After winning a WIAA Division 4 state title in 2017 and losing a strong senior class, the Lodi football team didn’t have a lot of expectations coming into last season.
However, the Blue Devils turned a lot of heads with an unexpected 8-3 record from an inexperienced group.
Now this season, the expectations are again high with a talented and experienced group returning.
“I’m extremely excited about the season,” Lodi coach Dave Puls said. “We have a lot of nice players who have worked hard in the offseason. We have a good diverse group of skill guys and lineman and a nice balance of talent in the sophomore, junior and senior classes. We feel like we should be competitive even though our league is going to be tough from top to bottom.”
The Blue Devils finished third behind Lakeside Lutheran (5-0) and Lake Mills (4-1) with a 3-2 record in the Capitol North Conference last season.
The Blue Devils have set goals of competing for a conference title and making a long playoff run, but Puls wants the players to focus on short-term goals to get to the ultimate goals.
“Our No. 1 goal is to only focus on the team we have each week,” Puls said. “The No. 2 goal is to be playoff eligible, the third goal is to compete for a conference championship and the fourth goal is to go deep in the playoffs. I talk about those at the beginning of the year, but after we first meet, I refer to goal No. 1 and don’t want to talk about anything else.”
The Blue Devils have three all-conference players returning on offense, including first-team lineman Dustyn Paulson (Sr.).
Paulson is one of four lineman who started most of last season. Also back are senior Camden Waterstradt, junior Jacob Benson and junior Cade Wipperfurth. Waterstradt was an honorable mention all-conference pick last year
“I feel like having four returning starters gives us a leg up,” Puls said. “We have about three or four guys fighting for the fifth spot and they are all really talented kids.”
Senior Kade Parsons is back after earning second-team all-conference at tight end last season. He had 18 receptions for a team-high 347 yards and four touchdowns.
The Blue Devils have a number of talented guys who can catch the ball, including receivers Colin Statz (Sr.), Luke Beckwith (Sr.) and Conner Faust (Jr.) and tight end Logan Richards (Sr.).
“We are expecting Colin Statz, Luke Beckwith and Conner Faust to really step up at receiver and we have three or four other guys who are doing a nice job in practice,” Puls said. “We need them to catch and block.”
Last season, Beckwith had two catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Faust caught four balls for 59 yards.
Senior Zach Potter and junior Quinn Faust are the top contenders at quarterback this season.
“We have two guys who have started varsity games and are capable of getting the job done,” Puls said. “They are both practicing hard and bring a lot to the table.”
Potter finished last year 63-of-111 passing for 792 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Faust was 16-of-46 for 298 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Lodi has a gifted group at running back, starting with senior Colton Nicolay. Last season, he rushed for a team-high 797 yards and seven touchdowns on 130 carries.
“Colton is a veteran starter who has excellent vision, great balance, quickness and speed,” Puls said.
Junior Garrett Edge will be used at fullback and tailback this season. A year ago, he rushed 21 times for 85 yards and a touchdown.
“Garrett is a down-hill physical runner,” Puls said.
Sophomore Lucas Heyroth could also see some carries on offense. The tremendous athlete placed second in the long jump, third in the 110 hurdles and fourth in the 300 hurdles at last spring’s WIAA state track meet as a freshman.
Puls also expects his defense to be improved this season, even though they do not return any all-conference players.
“I expect that group to take a step in the right direction and improve from last year and be the leaders on the team,” Puls said.
On the defensive line, the Blue Devils will be rotating in a lot of players, including a number of starting offensive line. Puls is expecting big things from senior Mason Ripp, who had 19 tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks last season.
“Mason had a great offseason and has worked hard,” Puls said. “We expect him to create some problems for offenses.”
Richards and Nicolay return at linebacker for Lodi. Last season, Richards had 43 tackles, seven tackles for loss and a sack, while Nicolay had 30 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
“We have a couple of new guys that will be playing in the middle,” Puls said. “Jack Hansen (Sr.), Garrett Edge and Ethyn Meyer (Jr.) will also be in the mix. We have six, seven or eight guys who could play for us at linebacker.”
The Blue Devils don’t bring back a lot of experience at defensive back.
“There is going to be a learning process because we lost some good players from last year,” Puls said. “So, it will be trial and error for some of those guys, but we feel comfortable with the guys we have, like Conner Faust, Beckwith, Quinn Faust, Heyroth and Stats. They are some good skills guys, but they don’t have a lot of experience.
Adding depth for the Blue Devils on both sides of the ball this season will be Lincoln Krugman (Sr., defensive back, receiver), Ridge Clemens (So., defensive back, receiver), Matthew Kearney (Sr., defensive back, receiver), Denny Grimesey (Sr., defensive back, receiver), Brady Ring (So., defensive back, quarterback), Ayden Bilse (Sr., defensive back, receiver), Alex Rashid (So., linebacker, running back), Brandon Schroeder (So., defensive back, receiver), Amos Weber (So., defensive back, receiver), Dustin Nordstrom (Sr., linebacker, receiver), Kacey Janney (So., defensive tackle, running back), Jasper Bartholomew (Sr., linebacker, running back), Colby Statz (So., defensive back, receiver), Meier Chance (Jr., defensive end, tight end), Ben Simplot (Sr., linebacker, running back), Logan Lauterbach (So., linebacker, running back), Gregory Lins (Jr., defensive end, tight end), Peyton Breunig (Jr., linebacker, tight end), Chandler Curtis (So., kicker), Kolton Kurt (Junior, defensive end, offensive line), Bryce James (Sr., defensive tackle, offensive line), Wyatt Ripp (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Zack Dolson (Jr., defensive end, offensive line), Preston Nichols (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Brock Beyer (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Mitchell Lane (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Joshua Johnson (Sr., defensive tackle, offensive line), Aiden Janney (Sr., defensive tackle, offensive line), Jacob Maier (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Justyn Hermanson (So., defensive tackle, offensive line), Michael Cline (Sr., offensive line, defensive tackle), Jacob Benson (Jr., defensive tackle, offensive line), Cody Asbjornson (Sr., linebacker, receiver), Kyle Pickarts (So., defensive end, tight end), Cody Doyle (So., defensive back, receiver), Henry Jesse (Sr., defensive back, receiver) and Zander Kleist (So., defensive back, receiver).
The Capitol North Conference title race should once again be very competitive. Lake Mills is the early favorite.
“Lake Mills is going to be real tough,” Puls said. “They have so many skill position kids. They also have guys who fly around and are tough on defense. But, it should be a battle for the title. The conference champ might be 4-1.”
The Blue Devils will open the season with non-conference games against Delavan-Darien (home, Friday), Wisconsin Dells (away, Aug. 29), Marshall (home, Sept. 6) and New Glarus/Monticello (away, Sept. 13) before starting conference play at Watertown Luther Prep on Sept. 20.
Puls does have a big concern entering the 2019 season. He is worried about the condition of the Blue Devils home field, which floods very easily. Last season, they had to move their Homecoming game to Waunakee.
“I’m worried about the shape of the field and if we can play games at home,” Puls said. “Our seniors have put in a lot of blood, sweat and effort and want to play at home. That is in jeopardy every single week if we have rain.”
Puls said he has gotten permission to raise funds and look at installing turf on the field in the future.