Notre Dame Tritons look to raise the bar
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – It’s the goal every season for the Notre Dame Academy football team to compete for a conference title and ultimately a state title.
Last season, the Tritons came up short of those two goals.
Notre Dame advanced to Level 2 of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs, but the team’s overall record was just one win over .500.
“6-5 is still not Notre Dame football,” Tritons coach Mike Rader said. “We expect to be in a better spot than that and the teams that we lost to are good, solid quality teams. But we need to find a way to win and put ourselves in a better situation.”
The Tritons will have to replace some highly productive players on both sides of the ball, but they return key pieces as well.
Following losses to Pulaski and Bay Port in the opening two games of the season, Notre Dame averaged 36.7 points per game in the final nine games.
That high-octane offense was led by running back Daniel Hornacek. The senior rushed for 1,840 yards, 7.5 yards every time he touched the ball, and 26 touchdowns.
Having to replace Hornacek is a big task. Following Notre Dame’s scrimmage at Appleton East on Aug. 12, Rader got a good look at three backs that will vie for carries: senior Jack Berndt and juniors Brayden Davis and Ian Blom.
“Fortunately, they all ran hard, they all did a pretty good job,” Rader said. “There were glimmers of hope throughout and from a coaching standpoint, that’s perfect.”
Neither of those three guys stood out more than another in the scrimmage.
With nearly 2,000 yards to go around, Rader isn’t sure yet entering his team’s first game of the season if it will be running by committee or if someone will step forward and receive the bulk of the carries.
“I think it’s still too early to tell,” Rader said. “Whenever we put the entire load on one guy, you put all your eggs in one basket. Daniel, fortunately for us, was able to carry that load, but you get a little thin after that. Having a few more choices this year is good.
“We’ve done it both ways over the years — we’ve had guys who’ve run for 2,000 yards for us and we’ve had years where two guys have run for 1,000 yards. If the guys up front do their job, we always say it doesn’t matter who’s in the back. I tell them, ‘Coach Rader could be in the back there and still get a bunch of yards.’”
At quarterback, Notre Dame will plug in last year’s backup Joe Otradovec. Replacing Sam Lagowski, Otradovec played in five games and was 7-for-13 passing for 32 yards.
Last year’s top wide receiver Keegan King graduated, but starting slot receiver Max Augustine is back. He had nine catches for 95 yards.
Rader is expecting nice product from 6-foot-5 target Ethan Wall-Atim. A solid basketball player, Wall-Atim has the ability to go up and get passes.
“He is a special athlete,” Rader said. “He has some really cool tools, and you usually don’t get a kid that big. He’s not skinny either — he’s 220-something pounds right now, so he’s a big dude.”
Also back at tight end is James Flanigan. Last year as a freshman, he hauled in 11 balls for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
“With a year in, James is still young,” Rader said. “He just got his driver’s license and he’s still growing and figuring out what he can do with the tools that God gave him. He’s going to have a good year, we know that. How good he ends up being is going to be up to how hard he works and how it fits into the system.”
Three offensive linemen are back after earning starts last season — Tate Milton at right guard, Jason VandenHouten at center and Joe Hackl at right tackle.
“They have all played quite a bit of football for us,” Rader said. “They’re all kind of goofy linemen, so it’s a lot of fun to coach those guys. When they get going, it’s fun to watch. If they do well, we’ll have a good season. They know that.”
Rader will plug in Louie Kippley at right guard and Jackson Pokel at left tackle.
Defensively last season, Notre Dame allowed just 5.5 points per game in his six wins, but 34.6 points in its five losses.
“If you look at the losses we had last year against Pulaski, Bay Port, De Pere and then Menasha, we’ve got to stop the run, flat out that’s what we have to do,” Rader said. “We have to figure out how to get guys in better down and distance situations to help us out. When it comes down to getting them off the field, we need to do a better job at doing that. That’s what the focus has been on all camp here in getting ready for Friday.”
Six starters are back on defense this season.
On the line, defensive end Blake Osbahr has been receiving looks from FCS schools and looks the part of a college player at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. Milton, Hackl and Cade Wasilkoff will round out the starters.
The linebacking corps consists of Carter Dahlke, Flanigan, Owen Wery and Berndt.
Augustine, Joey Hoerning and Henry Weber will be starting in the secondary.
Notre Dame will get a test right off the bat again this season, traveling to Pulaski and Bay Port in back-to-back games.
Those games should prepare the Tritons for the Fox River Classic Conference-South schedule.
Last season, Notre Dame finished second in conference behind Menasha. The Bluejays beat the Tritons twice, once in the regular season and a second time in Level 2 of the playoffs.
“Menasha is the cream of the crop,” Rader said. “They do a great job, they’ve got a lot of great athletes, they’re coached super well. I think they’re going to be the team to beat as they were last year. After that, I would hope that we do a pretty good job.”
NOTRE DAME’S REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
Aug. 19 @ Pulaski
Aug. 25 @ Bay Port
Sept. 2 vs. Green Bay East
Sept. 9 @ Sheboygan South
Sept. 16 vs. Sheboygan North
Sept. 23 vs. Green Bay Preble
Sept. 30 @ Menasha
Oct. 7 @ Green Bay West
Oct. 14 vs. Manitowoc Lincoln
Note: All games begin at 7 p.m.