Despite injuries and inexperience late in the year, Madison La Follette still made the playoffs and got a good look at the next group of players that will buoy the squad in 2018, led by two-way all-conference star Kayvion James-Ragland.
"Hopefully, we won't have that deer-in-the-headlights look this year," said head coach Scott Swanson. "The experience we gained last year will help us this year."
That's in reference to how many young players had to step into large roles to finish out the 4-6 campaign last year, but Swanson noted that the first game out on the field in 2018 shouldn't phase the Lancers, since they've already had that moment.
La Follette only graduated three seniors that started from last year, but one of them was Anthony West. "We'll miss him," said Swanson, recalling how he's started or played every skill position on offense in the past two years to account for missing players. West, also an outstanding basketball player, was the Lancers' rep in the WFCA All-Star Game.
This year, the Lancers will have a two-way quarterback battle. Senior Ray Broughton and junior Ben Probst both had starts last year, but both were lost to injury midway through the season. Whoever ends up at quarterback will have to throw to a largely untested group of receivers. "It's going to be a battle out there," said Swanson. "We sort of relied on Anthony [West] to do a lot over there."
One of the keys to the team's success will be Kayvion James-Ragland, who couldn't get out in space much but still pounded away to lead the team in rushing touchdowns and was second on the team in yards last season.
Up front, the Lancers bring back plenty of experience on both sides of the ball. Swanson believes that the lines along with Ragland and the linebackers will be keys for the Lancers in the early going. All-conference players Gary Barnes and Peter Conley join James-Ragland to anchor the middle. The secondary was the hardest hit by graduation, with Nate Seward and Anthony West both graduating, so returning starter Malik Cameron will be one of the bridges from last year to this year in the defensive backfield.
La Follette didn't try many extra points or field goals last year (only about a half-dozen attempts) but the Lancers will have their top two punters back. Broughton went down with injury during the season so Tyquan Turner stepped in to punt. There's enough at the skill positions coming back that the return game should also be a plus heading into 2018.
La Follette will jump right into the Madison city clashes, starting with Madison West in Week 1. The Regents made it to Level 3 of the playoffs a season ago. Then, the Lancers head across town to play Madison Memorial in Week 2.
After a road game against Beloit Memorial on August 31, La Follette will host the Janesville schools, Parker and then Craig, in back-to-back weeks. Then, it's a road game against the Sun Prairie Cardinals in Week 6 on September 21.
Our Madison Taxi Game of the Week broadcast on September 28 is La Follette hosting Verona for Homecoming. The big finish to the season continues with a game at Breese Stevens against rival Madison East for the Lussier Cup. Middleton comes to Lussier Stadium for the regular season finale. The Cardinals have eliminated the Lancers from the playoffs the past couple of seasons.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Madison La Follette head coach Scott Swanson:
Madison La Follette Lancers - Big Eight
Head Coach: Scott Swanson (5th Season), 25-17 Overall (2-4 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 4-6 (4-5), 5th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the D1 playoffs to Middleton, 41-8)
Three-Year Record: 17-14 (1-3 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 6 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (14 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 12 First-Team, 18 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (45 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): RB/LB Kayvion James-Ragland [🏈 WSN] (2nd Team-RB and LB), Sr.; DL Gary Barnes (2nd Team-DL), Sr.; DL Peter Conley (HM-DL), Sr.; WR Jaden Nix (HM-WR) Sr.
Other Players To Watch: QB/P/DB Ray Broughton, Sr.; OL/DL Raymond Bailey, Sr.; DT/OL Garrett Kohl, Sr.; LB Jason Vargas, Sr.; CB Malik Cameron, Sr.; DB Nic Cooke, Sr.; LB Kade Rasmussen, Sr.; LB/RB LaDell Cannon, Sr.; WR Jaheim Ingram, Sr.; DL Nolan Bakken, Sr.; K Robert Shively, Sr.; QB Ben Probst, Jr.; P/QB Tyquan Turner, Jr.; OL/DL Luke Vitale, Jr.; WR/DB Charlie Kunkel, Jr.; DE/OL Mason Saunders, Jr.; RB Jaylend Brown, Jr.; RB Isaiah Davis, Jr.; RB Erik Gessner, Jr.; DL Marco Garcia, Jr.; DL Tramale Robinson, Jr.
BIG Games: vs Madison West, August 17; at Sun Prairie, September 21; vs Verona, September 28 [ Madison Taxi Game of the Week] (Homecoming); vs Middleton, October 12