Offensive weapons could fuel Phantoms to improved season
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – With an improved defense and veteran experience returning on offense, the West De Pere football team should see a big jump in its second season in the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC).
“Seeing what it was like in the conference last season, it’s good to have that under our belts,” West De Pere coach Chris Greisen said. “I think we’ll see good improvement this year.”
The Phantoms finished 4-6 in 2021 and made the playoffs but lost to Pulaski in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 Level 1 playoffs, 23-14.
“Early on (last season), we were trying to figure out our identity as a team,” Greisen said. “We had some selfish play going on –- guys playing for themselves and not for their teammates. When that was gone, we started playing better. There were times we could have been better, but we were mostly encouraged with our play.”
West De Pere also lost tight games to Bay Port (26-21) and De Pere (21-16) in the regular season.
“We were right there in those games, but unfortunately, we ended up fumbling late near the goal line to take the lead,” Greisen said.
Junior quarterback Duke Shovald, an honorable mention pick in the FRCC, returns. As a sophomore, he was 114-for-190 passing with 1,644 yards and 14 touchdown passes, against only six interceptions.
“Duke came in for the first time against Ashwaubenon last season and did a nice job,” Greisen said. “He threw for 326 yards against Bay Port in his first start. His understanding of the game is much better this year.”
Greisen said Shovald took a big step forward this offseason during 7-on-7 drills.
“I had Duke calling the plays,” he said. “I don’t believe in calling the plays in the summer — that’s for the quarterbacks to do. We won the Packers 7-on-7 tournament –- that was awesome. The kids’ confidence grew because of that.”
Senior wide receiver Langdon Nordgaard, the son of former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball player Jeff Nordgaard, returns but is dealing with an injury.
“Langdon is OK,” Greisen said. “He lacerated his kidney in our first contact practice (earlier this summer). It was a freak accident, kind of a one-in-a-million thing. He has started some non-contact drills with working out and running routes again. I’m not sure exactly when we’ll get
him back, but we’re hoping it’s some point this season.”
Nordgaard grabbed 35 receptions for 607 yards (17.3 average) and was a second-team all-conference choice.
Senior running back Najeh Mitchell, the FRCC Back/Receiver of the Year who is receiving interest from several Division I and II schools, had 903 yards rushing with 14 touchdowns on 193 attempts.
He was also a weapon out of the backfield, hauling in 37 passes for 570 yards (15.4 average) and nine touchdowns.
“Najeh had Purdue and Syracuse give him some sniffs, but I think they’re a bit concerned about his size,” Greisen said. “He’s an explosive player, and we’re glad to have him. It’s nice to have a kid like that who can come out of the backfield, too.”
In its first two losses of last season, the Phantoms surrendered 92 points combined.
“We’re looking really good (defensively),” Greisen said. “We have lots of guys who got reps last season returning this year. Our defense is fast and explosive. Our linemen won that portion of the Packers event, too. We’re not the biggest and fastest, but we’re excited.”
First-team kicker Bryce Smith also returns and should be a good weapon again.
“Bryce is mentally tough and had a great season last year,” Greisen said. “Our special teams have good speed and youth. Our sophomores are a talented group.”
Greisen said he expects his squad to be fighting for a conference crown.
“We do expect that,” he said. “Ashwaubenon, Bay Port, De Pere and Pulaski should be right there, too. We’ll have to be at the top of our game and execute. We feel good about it and expect some dividends from our hard work.”
WEST DE PERE’S REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE
Aug. 19 vs. Hortonville
Aug. 26 @ Kaukauna
Sept. 2 @ Green Bay West
Sept. 9 vs. Ashwaubenon
Sept. 16 @ Pulaski
Sept. 23 vs. De Pere
Sept. 30 @ Green Bay Southwest
Oct. 7 vs. Green Bay Preble
Oct. 14 @ Bay Port
Note: All games begin at 7 p.m.