Four of the six teams in the SWC made the playoffs last year, including River Valley. The Blackhawks will try to extend their postseason run to 11 straight seasons in 2018, behind a small but talented and versatile group of seniors.
Five seniors check in for head coach Tim Eastlick and the River Valley Falcons this year, and all of them, said Eastlick, will be counted upon to contribute in big ways in all three phases.
"It starts up front," said coach Eastlick. "We bring back Keegan Smith and Brock Mahoney as seniors to lead the line." Eastlick added that another senior, Jack Kannenberg, will make a position move from receiver to offensive line.
Another senior making a position change will be Shane Liegel, who has been 2nd-team all-conference the past two seasons at running back. Liegel threw seven passes in 2017, but will be counted upon as the leading returning rusher (12 touchdowns on the ground last year) to take over the quarterback spot in 2018. Liegel threw a touchdown pass last season.
Liegel, who was fourth on the team in receiving last year, will throw to a pair of returning players who were second and third on the team in receiving in 2017: junior Josh Maier (29 catches for 473 yards and four touchdowns) and Jack Meixelsperger (9-133-1). Coach Eastlick also said that the team expects senior Dylan Thielmann to develop into a more prominent target after catching a few passes, including a touchdown, last season.
On defense, Liegel returns as one of the top linebackers in the state, racking up 85 tackles (eight for a loss) three sacks, and two interceptions last year. Brock Mahoney joins him in the position group after finishing sixth on the team in stops last year. Keegan Smith, who was 2nd-team all-conference last year on the defensive line, is also back after getting three TFLs and a sack in 2017.
Special teams will welcome back first-team all-conference punter Josh Maier, as well as Jack Meixelsperger as a kick returner, but will have to find a kicker and additional returners in fall camp.
River Valley kicks off the season on the road against Onalaska, a 9-2 team in 2017. Two home games follow, against Nekoosa and Black River Falls. The Blackhawks are back on the road for Week 4 when they visit Westby, another Level 2 playoff team from last season.
Southwestern Conference play begins on September 14 with a home game against Prairie du Chien, before taking a trip to Lancaster on September 21. Dodgeville comes to Spring Green in Week 7, and then it's back on the road for River Valley to play Richland Center on October 5. The regular season wraps up with a home game against Platteville.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with River Valley Blackhawks head coach Tim Eastlick:
River Valley Blackhawks - Southwestern
Head Coach: Tim Eastlick (18th Season) 87-63 (6-13 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 5-5 (3-2), 3rd in the Southwestern (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 4 playoffs to Racine St. Catherine's, 53-35)
Three-Year Record: 24-10 (5-3 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 7 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (13 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 24 First-Team, 16 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (49 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): QB/LB Shane Liegel [ WSN] (1st Team-LB and 2nd Team-RB; 2nd Team-LB and RB in 2016), Sr.; OL/DL Keegan Smith (2nd Team-DL), Sr.; LB/OL Brock Mahoney (HM), Sr.; WR/DB/P Josh Maier (1st Team-P), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/LB Jack Kannenberg, Sr.; WR/DB Dylan Thielmann, Sr.; WR/DE Jack Mixelsperger, Jr.; WR/LB Will Jewell, Jr.; OL/DL/LS Zach Paulus, Jr.; OL/LB Brett Baryenbruch, Jr.; OL/DL Josn Stingley, Jr.; OL/DL Dakota Ziegler, Jr.; NT/OL Dallas Mitchell, Jr.; RB/DB Will Bailey, So.;