The Poynette prep football team is coming off its first winning season in three years and is looking to make more history this season with a trip to the playoffs.
“We are very excited about the season,” Puma coach Greg Kallungi said. “We have had a good fall came and summer camp. Guys are working hard and we have a great group of seniors. We have great leadership.”
After going 2-7 in 2017, the Pumas went 5-4 last season. They were a perfect 4-0 in non-conference play, but were just 1-4 in the Capitol North Conference.
“It was nice having a winning record, but disappointing we only had one conference win,” Kallungi said. “But, it is definitely something we can build off of. Our guys are motivated to get back into the playoffs.”
Lakeside Lutheran claimed the conference crown with a 5-0 mark, followed by Lake Mills (4-1), Lodi (3-2), Luther Prep (2-3), Poynette and Columbus (0-5).
The Pumas snapped a nine-game conference losing streak after closing out the season with a 35-14 victory over Columbus.
Poynette, which has made 22 WIAA playoff appearances, is looking to go back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
With three returning all-conference players, the Pumas’ offense has a lot of talent to build around.
Poynette welcomes back senior quarterback Jackson Elsing, who earned honorable mention all-conference last season. He finished last year 63-of-137 passing for 1,017 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed for four touchdowns.
“He is a good leader for us,” Kallungi said. “He works real hard and it is great that he has a year of experience at quarterback, which should help him slow things down this season.”
Sophomore Jimmy Heath will back up Elsing.
Senior Brayden O’Connor earned second-team all-conference as a receiver last season, but will move to running back this year. He led the team with 19 catches for 377 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 603 yards and two touchdowns on 98 carries.
“He has a lot of speed that we will be able to take advantage of,” Kallungi said.
Also looking for playing time in the backfield are senior John Bergeman, sophomore Anker Connor and junior Payton Horne.
“We are happy about our backfield,” Kallungi said.
Senior Billy DeFresne will lead the Pumas up front on the offensive line. He earned honorable mention All-Capitol North last season.
The offensive line group also includes senior Tristian Kingsland, senior Austin Falk, sophomore Owen Bahr, senior Benicio Velazquez, junior Ethan Buss, senior Parker Walstad, sophomore Jeremiah Nielsen, senior Chad Tiffany, junior Jayden Stoy, sophomore Clayton Nehls, sophomore Karl Hanousek and senior Daniel Weisensel.
“We have work to do on the offensive line because we are inexperience besides Billy (DeFresne) and Chad Tiffany,” Kallungi said. “Right now, Stoy and Falk are playing guard for us and Parker Walstad has been at center for us. It will be a work in progress.”
Senior Colby Savich was the Pumas’ second-leading receiver last season with 13 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. He is back at tight end this season.
Sophomore Dylan Elsing, senior Jake Buss and junior Jaden McCormick will also see time at tight end. Buss had seven catches for 128 yards and a touchdown last season.
The Pumas’ receiving core includes junior Hayden Taylor, sophomore Logan Wagner, senior Ahren Schoeckert, senior Noah Stark, sophomore Brock Chadwick, senior Austin Gray and senior Christian Bault.
“We feel pretty good about our pass catchers at receiver and tight end,” Kallungi said. “We feel like we have a lot of talented kids.”
Last season, Buss had seven catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Gray snagged six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Bault registered four catches for 51 yards, while Stark had one catch for 10 yards.
The Pumas have just two returning all-conference players on defense, O’Connor and Savich.
Savich is Poynette’s top returning tackler. He had 50 tackles, three sacks and an interception on his way to second-team all-conference last year.
“Colby is a great leader for us,” Kallungi said. “He does everything you ask of him and works real hard. His experience is invaluable.”
The linebacker core also includes Bergeman, Dylan Elsing, Buss, Gray, Horne and Bahr. Buss had 40 tackles last season, while Bergeman added 11. Gray and Horne combined for four tackles.
“We feel good about the athleticism at linebacker.,” Kallungi said. “We have a lot of speed.”
O’Connor earned second-team all-conference last season and is back at defensive back after recording 33 tackles and three interceptions.
Also looking to break through at defensive back are Heath, Taylor, Wagner, Schoeckert, Jackson Elsing, Stark, Chadwick, Anker, Bault and McCormick.
Bault had a team-high four interceptions last season, to go along with 28 tackles.
“Christian had a great season last year,” Kallungi. “Having him back his huge.”
The Pumas have a lot of potential on the defensive line. The group includes Kingsland, Falk, Velazquez, Ethan Buss, Walstad, Nielsen, Tiffany, Stoy, Nehls, Hanousek, DeFresne and Weisensel. DeFresne had nine tackles last season, while Kingsland had four. Walstad had three stops.
“It is a lot of same guys from the offensive line up front on defense,” Kallungi said. “We feel pretty good about the first group, but will have to build some depth.”
Poynette will have a big leg up on the competition on special teams with the return of Bault and Savich.
“Having strong players on special teams is a huge asset for us,” Kallungi said.
Bault was 2-of-5 on field goal attempts and 21-of-25 on extra-point kicks on his way to second-team all-conference as a kicker.
Schoeckert may also see time at kicker.
Savich earned honorable mention as a punter after averaging 32.3 yards per punt.
Lake Mills is the early favorite in the Capitol North this season, but the rest of the conference is up for grabs.
“The Capitol North is always competitive,” Kallungi said. “It will be a battle each and every week.”
The Pumas will open the season with non-conference games against Waterloo (away, Friday), Adams-Friendship (away, Aug. 30), Belleville (home, Sept. 6) and Laconia (home, Sept. 13) before opening up the Capitol North season at home against Lake Mills on Sept. 20.