In a sport like football, experience is worth its weight in gold. With eight all-conference players returning on both sides of the ball, DeForest will be pulling a Brinks truck filled with experience and talent to the field each week.
“We are excited because we have a big senior group who are great leaders,” said Mike Minick, who is entering his 20th season as head coach of the Norskies. “They will make it all go. But, it is a new year and we will see how it goes.”
The Norskies are coming off a second-place finish in the Badger North Conference last season. They went 6-1 to place behind only Waunakee (7-0).
DeForest (8-3 overall) played in the WIAA postseason for a school-record 13th straight season last year. They dropped a 23-20 heartbreaker to Waunakee in Level 2 of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs.
“We have an experienced group of seniors but it always takes more than just that group,” Minick said. “We will need guys from the junior and sophomore groups to fit in and make everything come together.”
After averaging 34.3 points, 245 rushing yards and 116 passing yards per game last season, the Norskies could be even scarier with the ball this year.
DeForest welcomes backs honorable mention senior quarterback Trey Schroeder, who is entering his third season as a starter.
Schroeder finished last season 96-of-152 passing for 1,238 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He was also a weapon as a runner, as he carried the ball 97 times for 540 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“More than just a good football player, Trey is a great kid,” Minick said. “He is a tremendous leader and we are excited to have him back.”
Senior running back Evan Armstrong is back after earning first-team all-conference last season. He rushed for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns on 131 carries.
Armstrong is not the only talented running back the Norskies have on their roster, as junior Gabe Finley, junior Mason Kirchberg and senior Alex Endres will get some carries.
“We are excited about the guys we have at running back,” Minick said. “We have a lot of talented guys who can carry the ball.”
Finley was second on the team last year with 703 yards rushing and a team-best 13 touchdowns on 94 carries. Kirchberg rushed just 13 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns, but caught 15 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns on his way to honorable mention all-conference. Endres played entirely on defense last season.
The Norskies return two talented pass catchers from last year, senior receiver Lane Larson and junior tight end Hayden Rauls.
On his way to second-team all-conference honors, Larson led DeForest with 31 receptions for 564 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think Lane is going to have a tremendous senior year,” Minick said. “He is really working hard to help the team.”
Rauls, an honorable mention all-conference pick, grabbed eight balls for 67 yards and a touchdown.
The Norskies have a lot of talent to build around up front on the offensive line with the return of first-team all-conference tackle Jack Thennes, second-team tackle Colby Hartig and second-team center Adam White. All three are seniors.
“We like the group we have up front on offense,” Minick said. “We will only go as far as they can take us.”
As they do on offense, DeForest has talented players at every level on defense.
“We are excited about our defense,” Minick said. “We have size, speed and athleticism. It is a high IQ group on defense.”
Just like on the offensive line, the Norskies will be very strong up front on defense. They return seniors Edwyn Erickson, Alonzo Blevins, Trey Warne and Cole Yocum. Erickson was a first-team all-conference selection, while Blevins, Warne and Yocum were honorable mention picks.
“We like our front four on defense,” Minick said. “It is a senior group that has a lot of experience.”
Erickson had 28 tackles and a sack last season, while Blevins was third on the team with 46 tackles and two sacks. Warne led the Norskies with four sacks to go along with 32 tackles, while Yocum had 18 stops and a sack.
At linebacker, the Norskies welcome back first-team all-conference selection Devin Moran-Rivers (Sr.) and second-team pick Raudell Guerrero (Sr.).
Moran-Rivers paced DeForest with 59 tackles, to go along with a sack, interception and fumble recovery. Guerrero recorded 16 tackles.
The defensive backfield will be led by senior Adam Szepieniec and Endres. Szepieniec was a second-team all-conference selection a year ago, while Endres earned honorable mention.
“Zippy (Szepieniec) and Alex are really good seniors who we are excited about,” Minick said.
Endres finished the year with 27 tackles, while Szepieniec had 24.
Unlike in years past when the Norskies used the two-platoon system, they will play more guys on both sides of the ball this season.
“We changed our practices up a little bit, so that guys can go through drills on both sides of the ball,” Minick said. “Ideally, it would be great if we can play guys on just one side of the ball, but if we have to, we will play them both ways.”
Also looking to make an impact this season are Logan Bierman (Sr., receiver), Bryce Jacobsen (Jr., quarterback), Max Weisbrod (So., receiver), Nolan Hawk (So., receiver), Alex Winters (So., defensive end), Kellen Grall (So., quarterback), Trevor Konopacki (Sr., defensive back), Ruan Buschmann (So., defensive end), Trace Grundahl (Jr., defensive back), Marlon Cystrunk (Sr., defensive back), Jagger Lokken (Jr., running back), Mitch Hahn (Jr., running back), Logan Engeseth (So., defensive back), Deven Magli (So., defensive back), Aydin Kelliher (So., receiver), Cameron Larson (Jr., defensive back), Tyler Tisch (So., kicker), Oliver Vandehey (Jr., receiver), Kase Reierson (So., linebacker), Peyton Laufenberg (Jr., linebacker), Bryan Sels (So., linebacker), Jett Riese (Sr., linebacker), Cal Olsen (Jr., linebacker), Carter Ohrt (So., linebacker), Bryce Delapp (Jr., offensive line), Jake Barger (So., kicker), Bennet Girten (Jr., offensive line), Edwin Sommers (Jr., linebacker), Jadon Wilson (So., linebacker), Brad Waddell (Sr., linebacker), Braydon Harmon (Jr., offensive line), Owen McCann (Jr., offensive line), Greg Sheldon (Sr., offensive line), Austin Giddings (Jr., offensive line), Casey Noble (So., offensive line), Joe Wojcik (Jr., offensive line), Trevor Lerum (So., offensive line), Dewayne Allen (So., offensive line), Tyler Ebel (So., linebacker), Carter Loveland (Jr., defensive line), Taylor Van Ooyen (Sr., receiver), Evan Oberg (So., defensive line), Luke Castillo (So., defensive line) and Cody Kuchar (Sr., defensive line).
Waunakee is once again the team to beat in the Badger North Conference, while Mount Horeb, Reedsburg and Sauk Prairie should also be in the mix with DeForest.
“It is a deep conference again this year,” Minick said. “There are a lot of talented players and teams. It is going to be a fight to win each and every week.”
The Norskies open the season with Badger Conference crossover games against Edgewood (home, Friday) and Fort Atkinson (road, Aug. 30) before opening conference play at Reedsburg on Sept. 6.
“We want to get out to a good start this year, which we have struggled with the past few years,” Minick said.
DeForest will host Waunakee in the regulars-season finale on Oct. 18.