An impressive group of seniors led Janesville Craig to a second straight playoff appearance in 2018. 2019's team brings in another large senior class, buoyed by the success of several multi-sport athletes, to compete for the postseason once again.
Coach Adam Bunderson recognizes that success in other sports can directly translate into success on the football field, citing the number of baseball players that fill key roles on the football team as well. Last year, it was players like Jake Fieras, and this year, Zach Veium and others will help lead the way.
"We had a great group of seniors last year," said Bunderson. "Now it'll be up to this year's group to follow their example."
Gone are most of the starters from a season ago on both sides of the ball, most of them multi-year varsity types. The cupboard is far from bare, however. A pair of Cougar seniors are among the top players in the state at their positions.
Veium, who returns as a starter on the offensive line, and Eric Hughes, who returns as the starting safety, are both among the seniors to watch at those positions according to WisSports.net. Hughes is also heavily in the mix at quarterback, said Bunderson.
"We've got several guys we're looking at," said Bunderson. "It'll be a fun battle in fall camp."
Speaking of that quarterback position, there are as many as five candidates to start from week one, including last year's backups Sam Hart and Dan Deltgen, in addition to Hughes.
"We look for intelligence at quarterback. It's the most important position on our offense," said Bunderson.
Craig's power-option attack will also need a new primary running back, with Tressin Kussmaul now graduated. They'll have the fortune of running behind returning starter Parker Glissendorf, who earned all-conference honors last year as a fullback, and tight end Magnus Jenson, who likewise returns with starting experience and all-conference honors. In addition to Veium at left guard, right tackle Dominick Hatlevig is back as a starter on the offensive line as well.
Defensively, there's plenty of work to do. Only a handful of starters return, including Glissendorf at linebacker, Hughes at safety, and defensive tackle Jonathan Hernandez. Coach Bunderson believes those three will take on big leadership roles for the 2019 version of the Cougars.
The closed Big 8 schedule means that the Cougars will get their rivalry games out of the way right away. Beloit Memorial visits Monterey Stadium in the opening week of the season, as the two teams will not meet in 2020 or 2021. In Week 2, it's the battle for the Monterey Rock, as Craig faces rival Janesville Parker, the other team in the Big 8 moving out of the league next year.
Four of the final five games of the season are against Madison city schools, two games each sandwiched around a home game with Middleton. The Middleton game in Week 7 represents the final scheduled home game of the year for the Cougars.
It'll be the final year of Janesville Craig in the Big 8 for football. Statewide realignment will place the Cougars in the new Badger Large Conference next year.
Here's our preview with Janesville Craig coach Adam Bunderson:
Janesville Craig Cougars - Big Eight
Head Coach: Adam Bunderson (2nd Season) 10-10 (0-2 Playoffs)
2018 Result: 6-4 (6-3), 4th in the Big 8 (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 1 playoffs to Kettle Moraine 34-6)
Three-Year Record: 13-16 (0-2 Playoffs)
2018 All-Conference Honors: 6 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (14 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 7 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (34 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): OL/DL Zach Veium (1T-OL) (WSN-OL 🏈), Sr.; DB/QB/WR/KR Eric Hughes (2T-DB) (WSN-DB 🏈), Sr.; LB/FB Parker Glissendorf (HM-LB/FB), Sr.; TE Magnus Jenson (HM-TE), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: DL Jonathan Hernandez, Sr.; OT Dominick Hatlevig, Sr.; QB/DB Sam Hart, Sr.; RB Davon Serrano, Sr.; FB Armani Bates, Sr.; FB David McWilliams, Sr.; DL Trevor Johnson, Sr.; LB/OL Mitchell Schumann, Sr.; DB Cuame Harriel, Sr.; DL Zyaire Ausler-Jackson, Sr.; OL Brady Schenk, Jr.; DL/OL Koby Porter, Jr.; RB Dan Graham, Jr.; RB/WR/LB Kyle Wynn, Jr.; K Chip Dose, Jr.; QB/DB Dan Deltgen, Jr.
BIG Games: vs Beloit Memorial, August 17; at Janesville Parker, August 24 (Battle for the Monterey Rock); vs Madison La Follette, September 20; at Madison Memorial, October 18
2020 Conference: Badger Large