There is no doubt about this: Madison High School’s football team is aiming to make history this season.
The Mohawks are coming off back-to-back 7-3 campaigns, but they’ve never been to the playoffs. And they’ve dropped down to Division V in 2017.
“The kids think about it and I think the community talks about it a lot, and that’s the easy part,” fourth-year coach Steve Poff said. “The hard part is to win the game in front of you and move forward as a team.
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“I’m interested to see how we accept challenges when we get in games. I’ve told the team several times that I feel like our biggest opponent is us. We have enough talent. We have enough size. We have enough skill. If we all take a selfless approach, then I think we’ve got every opportunity in the world to achieve some very high goals.
“I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t make the playoffs, but we’re not going to cancel football if we don’t make it. We’ll get back in the weight room and keep training and get better.”
Poff noted that his 50-man roster is down about a dozen players this year, “but the kids we have are all football players, and we’re fine with that. If we don’t win this year, it won’t be because we don’t have 12 more kids on the team.”
Madison has become known for its ground-hugging Wing-T offense, and that isn’t likely to change this year.
“I’m not going to trick anybody,” Poff said. “I’m going to come out and run the ball one way or another. It doesn’t always work for us, but we’re going to live and die by it. We are working hard to develop more of a passing game if we need it, but the intentions are to run the football.”
The top two runners, junior fullback Cameron Svarda (5-8, 180) and senior halfback Tyler Baumgartner (5-8, 175), are back. They combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards in 2016.
Senior Reid Davis (6-1, 205) and junior Mason Whiteman (5-10, 185) both played quarterback last season. They’ve also returned.
Poff said he hasn’t decided on a starting QB yet. Whichever way that call goes, the other player will probably be on the field as a running back or receiver.
“Last year, there was a definite difference in that one could run better and one could throw better,” Poff said. “They’ve both spent the offseason improving their weaknesses to where we don’t see a big difference now. Davis is a much better runner than he has been in the past, and Whiteman has improved his arm strength and accuracy.”
Junior Evan Crim (6-0, 190) will contribute in the backfield. The receivers include senior Damon Stepp (6-1, 190), juniors P.J. Schenck (5-7, 170) and Luke Cornele (6-3, 175), and sophomore Quincy Brown (6-3, 170).
The offensive line has some inexperience, though Poff believes it will be a solid group. Junior Caleb Bolen (6-3, 255) is a returnee and has moved from tackle to guard this year.
The other O-line starters are expected to be senior center R.J. Borgman (5-10, 225), senior guard Stephen Watts (6-3, 240), and senior tackles Steven Ward (6-2, 240) and Sean Surber (6-4, 270). Junior Cameron Baker (5-10, 215) is the tight end.
“We’ve got a nice combination of size and strength and speed up front,” Poff said. “We spent a lot of time in the offseason working on our explosiveness, and it’s paid off. They’re very hungry to prove themselves.”
Lots of veterans are back on the 4-4 defensive unit, including senior Levi Wilson (5-10, 190) and junior Cole Pelgen (6-2, 245) at linebacker, junior Max Evans (6-1, 250) at tackle, Whiteman and Baumgartner at cornerback, and Svarda at safety.
Evans totaled 13 sacks last year and has fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
“He’s stronger and faster than he was last year and a lot more confident,” Poff said.
Watts, Ward, Baker, Bolen and junior Tanner Limon (6-0, 210) are part of the defensive-line rotation. Crim and sophomore Jake Phelps (5-8, 160) are in the linebacker mix.
“I think we’re going to be fast on defense,” Poff said. “Even our big guys run well. We’re going to be a little more disciplined, a little more aggressive this year.”
Senior soccer player Graham Reich (5-10, 170) and Svarda are competing for the place-kicking duties. Whiteman and Svarda are the punting possibilities.
Poff is running the offense and Jeff Rippl is the defensive coordinator for the Mohawks. Mike Dully and Ryan Melton have joined the staff as line coaches, and Dylan Dwyer will coach the split ends after being a volunteer last season.
Madison has upcoming scrimmages at Bainbridge Paint Valley (with Greenfield McClain and Batavia) on Friday at 10 a.m., and at home against Twin Valley South on Aug. 18 at 7 p.m.