Fort Atkinson Blackhawks - Badger South
Coach: Steve Mahoney (17th Season), 78-80 (4-11 Postseason in 11 appearances)
2016 Result: 6-5 (4-2), 4th in the Badger South (Lost 41-40 to Monroe in Level 2 of D3 Playoffs)
Three-Year Record: 9-20 (1-1 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 6 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 6 Honorable Mention (15 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 9 First-Team, 13 Second-Team, 16 Honorable Mention (38 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): RB/DL Troy Nachtigal (First Team-DL) (WSN Class of 2018 Top 15 - DL), Sr.; OL Cory Schroeder (Second Team-OL), Sr.; QB/ATH/DB Connor O'Brien (Honorable Mention-WR), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/DL Ian Carnes, Sr.; RB Draven Sigmund, Sr.; RB Tyler Moulton, Sr.; DL David Purcell, Sr.; WR/DB Nathan Schultz, Sr.; DB Nico Roscioli, Sr.; DL Hunter Dillen, Sr.; OL/DL Jordan Flodin, Jr.
BIG Games: at Waunakee August 18; at Watertown September 1, vs Monona Grove September 15; vs Monroe September 29; at Milton October 6
In 2013, Fort Atkinson went 8-2, the last playoff trip for the Blackhawks until they did it last year, going 5-4 in the regular season before knocking off Rock Valley co-champion Evansville/Albany in round one before falling in a hard-fought one-point loss to Badger South foe Monroe in the second round of the playoffs.
For Fort Atkinson Head Coach Steve Mahoney, he saw nearly a dozen seniors graduate who had earned all-conference honors this past spring, but understood what drove that group to succeed.
Fort Atkinson lost its five games in 2016 by a combined 32 points, and never by more than 14 in any single game. The Blackhawks face a similarly difficult schedule this year as they did last year in a deep Badger South (with Waunakee in one of the crossover games to boot). "The league will be very good," said Fort Atkinson Head Coach Steve Mahoney. "Top to bottom, hard to pick a favorite."
"Our senior class last year wanted to compete for a conference championship and make a run in the playoffs," said Mahoney, now entering his 17th season as head coach of the Blackhawks. "When they were freshmen, they saw our varsity go 8-1. They wanted to get us back to that level."
Mahoney, a 1991 graduate of Fort Atkinson, was impressed with the results, especially after his Blackhawks took down a conference champion in the first round. "That game was big, to let everyone know how tough the Badger is," said Coach Mahoney.
Nobody doubts the difficulty of the Badger South this season, after a year in which conference champion Monroe advanced to Level 3, falling by three points to a historic Pewaukee squad, and Monona Grove soared all the way to the state championship game, where they lost by one score.
On the field, Fort Atkinson has plenty of work to do to replace an outstanding senior class from last year, including replacing the record-setting production of running back Preston Strasburg. From the early looks of it, the Blackhawks will take a committee approach towards that end.
"Draven Sigmund will be our starting tailback," said Mahoney. "Troy Nachtigal and Tyler Moulton will also get carries."
Joining that trio in the backfield will be a familiar face at a new position. "Connor O'Brien will be our quarterback," noted Mahoney. "He runs like a tailback, and that will help in our system."
O'Brien was an honorable mention all-conference wide receiver in 2016.
Coach Mahoney is excited about his offensive line heading in to 2017, led by senior second-team all-conference lineman Cory Schroeder.
"[Senior] Ian Carnes will be one of the best lineman in the league," said Coach Mahoney. "[Junior] Jordan Flodin is a very good lineman as well. We will bring back a lot of line experience and talent."
Defensively, the focus is on senior Troy Nachtigal, one of the top defensive linemen in the entire state's senior class. WisSports.net has him rated in the top 15 of all senior linemen. Flodin and Carnes are also expected to contribute two ways, and the team also returns seniors David Purcell and Hunter Dillen.
Senior Mitch Brown returns at linebacker, fourth on the team in tackles a season ago. In the defensive backfield, Nico Roscioli and Nathan Schultz are back as seniors in a group that also includes Connor O'Brien.
Special teams will need to be worked out in camp, as all of their specialists graduated after last season, including anyone who fielded a return.
Fort Atkinson's schedule features plenty of the best that the area as to offer, including in the Badger North. The Blackhawks begin the season at Waunakee as the first football opponent on the Warriors' new turf.
Following the Waunakee game, Fort Atkinson will face each of the new newcomers to the Badger Conference. First up is a home date with Beaver Dam, before opening up Badger South play at Watertown and their highly-touted passing attack.
A pair of home games follow against Oregon and then Monona Grove on September 15, in a rematch of a wild game last year won by Monona Grove 57-56. After a trip to Edgewood, Fort Atkinson will see Monroe on September 29. The Cheesemakers swept Fort Atkinson by a combined four points in two games last season.
After their road trip to Milton, Fort Atkinson closes out the regular season at home against Stoughton. The Vikings won 23-10 one season ago.
All told, Fort Atkinson lost its five games in 2016 by a combined 32 points, and never by more than 14 in any single game. The Blackhawks face a similarly difficult schedule this year as they did last year in a deep Badger South (with Waunakee in one of the crossover games to boot).
"The league will be very good," said Mahoney. "Top to bottom, hard to pick a favorite."
Because the Badger Conference adds Beaver Dam to the North and Watertown to the South, four wins is now the threshold to clinch a playoff spot. "Watertown will make the league even better," said Coach Mahoney. "As alway,s we want to be in the mix for a conference championship."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska