By Murray Gleffe
DE PERE-The West De Pere Phantoms are coming off a 10-2 season in which the team made the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
The offense will be centered around sophomore quarterback Josh Blount.
As a freshman Blount rushed for over 1,000 yards and threw for over 300.
“Josh is well ahead of where he was last year,” said Jack Batten, West De Pere football coach, who returns for his fifth season as the leader of the program. “We are now looking at him to pass the ball more efficiently this season. We know he can run the ball. Our play action passing game is a point of emphasis in these early season practices. I feel like it will force our opponents out of eight and nine fronts. However, we will still run the ball a majority of the time. We won’t go away from our strength, entirely.”
Blount won’t have his running mate Austin Beaumier (who graduated) in the backfield but will rely on a number of different options in the run game.
Senior Connor Dugre is back after having limited carries in 2017 and two sophomores (Kaden Kosobucki and David Vanderlogt) will look to jump into the fray.
“You don’t replace a guy like Austin overnight,” said Batten. “We have a few good athletes that will fight to win the starting job at halfback. In the beginning, it might be more by committee until somebody steps up. The hope is to take some pressure off Josh, so he doesn’t have to carry the ball numerous times during the game.”
Garrett Kempen returns as the top receiver for the Phantoms, who play in the Bay Conference.
Kerry Kodanko will play tight end after suffering an injury in his junior campaign.
The offensive line will have to run block effectively if they are to match the 32 points per game they put up last year.
“We have some veterans and newcomers that we are working into the system,” said Batten. “We are known for the run, so our five linemen have to be focused for the entire game.”
As good as the offense is, the Phantoms might be even better on the other side of the ball according to Batten.
In 2017, West De Pere’s 3-4 base defense held their opponents to 12 or fewer points in seven games.
Iowa Hawkeyes recruit Jake Karchinski and Dylan Danforth will anchor the defensive front, and Cody Cavil, Evan Frisque, and Alex Spitzer are all back at the linebacking position.
The five of them combined for over 250 tackles last year with Spitzer leading the way with over 100.
The 6-foot 5, 245-pound Karchinski had 14 scholarship offers including one from the Syracuse Orange.
“We have our top tacklers all back,” Batten said. “They are a very focal, and feisty group. They spur each other on in practice and on game day. Our front seven should be very good for us this year. The hope is that other teams will struggle to score against us.”
The secondary will be young, as the Phantoms will have four to five newcomers on the depth chart.
“One of the keys to our season will be how well our secondary does against the pass,” Batten said. “We have some new faces back there and they will have to come along quickly for us to be an all-around defensive team.”
Two key conference matchups on the schedule each season have determined the Bay Conference champion.
“Each season we play the Hawks and Bluejays something seems to be on the line,” said Batten. “We have been fortunate to beat (the) Xavier (Hawks) three out of the last four years, but (the) Menasha (Bluejays) have had our number. That needs to change for us to win conference. The rivalry has been one sided for them and we will do everything we can this year to come out on the winning side.”
It is difficult to find a seat on a Friday night at West De Pere High School in early fall. The Phantoms’ fans have supported their team and rightfully so with two state championships in the last eight years.
“We are a one-horse town when it comes to football nights on the west side of De Pere,” said Batten. “The town has always backed athletics, and it’s certainly appreciated on our behalf. It’s a tough, blue-collar working community. It’s been that way forever. I’m very fortunate to be the football coach at West De Pere. We are looking forward to another season.”
Full team rosters and schedules can be found at www.wissports.net.