Madison La Follette Lancers - Big Eight
Coach: Scott Swanson (4th Season), 21-11 Overall (2-3 Playoffs; 2016)
2016 Result: 6-5 (5-4), 4th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 2 of the D1 playoffs to Middleton, 22-17)
Three-Year Record: 21-11 (2-3 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 4 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (13 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 14 First-Team, 16 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (45 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): ATH(WR/QB)/DB Anthony West (Honorable Mention-DB) (Honorable Mention-ATH in 2015), Sr.; OL Andre Dyslin (Honorable Mention-OL), Sr.; WR/DB Jake Gilchrest-Kienitz (Honorable Mention-WR), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: LB Gavin Parr, Sr.; QB/DB Sam Schmitt, Sr.; WR Case McCutchin, Sr.; WR/DB Nathan Seward, Sr.; DB Deron Mitchell, Sr.; RB/DB Kayvion James-Ragland, Jr.; DL Peter Conley, Jr.; LB/DL Gary Barnes, Jr.; QB Jaden Nix, Jr.
BIG Games: at Memorial September 8; at West September 15; at Middleton September 28; vs East October 6 (Homecoming/Lussier Cup), at Sun Prairie October 13
After a three-game losing streak mid-season that nearly took Madison La Follette out of the running, the Lancers rallied for two wins in their final three games and a big playoff upset over conference co-champion Sun Prairie in Level 1.
Madison La Follete Head Coach Scott Swanson was quick to point out in 2016 that his players never gave up, even in defeat. The Lancers lost to Madison Memorial by a single point to begin that mid-season downturn, and battled the other Big 8 co-champion, Verona, to a three-point loss on the road.
Madison La Follette beat conference co-champion Sun Prairie and third-place finisher Middleton in 2016, splitting two contests against each, and also lost a close game on the road against the other co-champ, Verona, during the season. La Follette has now made the playoffs four seasons in a row, the longest playoff streak in school history.
The season got back on track thanks to a thrilling 13-12 win over Middleton, which set the Lancers up for a playoff berth. In their playoff opener, after being drubbed while short-handed the week prior by Sun Prairie, La Follette exploded for a surprising 40-13 win over the top-seeded Cardinals. Although La Follette lost the next week against Middleton in another instant classic, it sent out the Lancers seniors on a high note for a season that could have just as easily been derailed had they not rallied in the final weeks of 2016.
Seven seniors from last year earned all-conference honors at some point in their careers, and much of the offensive yardage production has graduated, as well as the majority of the starters on both sides of the ball. Those seniors experienced the playoffs every season in which they were a part of the La Follette program.
"Our outgoing seniors had a huge impact on our program, and left Lancer Football in a much better place then when they were incoming freshmen," said Coach Swanson. "They have created the culture for our program that making the playoffs is now an expectation. Along with that comes the expectation of hard work and dedication towards being a student-athlete, and knowing that it doesn't just happen without putting in the time and work."
One key figure back is senior Anthony West, who started games at both quarterback and wide receiver last season. If West, who was honorable mention all-conference last season, takes his place on the outside, it could be up to senior Sam Schmitt or junior Jaden NIx to take over at quarterback.
Also in the backfield, the leading returning rusher is junior Kayvion James-Ragland. "[He] will see lots of carries this year, after seeing a few carries at the varsity level as a freshman and sophomore," said Coach Swanson.
The only other returning players with carries are both projected to play at receiver, West and senior Jake Gilchrest-Kienitz, who was honorable mention all-conference last year at the position. Senior Case McCutchin and possibly senior Nathan Seward could see time as well in the receiver spots.
Along the front line, senior Andre Dyslin, who was honorable mention all-conference a season ago, figures to anchor the offensive line. On the defensive side, juniors Peter Conley and Gary Barnes were solid as sophomores last year. All told, there will be plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball in the trenches this year for La Follette.
Sticking with the defense, another area of youth will be at linebacker, where senior Gavin Parr will be the elder statesman of a group of players who haven't seen much varsity experience. "[He] will help lead a young defense," said Coach Swanson.
The only other returning senior regular is Anthony West at safety. Senior Nathan Seward also saw varsity action, and a couple of other names to watch on the back end could include senior Deron Mitchell, or some two-way play from Jake Gilchrest-Kienitz, Sam Schmitt, or Kayvion James-Ragland.
Five road games await the Lancers this season, and the road trips begin right away in week one when they open the season against Janesville Craig. Last year, La Follette won a shootout, 63-48.
Two home games follow, against Janesville Parker and Beloit Memorial. Neither was an easy win on the road last year for the Lancers, beating Parker by four points and Beloit Memorial by 22.
La Follette makes its home at Mansfield stadium in back-to-back weeks, first at Memorial on September 8 and then at West on September 15. La Follette dropped both contests in a mid-season swoon a year ago that nearly took them out of playoff contention.
Verona travels to Lussier Stadium to play against the Lancers on September 22. The Wildcats handed La Follette their third straight loss last season, 24-21, setting up the Lancers for an improbable run to the playoffs in week seven of 2016, when La Follette played Middleton:
That one-point victory helped La Follette make the playoffs a few weeks later. The rematch of this game is on September 28 in Middleton. La Follette's season ended at Otto Breitenbach Stadium in 2016 in a Level 2 playoff loss at the hands of the Cardinals, 22-17.
East visits their old digs at Lussier Stadium for Homecoming against La Follette, before the Lancers wrap up the regular season against Sun Prairie. Last year, La Follette was trounced by Sun Prairie in the regular-season finale, 31-7, but won the very next week, as an eight-seed in the playoffs, over the top-seeded Cardinals 40-13.
As for the Big Eight conference race, Coach Swanson knows it'll be difficult. "Should be very competitive every week like it always is," said Swanson, regarding how the conference will shake out.
"We want to compete everyday to always improve in football and in school and the community," said Swanson. "We strive to live, show, and grow our Lancer Pride."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska