Middleton's defense should be stout

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka loves the talent and depth of his 2018 defense./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Tom Cabalka still hasn’t watched the tape.

He can’t. He won’t.

“It’s too tough,” Middleton’s defensive coordinator said.

And how.

Middleton led Madison West, 27-23, in the closing seconds of a WIAA Division 1 Level 2 playoff game last October. But on a fourth and goal with 15 seconds left, West’s Keishawn Shanklin scored from 1-yard out to give West a 30-27 win.

In the 10 months since, Cabalka hasn’t watched the film. And he’s certain he won’t until later this month, when Middleton and West meet in Week 3 of the regular season.

“The tough part is we had so many opportunities to make stops and we didn’t,” Cabalka said. “Their athletic ability was better than ours … and we just didn’t make the plays.”

Middleton’s defense made plenty of plays last season, allowing 10.0 points per game and holding eight of its 11 opponents to single digits. But against elite competition, the Cardinals struggled, allowing 64 points combined in losses to West and Sun Prairie.

This year, Cabalka is cautiously optimistic his defense won’t blink — no matter who it faces. Middleton opens the year Friday at 7 p.m. when it hosts Madison East.

“Overall, I think our talent and speed will be better,” said Cabalka, who’s beginning his 45th year at Middleton. “I think our physicality and our depth will be better. It might take us a while to get to where we were last year, but once we do we could be pretty good.”

The key to Middleton’s defense is its front four. And that unit should be big, strong, physical and extremely disruptive.

Junior defensive end Jake Wuebben (6-2, 220) is expected to be a major contributor from Day One.

“He’s a stud,” Middleton co-coach Tim Simon said of Wuebben. “We think he’s going to have a great year.”

Senior defensive end Max Norris (6-4, 190) saw playing time last year and seems poised for a big final season.

Junior Billy Johnson (6-4, 275) is a mammoth space eater who will play one defensive tackle spot. And senior nose tackle Ortez Lockett (6-0, 220) knows how to gobble up double teams and keep the Cardinals’ linebackers clean.

Others such as senior defensive end Tyler Kalscheur, senior nose tackle Gavin Adler and junior tackle Zac Mayhew will provide quality depth.

“We’re really far deeper than we were last year,” Cabalka said. “It’s a really good junior class that’s going to help us right away.”

Middleton lost two elite linebackers in Shane Bick and Jimmy Frusciante — a pair of first-team all-Big Eight Conference players — to graduation. But Cabalka’s cupboard is never bare.

While Cabalka said he might not have another Bick or Frusciante on this year’s roster, he does have at least six linebackers he thinks highly of.

Senior Connor Smith will man the middle, senior Nick Kryshak will start on the strongside and junior Ben Litchfield will start on the weakside. Middleton has solid backups, too, in senior Connor Hellenbrand, junior Isaiah Pflasterer-Jennerjohn and senior Remington Lockwood.

“Overall, they have really good athletic ability,” Cabalka said of his linebackers. “We have really good speed and we have a lot more depth than last year.”

Middleton’s greatest strength could wind up being its secondary, where cornerback Kevin Meicher and strong safety Devin Jackson are both returning starters.

Meicher had three interceptions last season, including one that he returned for a touchdown, and five passes defensed. He added 19 tackles, two forced fumbles, and led the conference in punt return average (29.0) and touchdowns (two).

Meicher will begin the year at cornerback, but could see some time at safety, as well.

Jackson is a high-level athlete who should be ready for a big year after starting all of 2017. Senior cornerback Mikey Nutting and enormous free safety Jake Klubertanz (6-5, 199) will both start, as well.

Senior Cooper Holewinski and junior Kallion Buckner will both see time at cornerback, while junior Jerry Huff will play safety.

“We have two returning kids and some other kids back there that are extremely athletic,” Cabalka said. “I think our DB’s are going to be really solid.”

Overall, Cabalka thinks his defense is going to be extremely solid, as well.

The Cardinals are fast, deep and talented. Now, Cabalka just wants Middleton to rise up in the biggest moments — so he can feel better about watching the tape.

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