Big 8 All-Conference Performers
As we enter the second week of the Wisconsin State Playoffs, I have decided to announce my (personal) All-Conference performers list from this past season. This past year has been a tremendous ride and I am personally very thankful that I have been apart of it. For starters, the Madison West Regents transformed from a 1-8 ball club into a 7-2 team, and that seventh win of the season came in the first round of the playoffs last week. That playoff win was the Regents first playoff victory since 1981, a year that was best known for an assassination attempt on Pres. Ronald Reagan, the launch of MTV, Rick Springfield’s song “Jessie’s Girl”, the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the year the first wild card team in NFL history won Super Bowl XV when the Oakland Raiders defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10.
And how bout the race for the conference championship towards the end of the year? Sun Prairie flexed their muscle all season long after knocking off the defending conference champion, Verona, in week one of the season and continued to roll all season. But the race was never really over, until it was over. (What the heck does that mean? I don’t know, a lot of work on not a lot of sleep, but here is what I mean.) Until the final whistle in the final game of the final week of the season, Madison West had a chance to hand Verona their second loss of the season and move into the 1 b. spot in the conference, meaning a tie for the conference championship. Because, Sun Prairie and West did not square off this season, had the Regents won that final contest, West could have shared the conference crown with Sun Prairie. But in the end, the football gods did not want to cause any headaches and Verona eventually defeated West to give the Cardinals the outright conference title.
And finally, the Big 8 had the most teams of any conference enter into the Wisconsin State Playoffs this season with five squads vying for the gold ball in Madison. As we know now, Sun Prairie defeated Madison Memorial in the first game, Verona took care of business against Mukwonago and Madison West defeated Oconomowoc to all advance to the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, Middleton, the only Big 8 team to lose in the playoffs thus far, was handed their early walking papers out of the tournament by loosing to Sussex Hamilton 44-9. But again, it has truly been a fantastic year to be a part of and I wish nothing but the best to everyone involved with every team in this conference and across the state. But now for my All-Conference performers...
Top Quarterback: Alex Brown, Madison West
Season Stats: 9 games, 80-156 for 1,430 yards with 20 touchdowns
All season long Alex Brown fearlessly led his Regent squad into battle against teams that were heavily favored and believed to be the better team. And all season long Alex Brown proved everyone wrong and led his Regent squad to an outstanding and downright unbelievable, 6-2 regular season record, and the schools first playoff win since the Reagan administration. While Brown may not have had quite the year statistically that Madison Memorial quarterback Joe Ferguson may have had, the fact that Brown completely turned the fortunes of a football program around was enough to make him my pick for the conferences top quarterback. With 20 touchdowns compared to only nine interceptions, and nearly 160 yards passing per game, Brown continued to produce throughout the entire year, game in and game out. While one could make the argument that Brown didn’t have the proverbial “statement win” against a top competitor, this young man still had a fabulous year, and won a playoff game. In the Regents two toughest games, against Middleton and Verona to end the season, Brown had a combined four touchdowns to three interceptions. And while these stats on paper may not look like those of a top quarterback, in the Middleton game, Brown’s two interceptions were in situations where he was just trying to do a little to much to get his team back into the ball game in the last minutes of that contest. And in the Verona game, Brown threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, while his only interception was off the hands of his wide receiver in the red zone when the Regents were knocking on the door to bring the game within three points after a potential score. Looking back as well, head to head, Brown out dueled Ferguson in the third game of the season in a 28-27 shootout. In that game, Brown threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns while Ferguson had 324 yards and a touchdown, but threw two very costly interceptions early in that game which was ultimately the difference. Advantage Brown, and that is way he is my top passer in the conference.
Honorable Mention: Joe Ferguson, Madison Memorial
Season Stats: 8 games, 122-266 for 1,759 yards and 16 touchdowns & 11 rushing scores.
Joe Ferguson had unquestionably one of the best statistical seasons of any player in the Big 8. Ferguson threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns along with rushing for 317 yards and 11 more rushing scores. Ferguson no doubt deserves to be an All-Conference passer but I just feel that the things that he did during this season, Brown did and then some, on top of completely turning his team around. Throughout the year Ferguson put up the stats but just not the wins needed to have that standout year. If I were a head coach running a spread option type offense, I would choose no one else other than this young man to lead my squad. His ability to both effectively throw the ball and run the ball is unmatched but sometimes tradition wins out in the case of Brown. It is kind of like the argument, in a sense, between a Matt Barkley and a Marcus Mariota. You love what Mariota is doing and what he can do, but Barkley will generally always get the nod for a quarterback on quarterback battle. Anyway, GO DUCKS... I love Oregon, and that spread offense.
Top Running back: Dom Wise, Verona
Season Stats: 7 games, 988 yards on 144 attempts with 18 touchdowns
Dom Wise is my pick for the top running back in the conference because he has done all the right things all year long. After the week one loss the Wildcats suffered against eventual conference champion Sun Prairie, Wise was sidelined with an ankle injury for the following week and a game later in the season when that injury crept back up. In those games, Verona played Janesville Craig and Parker, teams that all year long struggled on defense particularly against the run so Wise could have easily eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark had he participated in those contests. Given that Wise averaged 141.1 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game, I have projected his season totals to be 1,271 yards and 24 touchdowns for the season, putting this young man over 100 yards and 12 touchdowns ahead of the official conference leading runner in Sun Prairie’s Donte Starlin-Merriam. Verona head coach Dave Richardson has told me that Dom Wise has been the absolutle key to this teams success all year long, and you couple this young man with the Wildcat offense line that has been one of the best in the conference along with the teams solid defense, Verona could really make a run deep into the playoffs. Speaking of that offensive line, Wise has repeatedly told me that he could do nothing without the big hog-mollies up front. Wise has been a true gentlemen all year long when I have interviewed him and has never once hesitated to throw out compliments to all of his teammates, especially his offensive line. For all these reasons, Dom Wise is my Big 8 top rusher for this season.
Honorable Metion: Donte Starlin-Merriam, Sun Prairie
Season Stats: 9 games, 1.152 yards on 171 carries with 12 touchdowns
This season Donte Starlin-Merriam has played exceptionally so it was a very tough decision on who to select for the top rusher in the conference, but a decision had to be made. This season the Cardinals have been the class of the conference who has dominated the competition with arguably the best defense in the entire state and the teams fantastic rushing attack led by Starlin-Merriam. An undefeated year is something that is rarely attained in sports and Sun Prairie has a real opportunity to cement themselves in the record books with a spotless record and a possible state championship at the end of the year. Championship teams play outstanding defense and can effectively run the ball, two things this team does better than any other in the state. Starlin-Merriam has rushed for an average of 128 yards and just over one touchdown per game this season and is one of the main reasons this team is believing that they can hoist the gold ball come November. It was the proverbial coin flip decision between Wise and this young man, but I decided to go with Wise as the top rusher in the conference, but I would take Starlin-Merriam to start in my backfield any day of the week if I were a high school football coach.
Top Wide Receiver: Jester Weah, Madison Memorial
Season Stats: 9 games, 40 receptions for 801 yards and 8 touchdowns
Jester Weah is my pick for the conferences top receiver, and I don’t believe I would have anyone disagree. Weah all season long blew the lid off of the competition over the top of the defenses and had several tremendous performances. With 801 yards on the season and 21.1 yards per reception, there was really no question as to who would be the conferences top pass catcher. Weah had five games this year with over 100 yards receiving and only two with under 50 yards receiving. The one blemish on the season for Weah was the Sun Prairie game where he only had two receptions with 12 yards. But who could really blame him, he was limited in that contest and was up against the states toughest defense. Ferguson continued to lean on him whenever he needed a safety blanket and Weah was always there for him. In some games this season, Weah only had three, maybe four receptions, but in those games he had over 25 yards per catch. A constant deep threat, and a constant target for his team, and that is why he is my pick for the conferences top wide receiver.
Honorable Mention: Terrel McFadden, Madison West
Season Stats: 7 games, 20 receptions for 505 yards and 9 touchdowns
Everyone knows that the Big 8 Conference is basically a run first conference, but that does not mean that wide receivers were a non factor. For my honorable mention pick at the position, I chose Terrel McFadden from Madison West. Much like how Weah benefitted from Ferguson and visa-verse, Brown benefitted from having this young man on his team. McFadden may have only had 20 receptions, but he made the most of them and finished with 505 yards and nine touchdowns. All season long McFadden was one of Brown’s top pass catchers and both fed off of each other nicely. Again, any player on West this season got a boost in my book because of the teams incredible turnaround but he was also the second best receiver in the conference just looking at the stats as well. McFadden also doubled as the Regents wildcat quarterback who also added a passing touchdown on the season against rival Madison East and a rushing touchdown as well. For his ability to get open all year long, and his versatility, he is my honorable mention top receiver in the conference.
Best Defensive Player: Entire Sun Prairie Cardinal squad
Season Stats: 678 tackles, 99 for a loss, 34 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 9 fumble recoveries, 8 interceptions and 3 defensive touchdowns
I struggled to pinpoint specific players who really excelled on the defensive side of the ball that had better years than the sum of the parts that made up the Sun Prairie Cardinal defense. I mean lets get real, these guys dominated the entire year. the Cardinals never allowed more then seven points during any contest during the regular season, and essentially shutout Madison Memorial in the first round of the playoffs. This team had more tackles for a loss than two team in the conference had passing yards this season. They not only dominated the competition, they straight up embarrassed teams all season long. The Cardinals motto all season was “If they don’t score, they don’t win” and boy oh boy did they ever follow that to a T. Players like Dylen Carter and Jeremiah Bradley held down the back end of this defense with exceptional coverage of some of the conferences top receivers, just refer to Jester Weah’s game against this team. But this team was all about the front seven. Shane Seiter at linebacker headlined this defense with 9.5 sacks this season but the men in front of him like Craig Evans and Devin Webster made that all possible. All season long these men looked more like a brick wall than a defense made up of 11 players. For that reason, I decided to go with an entire squad rather than individual players. Defense wins championships, and Sun Prairie already has the conference crown, we’ll see if this team can’t hoist the gold ball in Madison come mid November.
Conference Coach of the Year/ Team of the Year: Greg Valaskey, Madison West
Again, I don’t want to keep saying it cause I already have said it like 900 times this year, but this team was 1-8 last year. 1-8, and went 6-2 this year and won their first playoff game since ’81. The Regents weren’t a team that had an OK season last year and just needed one more season to excel. The Regents haven’t always been right at the top of the conference year in and year out. This team defied everything thought to be known about them and went 6-2 into the playoffs. Valaskey did a tremendous job from week one of practice in the summer to now advancing to the second round of the playoffs. He continued to instill confidence in his team all year and never stopped believing in what they could do. To put it in perspective, thats like the Jacksonville Jaguars contending for an AFC Championship this year after finsishing as one of the worst last year. Looking at the rosters from this year and last, there was a whole lot of talent lost from the 2011 campaign so maybe this team was the proverbial sleeping dragon that was set to explode but again, a 1-8 record into a 7-2 season this year can not be chalked up to just that. I loved watching this team play this year and I wish nothing but the best for them in the future. An inspiring season to say the least has been accomplished already for the Regents but they hope they aren’t done yet. For that, Madison West and coach Valaskey are my picks for the Coach and Team of the Year.
By: Tyler Zavadsky Twitter: @TylerZonESPN
Prep Reporter ESPN 1380
Return to: Prep Corner Blog