Football season starting Thursday|
|The Antigo Red Robins kick off the 2013 season Thursday, picked to finish midpack in the Great Northern Conference.|
According to a media poll conducted by Jeremy Mayo, sports editor of the River News in Rhinelander, the Merrill Bluejays are expected to finish on top of the conference, followed by Mosinee, Medford and Antigo.
Rounding out the conference will be Rhinelander, Lakeland and Ashland, according to the reporters.
The seven-person voting panel included sports reporters from the Antigo Daily Journal, Ashland Daily Press, Lakeland Times, Merrill Courier, Northwoods River News (Rhinelander), Star News (Medford) and WJFW-TV.
Here is a look at the teams.
Quality over quantity is this year’s theme for the 2013 Antigo Red Robin varsity football squad as it returns 13 veterans to a roster of 39.
The team is returning a talented group of seniors in Josh Hale (tight end), Jake Zabrowski (running back), Ryan Fassbender (linebacker) and Matt Wolter (defensive back), all first team All-GNC players. Blake Kirsch (offensive line) and Wyatt Franzen (defensive line) are strong contributors with second team honors.
While the lack in numbers could keep the Robins in the middle of the Great Northern title race, Antigo has changed its offense from the wing-T to spread, although not forsaking its power running game either.
Antigo returns its entire backfield with Wolter in the QB position, Zabrowski at fullback and Jake Maly at halfback. Hale and Kirsch return as well.
Antigo led conference rushing standings in 2012 amassing 1,748 yards adding to that 370 in the air for a total yardage of 2,118. Although not at the top of the list, Wolter and Zabrowski gave a strong showing with 556 and 505 individual totals respectively.
Defensively Antigo will stick to the base 4-3 which served them well last season. Its only snag comes with an injury to Franzen who has yet to practice but is slated to return in three to four weeks.
Antigo opens its season Thursday in West DePere before hosting Menominee, Mich., Aug. 30 at home. Kick off is slated for 7 p.m.
In his third season as Oredockers’ coach, Josh Miller said so far he’s seen more consistency and better execution from his charges in practice and at their scrimmage.
Ashland will be hard-pressed to replace the big plays turned in by Cory Kontny, but does have some experience across its offensive line as six of the seven players in its two-tight-end set started over the course of last season. Directing the shotgun-based power attack will be junior Eric Yachinich or sophomore Brendon Carter.Three-year starter Ryan Hibbard heads up a backfield by committee.
Returners Thomas McCutcheon and Matt Draeger anchor the front of Ashland’s 3-4 defensive front, while Anthony Litersky leads the linebacking corps.
The Lakeland Thunderbirds are ready to bounce back after a sixth-place finish in the GNC in 2013.
Senior quarterback John Aguirre returns to run an option offense and Lakeland returns second team All-GNC running back Tom Bruckner and honorable mention All-GNC defensive back Brian Biertzer, who figures to be top contributor on both sides of the ball.
Several other seniors, as well as a new offensive line, will help this year’s T-Bird team be more competitive in conference play.
Expectations remain high for the Medford Raiders, who are coming off an 8-3 season that included a GNC co-championship (5-1) and the school’s first WIAA Division 3 Level 3 appearance since 2003.
The Raiders’ 2013 roster includes 16 seniors, many of whom started or played meaningful minutes last year. They expect the run-based offense to remain steady behind a line that includes All-GNC first-teamer Joel Rausch, senior center Ian Porten and four more returnees who started at times in 2012.
Receiving threats Collin Baumann, Joey Leonard and Curtis Peterson all return. Senior Austin Salzgeber is the first second-year starter at quarterback.
In the wake of a 5-4 overall record last year (4-2, 3rd Place GNC), the Jays return this season with 16 of 22 starters.
Offensively, the second-ranked Bluejay offense will be led by versatile senior quarterback Nick Peterson who had 244 passing yards and two touchdowns, and another 956 yards and six touchdowns rushing last season.
Fullback Alex Klug (723 rushing yards, 11 TD) also returns, as well as RB Nick Hoffmann. Junior Jake Anderson returns at wideout along with senior Brandon Bartz, who was the GNC's lead kickoff return man in 2012.
Defensively, Merrill returns senior middle linebacker Ben Hintze (6-1, 215), defensive end Tyler Schmidt (6-2, 235) and safety Ty Grunenwald (5-10, 165).
Mosinee returns several key parts of a team that shared the Great Northern Conference Championship with Medford last year.
Leading the charge for the Indians is senior quarterback Zach Pyan, who topped Mosinee’s stat sheets in both passing and rushing. The Indians lose split end Brandon Piotrowski to graduation, but bring back senior wideout Elliot Sparby.
On defense, the Indians return multiple all-conference performers from a unit that gave up fewer than 100 points in their nine games last year. Senior Austin McCarthy anchors the front seven, while defensive back Max Soderberg provides veteran leadership in the secondary.
The Indians also return the conference's best punter — Aaron Daniels, who averaged over 37 yards per punt in 2012.
The Rhinelander Hodags made the playoffs for the first time in 23 years in 2012, going 3-3 in the GNC and losing in Level 1 to eventual D3 state runner-up Waupaca.
But the Hodags lost a wealth of experience from that squad, including its top three quarterbacks, four of its five leading rushers, virtually all of its receivers and four of its top five defenders.
Senior Luke Linsmeyer has been converted from tailback and will start under center for the Hodags, who are in their 10th season under head coach Jim Moore. But the focus of the offense will be on returning honorable-mention All-GNC fullback Connor Johnson. Second team All-GNC pick Bryce Bilogan will anchor the Hodags' offensive line.
Senior Adam Woebbeking will call the signals as the middle linebacker for the Hodags' 3-5-3 defensive scheme. He led the team with 79 tackles in 2012. Senior safety Austyn Zarda could also make an impact. He had 10 tackles in the team's scrimmage Aug. 17 at Wausau West.
The Antigo High School football team working out before the opening of the season at home Thursday.
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