Baraboo Thunderbirds - Badger North
Coach: Steve Turkington (4th Season), 6-21 Overall
2016 Result: 3-6 (2-4), 5th in the Badger North
Three-Year Record: 6-21
2016 All-Conference Honors: 1 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 4 Honorable Mention (7 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 1 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 10 Honorable Mention (16 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): RB/LB Brandon Barbour (Honorable Mention-LB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB Alex Statz, Sr.; OL/DL Justus Newman, Sr.; RB/DB Evan Vodak, Sr.; QB/DB Dylan Barganz, Sr.; OL/LB Jacob Kimpfbeck, Sr.; RB/DL Avery Estes, Sr.; OLDL George Schreck, Sr.; RB/LB Michael Wech, Jr.; QB/DB Brock Turkington, Jr.; RB/LB Joe Zemanovic, Jr.; TE/DL Caden Blum, Jr.; WR/DB Pablo Ramirez, Jr.
BIG Games: at Monona Grove August 18; vs Mount Horeb/Barneveld September 15, vs DeForest (Homecoming) September 22, vs Waunakee October 6, vs Reedsburg October 13
After a string of three straight playoff appearances from 2004 to 2006, it has been a while since Baraboo Thunderbirds football has tasted the postseason.
Last year, then the third under Head Coach Steve Turkington, the Thunderbirds came very close to securing a playoff spot, with narrow losses to playoff qualifiers DeForest and Reedsburg by a combined six points keeping Baraboo from a return to the postseason. However, that experience will pay off for the younger players, said Turkington, now in his fourth year leading the Baraboo football program after several years as an assistant at Verona and Weston.
"Our senior and junior football players have worked extremely hard this offseason, while the majority are three-sport athletes. We have been so impressed with their work ethic. We believe we have created great depth within our program with our strength and conditioning program." - Baraboo Football Coach Steve Turkington
"The outgoing seniors had a significant impact on our football program, but also our athletic department," said Turkington, who noted that six student-athletes at Baraboo (including two in football) earned D-1 or D-2 college scholarships. "Most importantly, the seniors were tremendous leaders on and off the field. They left a legacy for future Baraboo football players to follow this season and into the future."
This year's Baraboo football team figures to be led by upperclassmen, with the task of replacing the production of the class of 2016 seniors who have now graduated, including three-time all-conference running back Noah Larson. "Noah accounted for the majority of our offense last season," said Turkington.
While not a true committee approach, it figures that several players will contribute towards moving the ball this season. "Michael Wech started at halfback for us last season, and we expect a big performance from him this year," said Coach Turkington.
In addition to the junior Wech, seniors Evan Vodak, Dylan Barganz, and junior Joe Zemanovic appear to be in line for backfield playing time.
In the pass game, juniors Caden Blum (tight end) and Pablo Ramirez (wide receiver) both saw time last year. At quarterback, in addition to Barganz, junior Brock Turkington threw a few passes in 2016.
Along the front line, Coach Turkington expects 'big things' from seniors George Schreck and Jacob Kimpfbeck.
On the defense, the Thunderbirds had one player who earned all-conference honors last year, Brandon Barbour, at linebacker. The senior is joined by fellow seniors Alex Statz (linebacker) and Dylan Barganz (defensive back). Along the defensive line, Justus Neuman and Avery Estes return for the Thunderbirds (both seniors).
"Our senior and junior football players have worked extremely hard this offseason, while the majority are three-sport athletes," said Coach Turkington. "We have been so impressed with their work ethic. We believe we have created great depth within our program with our strength and conditioning program."
With an eight-team conference in 2017, the stakes are even higher on a week-by-week basis in the Badger North. "The additional conference game makes it more difficult to qualify for the playoffs, especially in one of the toughest football conferences in the state," said Turkington, referring to Beaver Dam joining the Badger North beginning this season.
Baraboo will welcome in five playoff teams from 2016 to Beryl Newman Stadium this season, and open the season against a Badger South squad that made it to state, on the road. First up, it's Monona Grove, fresh off their appearance in the Division 2 title game.
The Thunderbirds will open up the home portion of their schedule with another crossover game, this time against Stoughton. Baraboo's Badger North opener is against conference newcomer Beaver Dam, on the road.
Staying on the road, the Thunderbirds will see Portage in Week 4. Baraboo wrapped up 2016 with a win over the Warriors, 29-21. For Youth Football Night on September 15, Baraboo will play host to Mount Horeb/Barneveld, who the Thunderbirds fought closely with but lost 19-14 in 2016.
Homecoming features a contest against DeForest, who Baraboo lost to by one point last season, 28-27. Then, the Thunderbirds make the trip to Prarie du Sac to play Sauk Prairie in Week 7, their biggest win of 2016 (a 42-10 victory).
Two home games to wrap up the season feature two of the strongest teams in the recent history of the Badger North. First, it's Waunakee coming to town on October 6, followed by the regular-season finale against Reedsburg. Baraboo mustered just seven points in the two games against the two teams in 2016.
As always, the Badger North appears to be a tough go of it in 2017, with Waunakee, Mount Horeb/Barneveld, Reedsburg, and DeForest qualifying for the postseason a year ago. For Baraboo, their goal is "to crash that party and qualify for the playoffs," according to Coach Turkington.
"Our mission statement for the Baraboo Football program is to maximize the potential of our student-athletes athletically, academically, and socially. We believe if we achieve our mission, we will see results, like a playoff-qualifying team. We want to build a program that is sustainable and is a playoff team every year," said Turkington.
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska