A change at the top has the Abundant Life/St. Ambrose Challengers moving in a different direction again as the program works under their third head coach in as many years, but four-year starter Mike Rhatican is back at quarterback for a run at the first-ever 8-player football playoff.
Rhatican, who has been an all-conference quarterback his first three years in high school, also earned honors on the first team as a defensive back in 2017. He'll be joined by big bodies Caleb Gerry and Will Westerhoff in front of him, and utility players Andrew Galvin, Steven Manke, and Ryan Rockwell at the skill positions. A decent crop of incoming juniors will help the depth of the program, after graduating three players with all-conference honors, mostly on the offensive and defensive lines, after last season.
In the Great 8, the Challengers won't be the only team light on seniors. Oakfield's bunch from their terrific run the past couple of seasons has graduated, and Wisconsin Heights moved through a handful of solid players as well. If AL/SA can put together another win or two, they could find the program in a postseason for the first time since 2009, when Abundant Life was a standalone 11-player football program.
Former Edgewood assistant coach Preston Knutson comes over to Abundant Life/St. Ambrose with eight seasons of football coaching experience as the head coach. He replaces Chad Henning, who is now coaching in the college ranks.
It won't take long for the Challengers to see their two primary rivals in the Great 8, Wisconsin Heights and Oakfield. They'll get them on back-to-back Saturdays to open the season at home. Friday, August 31 is AL/SA's first road game, at Elkhart Lake/Glenbeulah.
The Challengers come home to face Port Edwards on Saturday, September 8, before getting a bye week ahead of their two conference road games against Wisconsin Heights and Oakfield. The rematches continue with Homecoming on Saturday, October 6 against Elkhart Lake/Glenbeulah, and then the regular-season finale at Port Edwards on October 13.
It's the first year of the 8-player football playoff, for which the Challengers are eligible.
Abundant Life/St. Ambrose Academy (Madison) - Great 8 (8-player)
Head Coach: Preston Knutson (1st year), 0-0
2017 Result: 4-5 (1-2), 3rdt in the Great 8 (Lost in 8-Player Jamboree to Siren, 52-0)
Three-Year Record: 23-6
2017 All-Conference Honors: 4 First-Team, 1 Second-Team, 1 Honorable Mention (6 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 16 First-Team, 7 Second-Team, 1 Honorable Mention (24 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): QB/DB/P Mike Rhatican (1st Team-DB and 2nd Team-QB; 1st-Team QB in 2016, 2nd-Team QB in 2015), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/RB/DB Steven Manke, Sr.; OL/DL Will Westerhoff, Jr.; DL/WR Caleb Gerry, Jr.; RB/WR/DB Ryan Rockwell, Jr.; LB/RB Joniah Lingis, Jr.; WR/DB Adrien Dutter, Jr.; RB/LB/P Andrew Galvin, So.; RB/LB John Marsland, So.
BIG Games: vs Wisconsin Heights, August 18; vs Oakfield, August 25; at Wisconsin Heights, September 22; at Oakfield, September 28