devils will see Brodhead/Juda, who will make the short trip north in Evansville/Albany's final regular season home game. The Blue Devils wrap up the regular season playing at Big Foot in Week 9.
Looking at the conference, last year's co-champs, Clinton and Evansville/Albany, figure to be contenders. Jefferson is the other team mentioned most frequently as a top contender. The other three playoff teams from the conference last year (Big Foot, East Troy, and Brodhead/Juda) are all in the mix, and many coaches expect Turner to rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 to be in playoff position. McFarland, Whitewater, and Edgerton are all in a bit of a youth movement, but with several outstanding talents in their 2019 and 2020 classes.
"There are no weeks off in this league," said Grovesteen. "If we want to win a conference championship, we're going to have to earn it."
Listen for a Prep Report feature on Coach Ron Grovesteen on The Big 1070 after 6 p.m. on August 16
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska
Disclaimer: Jimmie is a resident of Evansville, but he has no affiliation or participation with the school district or any of its athletic teams, nor do any of his family members, beyond broadcast coverage.