2014 Preview: Somerset football team believes it has unfinished business
Winneconne 16, Somerset 14.
That goal was left in the dust of a football field in Marshfield last November, where the Spartans were beaten in the state Division 4 football semifinals by Winneconne. The Spartans are convinced they missed an opportunity, especially after they saw Winneconne roll past Platteville 28-14 to win the state championship trophy.
Many of those Spartans return this year. And the bitter, acidic burn they taste whenever they think about the loss last November is driving this year’s Spartan veteran players to make sure that another opportunity to achieve their ultimate goal doesn’t go unfulfilled.
Somerset coach Bruce Larson said there’s been a renewed work ethic with this year’s team. He said the timing of the construction of the new weight room at the high school has helped with that.
“The weight room attendance has been one of the best years ever. We got a lot of bounce out of the new (weight room) facelift. It really drew kids,” Larson said.
Larson has always been a believer in the corollary between off-season effort and success on the field.
Since the Spartans moved to the Middle Border Conference 12 years ago, they have reached the WIAA playoffs every year. Coming off a season where they lost one conference game and return most of their starters, the intent of succeeding at the highest level remains Somerset’s main focus.
“There’s a large upside with these guys. It’s a matter of getting it out of them,” Larson said.
Larson said it won’t be an easy road in the conference this season. Ellsworth beat Somerset 27-8 last season and Larson said Ellsworth should be just as strong this season. He said Osceola, Prescott, New Richmond and Durand should all supply stiff challenges for the Spartans this season.
“I think the conference will be quite a bit better,” Larson predicted.
The Spartans have the firepower to do big things on offense this season. Senior Reed Baillargeon moves into the full-time starter role at quarterback after seeing an increasing role as the season progressed last year. He’s backed by another senior, Max Becher.
“The time Reed got last year was pretty valuable. That should help him quite a bit,” Larson said.
Since the end of last season, Baillargeon and Larson have met on an almost daily basis in doing prep work for this season.
Nick Maitrejean and Hayes Hunt will get the quarterback reps at the junior varsity level.
One of the most closely watched players in the MBC, and in all of western Wisconsin football this fall, will be Somerset senior fullback Max Praschak. Praschak rushed for more than 1,700 yards as a junior, making him one of the top returning rushers in the state this season. Even though he’s a fullback, Praschak’s state championship in the 110 high hurdles at the WIAA State Track Meet last June showed he’s also one of the fastest players in the conference.
“He’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been,” Larson said.
The Spartans have outstanding depth at the running back positions. Backing up Praschak at fullback are Freddy Mangine, Jake Rosentreter, Harrison Kern and Garrett Broome.
The options run just as deep at halfback, led by senior Brody Penman. Mitchell Foster, Logan Peterson, Sam Schoenborn, Jon Sullivan, Jackson Chladek and Jordin Sutton give the coaches boundless options at this position.
Larson said the offense needs to get the ball into the hands of the halfbacks more often this season, so defenses can’t gravitate to the middle of the field to take away Praschak.
The Spartans won’t be afraid to throw the ball this season either. The receivers will be used at tight end and split end, depending on the formation. Tyler Lueck returns at one receiver position. Billy Kieckhoefer, Heaven Hunt, Grant Hecht and Noah Dendinger are options for the other receiver position.
Where the Spartans don’t have as much depth is in the offensive line. The Spartans place a great deal of responsibility on their center, so having Cole Martinsen return for his second year as a starter is a huge plus. He’s backed by Ty Sampair, Austin Perry and Dalton Laventure.
Junior Dalton Lyons returns for his second year as the team’s right guard.
“He’s a solid, steady, disciplined player. Ryan Miller (who will start at left guard), is the same type of guy,” Larson said.
Backups at guard are Mike Piletich, Josh Himes, Vinny Perzichilli, Jarrod Schumaker, Charlie Belisle and Ike Moore.
Austin Harty was a starting tackle for much of the 2013 season until he was sidelined by an injury. He will man the right tackle position. One of the big questions for the team was the left tackle job. Larson said that during last Friday’s scrimmage at Rice Lake, Austin Groleau gave every reason to believe that he can handle the job. Groleau was moved to tackle from tight end during the preseason.
Jake Sporleder, Cody Cunningham, Joey Belisle, Devon Landry, Jackson Struemke and Josh Westmoreland are other possibilities at tackle.
Many of the Spartans will be playing on both sides of the ball.
When the Spartans go on defense, Martinsen moves from center to noseguard. He’s backed by Sampair. Lueck is back at one of the flex positions, with Becher, Cunningham, Hecht and Miller competing for the flex role.
The Spartans lost one of the best defensive ends in the state to graduation, but Somerset fans can now see Gaelin Elmore playing that position for the University of Minnesota Gophers. Stepping into the defensive end positions this year are Lyons and Harty, backed by Sporleder and Groleau.
Linebacker is an area where the Spartans return a great deal of experience. Praschak, Penman and Baillargeon lead the group, with Rosentreter, Mangine, Peterson and Chladek making this the deepest position on the defense.
There are plenty of options returning for the Spartans in the secondary. Sullivan leads the options at cornerback, with Foster, Schoenborn, Kieckhoefer and Kern all able to play there. Safety will be manned by Heaven Hunt, with Sutton and Hayes Hunt in reserve.
Defensive coordinator Bob Seibel said the defense needs to be able to stop the run to put opposing offenses in difficult situations on third down.
“Our strength will be our pursuit,” Seibel said. “We’ll be able to chase people down.”
Seibel said there is such strong depth among the seniors and juniors, that few sophomores will see significant game time. He said that’s not a knock on the sophomores, who received high marks from all the coaches.
The Spartans will face many of their toughest opponents on their home turf this season. Among the opponents coming to Seibel field in 2014 are Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Ellsworth, Osceola and Durand. Somerset has built a reputation for being nearly impossible to defeat on its home field. Continuing that success will be one of the determining factors in whether the Spartans win an MBC title this season.