Oregon Panthers - Badger South
Coach: Dan Kissling (8th Season), 20-47 (1-2 postseason in 2 appearances; 2015)
2016 Result: 1-8 (0-6), 7th in the Badger South
Three-Year Record: 14-16 (1-2 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (9 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 8 First-Team, 10 Second-Team, 18 Honorable Mention (36 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/LB Brett Wannebo (Second Team-RB), Sr.; OL/LB Sam Reynolds (Second Team-LB), Sr.; OL/DL Henry Milz (Honorable Mention-OL), Sr.; ATH/DB Kardelle Phillips (Honorable Mention-RB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/DB Jack Sommers, Sr.; OL/DL Dillon Hein, Sr.; OL/DL Nate Newton, Sr.; OL/DL Noah Karpelenia, Sr.; RB/LB Ryan Michek, Sr.; WR/DB Jahlil Turner, Sr.; QB/DB Cedric Girard, Sr.; QB/DB Nolan Look, Jr.; OL/DL Logan Ackerman, Jr.; RB/LB John Klus, Jr.
BIG Games: vs Mount Horeb/Barneveld August 25, vs Monona Grove September 1, at Stoughton September 22, vs Edgewood September 29, vs Watertown October 6 (Homecoming), at Monroe October 13
Dan Kissling has been a familiar face within the Oregon Panthers football program for quite some time.
Kissling graduated from the school in 1985 as one of the most decorated athletes in the school's history, which earned him the opportunity to play a little further up the road for the Wisconsin Badgers, as an outside linebacker.
"We have a number of guys coming back that I am really excited about, and many of them have to play like veterans right off the bat because our conference doesn't give us any easy teams. It is pretty tough each week for us." - Oregon Head Coach Dan Kissling
Now in his 8th year as head coach of the Oregon Panthers, after a decade serving as an assistant coach, Kissling seems to have the program headed in the right direction. If one were to look at last year's record, on paper it would seem Oregon struggled to compete, but that's not the case, says Coach Kissling.
"Probably the worst season in terms of injuries that I have ever been associated with," lamented Kissling. "Not little nagging ones, but major, season-ending injuries."
Several of those injuries piled up early on the Panthers, in their 30-13 season-opening loss to Waunakee, a game that they battled in until the Warriors pulled away late.
"We had five of them," said Kissling, referring to the season-ending injuires Oregon suffered early in the year, "and with our number and depth, that is hard to play at in our league."
With adversity comes opportunity, however. Several younger players were elevated into major roles, with nearly half of team's starting lineup out for most or all of the season with injuries.
"The nice thing is, we had kids step up and fill in for them, and the ones who were injured, were there every day offering their support," said Coach Kissling. "They were a fun group to be around."
Despite the injuries, Kissling pointed out that Oregon was only really out of one contest, despite the injuries and a difficult schedule, and competitive in every other game. This year, the Panthers bring back loads of experience at virtually every position, which has Coach Kissling optimistic for 2017.
"We have a number of guys coming back that I am really excited about, and many of them have to play like veterans right off the bat because our conference doesn't give us any easy teams," said Kissling. "It is pretty tough each week for us."
At quarterback, both senior Cedric Girard and junior Nolan Look are back, and combined they threw for over half of the Panthers' yardage last season.
Running back will be a position of depth for the Panthers as well. Second-team all-conference running back Brett Wannebo leads the group, with honorable mention all-conference running back Kardelle Phillips returning as well. A third senior, Ryan Michek, is also returning to the Oregon backfield.
Phillips led the team in receiving, and he will lead a group that will be relatively young and untested compared to the rest of the roster. Senior Jahlil Turner is the only wide receiver to return this year that caught a pass in 2016.
The offensive line will return plenty of experience in 2017. Seniors Henry Milz (honorable mention all-conference) and Noah Karpelenia are both back to lead the talented bunch.
Defensive line will be one of the team's strengths this year, with seniors Dillon Hein and Nate Newton back after starting all nine games last year. Junior Logan Ackerman arrived mid-season for the Panthers, and Coach Kissling said he 'did a great job' for Oregon.
In addition to returning second-team all-conference linebacker Sam Reynolds, a senior, Coach Kissling will welcome back John Klus after Klus was injured for most of 2016. "He could be one of the better LB in the league," said Kissling, noting that Klus started as a freshman in 2015. Also back at linebacker, second on the team in tackles a season ago, is senior Brett Wannebo.
In the defensive backfield, senior Jack Sommers started every contest for the Panthers a year ago, and Kardelle Phillips will contribute as well in the back half of the defense.
All of the returning players have enjoyed the benefits of having brand-new training facilities, in addition to one of the state's best-maintained playing surfaces, which is located a little ways off of Highway 14.
"We have a brand-new weight room, which might one of the biggest facilities in southern Wisconsin," said Coach Kissling. "We had one of the better summers of our speed and strength training, with many of our players having outstanding summers in the weight room."
Looking at the schedule, Oregon will face seven teams who made the playoffs in 2016, including the first four opponents they will face to start the year. Week 1 takes them to DeForest as the first leg of their Badger North crossover. In Week 2, the Panthers will host Mount Horeb/Barneveld, a team that finished runner-up in the Badger North to Waunakee a season ago.
Oregon opens up conference play at home against Monona Grove. The Silver Eagles advanced to state in 2016. The fourth playoff team from a year ago that Oregon will face is in Week 4, at Fort Atkinson. The Panthers lost to both of those teams by a combined 19 points in 2016.
September 15 marks the mid-way point of the season, where the Panthers will host Milton, who handed Oregon their biggest loss of 2016, 44-10. One week later, it's the short road trip to Stoughton to crash their homecoming in Week 6. The Vikings earned a 10-7 win to close out the 2016 regular season.
On September 29, Oregon will host rival Edgewood, a game that was decided a season ago by two key defensive plays by the Crusaders en route to a 21-7 victory. Then, Watertown comes to town, with their highly-touted spread passing attack. "Not looking forward to their quarterback-receiver one-two punch," said Coach Kissling, "but they have to play all nine games, too, so we will see how they fare."
Oregon wraps up the regular season by visiting defending conference champion Monroe, the second straight year Oregon will make the trip south to play the Cheesemakers.
Overall, Kissling says the goal, as always, is to make the playoffs, which will now require four Badger South wins to accomplish with the addition of Watertown. By making the playoffs, Kissling says that will help keep them on track for their other team achievement goals.
"I want our guys to compete every day in practice," said Coach Kissling. "[With that], our results will be better on Friday nights."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska
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