Young Phantoms to lean on running backs
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – A new conference and new faces on the roster, but the same dominant football program is back for the West De Pere Phantoms.
The Phantoms have moved to the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) after a successful run in the Bay Conference.
They will now get to create new rivalries against local schools, including cross-town foe De Pere as well as state power Bay Port.
West De Pere is coming off a COVID-19-shortened season in which it went 4-2 and lost in Level 2 of the WIAA playoffs.
It could be a challenge this year for West De Pere after losing a highly successful senior class.
The team returns only one starter on offense and two on defense.
“It’s always tough, but you’ve got to play with the cards you’re dealt with,” second-year head coach Chris Greisen said. “We do have some kids coming back I think will step up.”
The Phantoms have to replace the 1-2 combo of dual-threat quarterback Josh Blount and running back David Vanderlogt.
Blount was a four-year starter who tallied 4,170 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns and threw for 3,008 yards and 29 scores.
During Vanderlogt’s three years as a starter, he compiled 2,574 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns.
At running back, West De Pere has back junior Najeh Mitchell.
He had 30 carries last season for 369 yards and seven touchdowns.
Against Waupaca, Mitchell had a breakout performance with 19 carries for 311 yards and four scores.
“He’s a game-breaker,” Greisen said. “He put on some weight this offseason, and I think he’s going to be good.”
Greisen said he’s also looking at sophomore Andrew Baumgart to have a big year.
He’s a physical back at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds.
“We’re going to lean on our backs a little bit more this year,” Greisen said. “That’s the mark of a good team – they play to their strengths. That’s what we’re planning on doing.”
Another sophomore, Daekwon Smith, will be in the mix to get some carries.
Seniors Sam Aleknavicius and Isaac Denis are vying for the starting quarterback job.
Aleknavicius earned some snaps last season and was 10-for-17 passing for 134 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
West De Pere has a couple of talented options at receiver this season.
Ryder Lesage stood out to his coach during 7-on-7 competition this summer.
“You can tell he wants it,” Greisen said. “He’s hard on himself. He’s stuck out and a hard worker. He wants to be good.”
Sophomore Langdon Nordgaard, who is the son of former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball star Jeff Nordgaard, is a good athlete who can go up and get the ball.
The offensive line returns the only starter on that side of the ball.
Brett Welsing was at right tackle a season ago and will be moved to center for his senior year.
“He’s a great leader for us and does a tremendous job,” Greisen said. “That was more of his natural position. His family moved to the district last year, and we already had an established center. With COVID, we didn’t have time to work that much at center, even if we wanted to move our current center last year. We ended up putting him at tackle, and he did a good job for us.”
The other four starters on the line will be new.
Greisen is still exploring his options, but he pinpointed Connor Hoerth and Chris Coolidge as two of his staples.
“We’re a little thin, but it’s a place with (Mitchell) and (Baumgart) in the backfield, we can do some damage,” Greisen said.
Defensively, in Greisen’s 4-2-5 base scheme, he has two starters back in strong side outside linebacker Gyriese Goodman and defensive end/tackle Gaige Neuman.
“(Goodman) is a stud,” Greisen said. “He’s a kid who’s working on his grades, otherwise he’d have some Division I offers right now.”
Greisen will build around his two starters along with middle linebacker Joseph Joiner.
“They’re going to have to step up as leaders,” Greisen said.
The Phantoms’ secondary will be brand new.
Four guys – Nolan Mathews, Thomas Walder, Jaron Hendricks and John Raider – all played well in 7-on-7 and will see plenty of playing time this season.
West De Pere will have a pair of non-conference games to start the season against Wauwatosa West and Hortonville before getting into the tough FRCC schedule.
The Phantoms had lots of success in the Bay Conference, going 30-2 and winning three regular-season titles from 2016-19.
Greisen said he knows the competition each week in the FRCC will be no joke.
“I told the guys, ‘This is a new deal being in the FRCC,’” he said.
West De Pere 2021 regular season schedule
8/20 – Wauwatosa West (31-60 L)
8/27 – @ Hortonville (29-32 L)
9/3 – @ Ashwaubenon
9/10 – Bay Port
9/17 – Menasha
9/24 – @ De Pere
10/1 – Pulaski
10/8 – @ Green Bay Preble
10/15 – Green Bay Southwest
• All games begin at 7 p.m.
To read the preview for Ashwaubenon, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Bay Port, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for De Pere, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Green Bay East, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Green Bay Preble, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran/Oneida Nation, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Green Bay West, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Seymour, CLICK HERE.
To read the preview for Green Bay Southwest, CLICK HERE.