Middleton Cardinals - Big Eight
Coach: Tim Simon (14th Season), 103-35 Overall
2016 Result: 9-3 (7-2), 3rd in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 3 of the D1 Playoffs 28-7 to Badger)
Three-Year Record: 26-7 (3-3 Playoffs)
2016 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (13 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 24 First-Team, 13 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (52 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): OL/DL Jarrett Horst (First Team - OL) (WSN Class of 2018 Top 15 - OL) (WSN Class of 2018 Top 50 Overall), Sr.; RB/DB Dion Huff (Second Team-RB) (WSN Class of 2018 Players to Watch - RB), Sr.; TE/LB Shane Bick (Second Team-LB) (WSN Classs of 2018 Players to Watch - LB), Sr.; QB/DB Davis Roquet (Honorable Mention-QB) (WSN Class of 2018 Players to Watch - QB), Sr.;
Other Players To Watch: P Jake Genyk (WSN Class of 2018 Top 10 - P), Sr.; RB/DB James Pabst, Sr.; LB/TE Jimmy Frusciante, Sr.; OL/DL Logan Thomas, Sr.; OL/DL Grant Manser, Sr.; OL/DL Colin Liegel, Sr.; OL/DL Josh Kerns, Sr.; OL/DL Tyler Smith, Sr.; OL/DL Ryan Lewis, Sr.; TE/DL Ryan Fortney, Sr.; FB/LB Ben Statsick, Sr.; WR/DB Brogan Brunker, Sr.; WR/DB Cole Ragsdale, Sr.; QB/WR/DB Nolan Kelliher, Sr.; LB/RB Ryan Handowski, Sr.; LB/RB Jake Hoskins, Sr.; DB/WR Nolan Dahlk, Sr.; K/LB/RB Jake Hoskins, Sr.; TE/DL Max Norris, Jr.; WR/DB Sam Close, Jr.; QB/WR/DB Bryce Carey, Jr.; OL/DL Gavin Adler, Jr.; OL/DL Ortez Lockett, Jr.; LB/DB/WR Nick Kryshak, Jr.; LB/RB Connor Smith, Jr.; DB/RB Kevin Meicher, Jr.; DB/WR Devon Jackson, Jr.; K/RB/DB Joey Culp, Jr.; OL/DL Clay Craker, So.; DB/RB Ben Lichtfield, So.
BIG Games: vs Madison Memorial August 18 (Madison Taxi Game of the Week), at Sun Prairie August 25 (Madison Taxi Game of the Week), vs Janesville Craig September 8 (30th Anniversary 1987 State Championship celebration), at Verona September 15 (Madison Taxi Game of the Week), vs La Follette September 28
Expectations are high once again in Middleton, where the Cardinals are coming off of a trip to the state quarterfinals in 2016.
Head Coach Tim Simon, in his 14th year, doesn't mind it so much, since he figures that winning is a byproduct of the goals that he sets within his program.
Facing the two primary contenders for the Big 8 on the road appears to be the biggest challenge on Middleton's schedule, but the "home game" effect of hosting both Madison Memorial and Madison West is somewhat negated by the proximity of those schools.
"Our goals on and off the field are basically the same: they are always to help boys become the men they strive to be; to help foster growth in areas of self discipline, respect, work ethic, trust, responsibility; and most of all: love. Everything we do within our program is based on the foundation of love.
"If we can work toward accomplishing these things," said Coach Simon, who topped the 100-win mark last season as a head coach, "hopefully the wins will come along the way."
Last year's senior class paved the way for a very successful season, which ended in Level 3 of the playoffs. Coach Simon noted their ability to bounce back from two tough setbacks during the season (a three-point loss to Verona and a one-point loss to La Follette) to defeat some of the other top opponents they saw on the schedule, including in the playoffs.
"They were a great class and an athletic class," said Simon. "They made it to the quarterfinals last year, continuing to have the bar set high for Middleton Football."
It stands to reason, then that Middleton will be able to move forward with those players now graduated, and also overcome a rash of injuries that have beset the Cardinals before the season kicks off. Coach Simon indicated in the week leading up to the opener that as many as five players will miss half of the regular season, and some could miss even more. Among those injuries is the lone returning offensive lineman starter from 2016, D-1 recruit Jarrett Horst, a senior.
