Middleton's offense figures to be potent

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton co-coach Jason Pertzborn and the Cardinals could have a dynamic offense in 2018./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Every November, Middleton co-head football coach Tim Simon heads to Camp Randall to watch the state football championship games. And every time, Simon has the same thought.

“I always think this could be and it should be us,” Simon said.

Jason Pertzborn, who will also serve as Middleton’s co-head coach this year, has a similar feeling.

“We should be there,” Pertzborn said. “Absolutely.”

Maybe, just maybe Middleton can make a run at its first state title since 1987 this season.

The Cardinals, who finished second in the Big Eight last year at 8-1 and went 9-2 overall, were picked to win the conference in a preseason vote of league coaches.

Middleton’s defense is always in good hands with veteran coordinator Tom Cabalka. And an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game could be even better.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Simon, whose team begins its new season Friday by hosting Madison East at 7 p.m. “I think our offseason commitment as a whole, we had more than ever dedicated to the weight room. And that translates to a different attitude.”

Middleton’s offense should have quite an attitude this year.

The Cardinals have a mammoth offensive line that should create plenty of holes for a bevy of gifted running backs. Senior Bryce Carey, a natural quarterback who moved to wide receiver last year after injuries struck, goes back under center. And Middleton has a number of weapons in the passing game that figure to keep the offense balanced.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of ways we can move the football,” said Pertzborn, who calls the plays. “I’d say we have a lot of options.”

Middleton’s greatest strength could be its offensive line.

Left tackle Clay Craker (6-4, 295) is one of the better juniors in the state and is already drawing interest from several colleges. Craker will miss the opener against Madison East with an ankle injury, but could be back for Week 2 at Verona.

Senior left guard Tyler Haack (6-1, 238) was a part time starter last season. Senior center Dylan Kalscheur (5-9, 235) missed all of last year with a torn ACL, but has made a full recovery and seems ready for a terrific final season.

“That kid worked so hard,” Pertzborn said. “He went through hell and back. I’m excited for him to have a great year.”

Senior right guard Gavin Adler (5-8, 233)  is a returning starter who is terrific in space and plays with outstanding pad level. And juniors Billy Johnson (6-4, 275) and Luke McChrystal (6-1, 240) will battle for the right tackle job.

With Craker sidelined for the opener, though, McChrystal will move to left tackle and Johnson will start at right tackle.

In addition to those six players, juniors Zac Mayhew (5-9, 272), Jadin Brown (6-4, 320) Chance Johnson (6-1, 185) and Gavin Huml (6-2, 216), along with senior Michael Verhoven (6-0, 203) provide tremendous depth.

“We’re counting on those guys to be an awfully good group for us,” Simon said of the offensive line. “We have some guys coming back and a lot of really good newcomers. And our depth is really good.”

That should be music to the ears of Middleton’s running backs.

The Cardinals lost standouts James Pabst (1,132 yards, 17 TDs) and Dion Huff (874 yards, 16 TDs) to graduation. But Middleton might not miss a beat.

Senior Tyler Kalscheur (6-0, 205), the No. 3 running back last year, could be the Cardinals’ workhorse and seems poised to have a big year.

“He’s a big physical back who’s going to wear you down,” Pertzborn said of Kalscheur. “He’s a kid who’s going to move the chains … and you’re not going to want to tackle him by the fourth quarter.”

If Kalscheur is Middleton’s thunder, junior Kallion Buckner (5-8, 150) is the lightning.

“He hits the hole and just goes,” Pertzborn said of Buckner. “He’s got the speed where he can go north-south, but he’s nifty, too, where he can go east-west.”

Hard-charging senior Connor Hellenbrand will start at fullback, while junior Ben Litchfield will get snaps there, as well. Senior Joey Culp will also see time behind Kalscheur and Buckner.

Carey, Middleton’s leading receiver last year with 25 catches for 290 yards and two TDs, moves back to quarterback where he’ll be a dangerous dual threat. Carey has a solid arm and also has the niftiness to beat teams with his feet.

“Bryce brings a certain ability that not many quarterbacks have,” Simon said of Carey. “He throws well, but can be dangerous running the ball, too.”

Senior wideout Sam Close is expected to be Middleton’s top target in the passing game. Senior Devin Jackson, a starting safety on defense, will also start at wideout, while junior Henry Patterson and senior Jake Klubertanz will add depth. Senior Kevin Meicher, a starting cornerback and return ace, will also factor into the passing game.

Senior Max Schlicht, who missed last season with a torn ACL, will start at tight end. Max Norris and Jake Wuebben, the Cardinals’ starting defensive ends, will back up Schlicht.

Sophomore Sawyer Pertzborn will handle field goals and Wuebben will handle the punting.

“I think we’ve got really good staying power,” Pertzborn said. “We’re really deep … and as injuries hit through the year, which they always do, I think we’re set up to handle them better than we have in the past.”

Which the Cardinals are hoping eventually leads them to Camp Randall.

• Aye, aye captain: Middleton’s captains for 2018 are center Dylan Kalscheur, defensive end Max Norris, cornerback/return specialist Kevin Meicher, quarterback Bryce Carey and safety Devin Jackson. All five players are seniors.

• Double trouble: Middleton plans to use more players on both sides of the ball than in recent years.

“It’s not so much a philosophical change,” Simon said. “It’s just that this happens to be in the best interests of this year’s team.”

• Pats on the back: Simon, Middleton’s head coach since 2004, promoted Pertzborn to be the Cardinals’ co-head coach this year. If things go well, Pertzborn will become Middleton’s head coach in 2019.

Simon made this unique move because Pertzborn — a three-sport athlete at Middleton in the late 1980s and a coach and teacher in the district today — had offers to go elsewhere. And Simon thought Pertzborn deserved a chance to be the head football coach at his alma mater.

Since Simon’s decision was made public, he’s received an outpouring of positive responses.

“It’s been very humbling. People have been really kind,” Simon said. “It’s touching. It really is.”

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