Football Cards aim to overcome adversity

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's Brogan Brunker suffered a brokem hand in last week's scrimmage and could miss the rest of the season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

— C.S. Lewis


This quote from Lewis, the great British novelist, came nearly 100 years ago.

It’s certainly applicable today, though, for Middleton’s football team.

The Cardinals open up their new season Friday when they host Madison Memorial at 7 p.m. And Middleton — which has lost four potential starters to season-ending injuries this summer — has certainly been hit with its share of hardships.

Now, the Cardinals must find out if they can overcome the adversity and reach an extraordinary destiny.

“Well, we’re going to find out what we’re made of,” Middleton head coach Tim Simon said.

Since practice began two weeks ago, the Cardinals have lost Jarrett Horst (foot), their best offensive lineman, and Brogan Brunker (broken hand), their best wide receiver. Horst could return late in the year, while Brunker's long-term status is uncertain.

In addition, projected starting right guard Dylan Kalscheur and likely starting tight end Max Schlicht — who both suffered torn ACLs since mid-July — are out for the season.

Middleton was tabbed as the Big Eight Conference favorite by many before losing several of its key cogs. Without them, Simon & Co. know things will be a lot harder.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Simon said. “We’ve still got to find a way to win games.”

Middleton still has plenty of weapons to be a force in the Big Eight this fall.

Offensively, the Cardinals have the type of firepower most teams would love to call their own.

Middleton’s offense will revolve around senior running backs Dion Huff and James Pabst.

Last season, Huff ran for 1,018 yards on 196 carries (5.2 average) and scored 14 touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 228 yards (12.7), had two receiving touchdowns and was named second-team all-conference.

This season, Huff is stronger, more polished and appears ready for a huge senior year.

“Dion is like a bowling ball,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Jason Pertzborn said. “He never goes down on first contact and his hands are just terrific.”

Pabst, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, is one of the fastest players in the program. Last year, Pabst ran for 505 yards on 96 carries (5.3), but could see a significantly greater workload this year.

“James has legs like tree trunks … and he’s just so fast,” Pertzborn said. “When we looked back on last year, we kind of said we didn’t ride James enough.”

Fullback Ben Statsick packs a punch. And if there’s room to run, the Huff-Pabst duo could be one of the best in the state.

“I don’t think we’ve ever brought back two running backs as good as these two,” Simon said. “We’ve had one really good back coming back on many different occasions, but not two.”

Middleton returns one of the league’s top quarterbacks in senior Davis Roquet. A year ago, Roquet won the job at midseason and got better as the year went on.

Roquet finished the season with 1,212 passing yards, completed 53.5% of his passes, threw for eight touchdowns and had just two interceptions.

“Having that experience back is big,” Simon said of Roquet. “We’re hoping he has a big year.”

Middleton’s passing game was dealt a blow when it lost Brunker during a scrimmage last Friday. Simon is hoping some others will now step up.

The most likely candidates to emerge are juniors Sam Close and Bryce Carey, along with seniors Cole Ragsdale and Nolan Kelliher. Middleton should get solid tight end play from senior Luke Ballweg.

The offensive line remains a work in progress after Horst and Kalscheur were lost during training camp.

Senior left guard Logan Thomas (5-8, 230) and senior center Grant Manser (6-2, 249) will be counted on to have big years. Senior right tackle Corey Parkinson (6-3, 225) has also had an impressive summer and seems ready for a big year.

Sophomore Clay Craker (6-2, 284) has ideal size and will take over for Horst at left tackle. Junior Gavin Adler (5-8, 222) moves in at right guard for Kalscheur.

“We’re going to have some challenges, there’s no doubt about it,” Simon said. “But I still think we’ll be able to move the ball.”

Moving the ball on the Cardinals is never easy, thanks in large part to longtime defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka. This season, Cabalka will have his hands full as he returns just two starters from a year ago.

The strength of Middleton’s 4-3 defense will be at linebacker, where the Cardinals are extremely talented and experienced.

Senior Shane Bick was a second-team all-conference player in 2016 after finishing the year with 41 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. Bick moves from the strongside to the weakside this year and could be poised for a huge season.

“He’s a strong kid. A big strong kid,” Cabalka said of Bick. “He’s awful steady, and now he’s even bigger and stronger. He’ll certainly be one of our leaders.”

Senior middle linebacker Jimmy Frusciante is another returning starter who should be ready for a big season. Senior Ryan Handowski will start on the strongside, while senior Jake Hoskins will play a great deal, as well.

“Our linebackers should be a strength,” Cabalka said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Middleton has to replace its entire front, but has plenty of capable options.

Senior Tyler Smith will start at nose tackle, while senior Colin Liegel will play the other tackle position known as “Junk” in the Cardinals’ scheme. Defensive ends Ryan Lewis (6-1, 197) and Ryan Fortney (6-2, 191) are smallish, but fast.

Others such as senior defensive tackle Triston Carroll, junior defensive end Max Norris and senior defensive end Chris Thompson will factor in, as well.

“We’re going to get it done by committee,” Cabalka said. “We’ll have multiple kids for some of those spots.”

The defensive backfield — where all four starters from a year ago must replaced — is also a work in progress.

Ragsdale and senior Nolan Dahlk will likely open at cornerback, with junior Kevin Meicher working as the nickel. Junior Devon Jackson has shined all summer and could be a force at free safety, while sophomore Ben Litchfild has all the makings of a star at strong safety.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” Cabalka said of his defense. “But we’ve got a lot of talented kids, too. I think we’ll be OK.”

Senior Jake Genyk will handle the punting and Joey Culp will be the kicker on what are traditionally stellar special teams units.

Middleton has certainly been handed more adversity than it hoped for in the first three weeks of the season. The question now is whether the Cardinals can overcome those hardships and deliver an extraordinary season.

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