Looking to rebound: De Pere football preview
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – De Pere High School football coach Chad Michalkiewicz said this year’s team will be young but also veteran.
After some key injuries derailed the Redbirds’ season in 2017, they will be looking to get back to the WIAA postseason for the first time since 2015.
De Pere will open the 2018 campaign by hosting Manitowoc Lincoln on Thursday, August 16, in a Fox River Classic Conference game.
The Redbirds were 3-6 last year with wins over Manitowoc, Sheboygan North and Sheboygan South.
“Things can absolutely be better this year,” said Michalkiewicz, who is entering his eighth season as head coach at the school. “We had been one of the more high-octane offenses if we go back three or four years, but injuries and a small senior class were among some reasons why we fell off. Those are excuses, so we just want to move on to this season. It was tough to get things going.”
The Redbirds scored just 140 points last season (15.6 per game), but there was a good reason for that, as their starting quarterback Landon Kirby went down with a torn ACL in a preseason scrimmage.
“Landon was looking at being our starting QB last year and then he had the knee injury,” Michalkiewicz said. “Then we had to bring up Christian (Bocik) who was only a sophomore at the time, but he started all nine games. It’s a unique situation with them right now, but I think both of them are going to have an impact on the season – they are both improving.”
Bocik was 79-for-166 passing for 964 yards. He threw 10 touchdowns but was also picked off 10 times.
Gavin Knott, His favorite target out wide, has graduated but that doesn’t mean De Pere won’t look to throw again this year.
“From top to bottom, this is probably the deepest receiving corps we’ve had since I’ve been coach here,” said Michalkiewicz. “That’s saying quite a bit because we’ve had some good receivers come through here. I’m looking for (seniors) Josh Heisdorf and Max Minor to have big years – they are all-conference material. I also think (junior) Ethan Hohol, who was our starting tight end last year, will have a nice season.”
Running back Nate Baranek (846 yards, 5.5 yards per rush) has graduated, so it looks like Caelan Markusen, a converted linebacker, will get the bulk of the work there.
Michalkiewicz noted that Markusen might not have the pop that Baranek had, but he’s good in pass protection, very solid in the screen game and fits in the offense well.
Defensively, the Redbirds finished in the bottom half of the 10-team FRCC (26.7 points per game), but that was also without a few starters for the most of the year.
“We lost our starting safety and starting outside linebacker in week three for the rest of the season,” added Michalkiewicz. “If you take away our pick-six against Green Bay Southwest, we only gave up fourteen points to them and they made it to the state semifinals. I think we will be a football team that will compete.”
Also back is all-conference player Jack Coisman (second-team, offensive line), who according to Michalkiewicz has a number of D2 scholarship offers already but that he could be a D1 player.
Senior Connor Vandenheuval (honorable mention, defensive back) will also return.
Michalkiewicz said there are a lot of unknowns in the FRCC this year.
“Bay Port will be good, but if you look at the all-conference list from last season, it was so senior heavy,” he said. “Pulaski had a great defense and played man, but all four of their d-backs were seniors. Ashwaubenon will look to improve and Green Bay Notre Dame has a really good quarterback but lost a lot. Southwest has number issues – they’ve only got like 55 kids from grades nine through 12 out for football. Green Bay Preble lost a division one running back in Henry Geil. We get Bay Port later in the year when we are hopefully playing our best football.”