"He's got a Jones fracture," said Coach Simon, who described the injury during his appearance on The Prep Report on The Big 1070. "He'll be out for a bit, but he'll work through it."
Along the offensive line, it appears that the Cardinals will continue to have great size and senior leadership in the group. Seniors Logan Thomas, Grant Manser, Corey Parkinson, Colin Liegel, and Josh Kerns will all be in the mix, as well as junior Gavin Adler and massive sophomore Clay Craker. It will be a completely new group with the injury to Horst, said Simon.
In the backfield, not much changes from last year. Senior Davis Roquet is back, one of WisSports.net's quarterbacks to watch in Wisconsin, after picking up the starting job midway through last year. At running back, the one-two punch of second-team all-conference honoree Dion Huff and his counterpart James Pabst will balance the offense. Ben Statsick sees his role increase as a senior at fullback.
At receiver, Brogan Brunker was another top-end starter set for big things in 2016, but is also out with injury. Experience does return, however, as Luke Ballweg, a senior looks to lead a group that also includes seniors Cole Ragsdale and Nolan Kelliher (if the name sounds familiar, he's a relative of our longtime broadcaster Knobby Kelliher) and juniors Bryce Carey, Sam Close, and Max Norris.
Middleton's defense will be manned up front by a large group of seniors, including Tyler Smith, Colin Liegel, Ryan Lewis, and Ryan Fortney. A couple of younger players to watch could include Ortez Lockett and Max Norris, both juniors.
At linebacker, Shane Bick returns as a second-team all-conference pick a year ago and is on WisSports.net's watch list at the position. Jimmy Frusciante mans the middle as a senior, and a group of players including seniors Ryan Handowski and Jake Hoskins and juniors Nick Kryshak and Connor Smith will provide depth.
In the secondary, senior Cole Ragsdale returns, but there will be plenty of new faces. Nolan Dahlk, a senior, will start at corner, while juniors Devin Jackson and Kevin Meicher as well as sophomore Ben Litchfield will round out the defensive backfield.
Special teams will be nearly completely overhauled. There's still a position battle between junior Joey Culp and senior Jake Hoskins at kicker. At punter, however, Jake Genyk, who only had three punts last year, was named as one of the top 10 punters in the state by WisSports.net in the senior class. The return game will need to find some new players as well to field the ball, as most of the primary returners from last year have graduated.
Middleton won't get any time early on to warm up to the season, as they host Madison Memorial to kick off the season. Although the Cardinals soundly defeated the Spartans last year in the opener, Memorial was short-handed for the game. This year's contests figures to be more competitive. This is our very first Madison Taxi Game of the Week.
Week two takes Middleton to Sun Prairie for the battle of the Cardinals. Often a key game in the conference championship race, last year ended up being a high-scoring thriller for Middleton in their win at home. It's our second Madison Taxi Game of the Week involving Middleton.
When the Regents visit town on August 31, it marks the second home game of the season involving an opponent whose home field is only two miles away. This was a one-score game in 2016. Staying at home, Middleton will honor the 30th anniversary of their 1987 state championship team against Janesville Craig.
Week five sends the Cardinals back on the road, and they will get yet another Big 8 contender in the Verona Wildcats away from Otto Breitenbach Stadium. Part of the Great American Rivalry Series, this will also be a Madison Taxi Game of the Week broadcast for us. Last year, Verona held on for a 10-7 win.
Middleton will make a trip to Monterey Stadium in Janesville on September 22, before returning home to play La Follette in week seven. La Follette upset the Cardinals 13-12 last year.
Homecoming is October 6 against Beloit Memorial, and the Cardinals finish the season at Breese Stevens Field on Madison East's Homecoming night. Facing the two primary contenders for the Big 8 on the road appears to be the biggest challenge on Middleton's schedule, but the "home game" effect of hosting both Madison Memorial and Madison West is somewhat negated by the proximity of those schools.
Regarding the schedule, Coach Simon said that it looks like "another competitive season in the Big 8."
"Being a 10-team conference, we don't have the luxury of one or two non-conference games to 'work the bugs out'," said Coach Simon. "Week one, the conference is up for grabs."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska