By John Raffel
Schofield D.C. Everest is establishing itself as a power in the Division 1 ranks for the large school football teams in Wisconsin this fall.
D.C. Everest enters the weekend with a 5-0 record following a 31-0 win over Wisconsin Rapids.
“Basically fundamentally, we're getting better each week. That's what we try to focus on,” Everest coach Wayne Steffenhagen said. “We want to stay healthy.”
Steffenhagen, in his 31st year at the school, is optimistic his team can return back to the glory days of 2003 when D.C. Everest was 14-0 overall, winning the Division 1 championship with a 42-7 romp over perennial power Arrowhead. Going into that season, Steffenhagen's team has been to six title games in 15 playoff appearances, winning five championships.
Top players for D.C. Everest include leading ball carrier Kyle Borrell and linebacker Conrad Zagzebski. Other standouts are wide receiver Matt Kerswill and free safety Tyler Sierakowski.
In 2003, Steffenhagen retired from teaching after 38 years but he has continued to coach. He's a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and started coaching as an assistant at Fond du Lac High School (1965-72) and was head coach at La Crosse Central in 1973. He was an assistant at Coon Rapids High in Minnesota and at Stevens Point in Wisconsin and then took over at D.C. Everest in 1979.
But Steffenhagen wants to see his team get much better in upcoming weeks, especially fundamentally.
“Basically, I like our team chemistry,” he said. “We've been getting better each week and hope to keep doing that. I think we're pleased with our progress.”
The Packerland-Olympian Large Conference is considered among the toughest in divisions 4 and 5. But Oconto and Wrightstown football coaches are optimistic of winning the required four conference playoff games and enjoying a playoff appearance.
David Ruechel is the head coach at Oconto, which started out 3-0 but has lost its last two.
“The schedule is tough,” Ruechel said. “I said at the beginning of the year when they went over the preseason clippings that no one in the conference will go undefeated. At this point, only one school is undefeated and I don't see them winning out. From a conference standpoint, with Division 4 and 5 schools, I think it's the toughest in the state.
“We've had a number of teams that have gone down to state from our conference, three in the last three years. You can go back th last seven to eight years and we've had someone down there almost every year. We've done well in the playoffs. It's a tough conference. We've had the last two years, Kewaunee, which finished second and Wrightstown, which won it.”
Oconto runs the option on offense. The leading running back is quarterback, Ben Ruechel, the coach's son.
“His cousin, also a junior, is second on the team in rushing as a fullback,” Dave Ruechel said.
Wrightstown needs two more wins to qualify for the state playoffs. But it's a school with plenty of tradition considering it won the Division 4 state title in 2006. Last season, Wrightstown was 7-3 but didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Steve Klister and Bill Ehnerd are co-coaches of the team, which, along with winning the 2006 state title had a 9-0 regular season mark and a third straight Olympian Conference championship.
In 19 years of heading the Wrightstown program, the co-coaches had a career record of 84-24.
“We were second in the conference last year and had a successful season,” Klister said.
One of the team's losses this season was by two points to Menominee from the Upper Peninsula, the two-time Division 5 champions from Michigan.
“We have to be able to stop the run and run the ball,” Klister said. “We have an excellent offensive tackle in Henry VanderHey (6-5, 270) and rely a lot on him.”
Making the playoffs is a major expectation at Wrightstown.
“It's a perennial playoff team,” Klister said. “But we're in a very tough conference.”
Ehnerd is a 1975 graduate of Wrightstown High School, where he was a letterman for the Tigers under head coach Mark Mitchell. He joined the staff as an assistant in 1992 and became co-coach with Klister in 1998.
Klister graduated in 1984 from Wrightstown, where he lettered in football under coach Walt Maki. He began his coaching career with the Tigers in 1989 as an assistant.
Dan Hahm coached Shoreland Lutheran to a 7-0 victory over Wrightstown last season for the 2007 Division 3 state title in boys soccer with a 22-3-2 record. Hahm is hoping his team can do it again this season.
“Our senior leadership was a key,” Hahm said. “I had 10 seniors on that team. Five of the 10 were on the varsity as a sophomore. We lost a lot of key players, especially on defense.”
Right now, Shoreland Lutheran is 12-4. “We lost six key spots that had to be filled. This year, we are very young,” Hahm said, adding that he has three freshmen and five sophomores in his lineup, but feels it's a talented group.
Trent Schwartz, a sophomore, has 17 goals in the team's first 16 games. His brother, Trevor Schwartz, had 30 goals as a senior last season.