CLINTON, Wis. - The choice for Beloit Daily News Player of the Year was made fairly simple in 2017, thanks in large part to one critical number: 2,386.
That's how many yards Clinton senior Zach Krause rushed for. Krause, who also played well in Clinton's defensive backfield, led Wisconsin in regular season rushing yards, and finished fourth when all postseason totals were accounted for. He scored 27 touchdowns and lost just one fumble in 216 carries as the Cougars had another banner season, going 11-1 before losing in the WIAA Division 5 state quarterfinals to Lake Country Lutheran.
Krause, who follows in former Clinton running back and 2016 BDN Player of the Year Jordan Jones' footsteps, was hobbled late in the season by an ankle injury, but didn't let it affect his production as he rushed for at least 100 yards in every game but the final contest, when he carried for 84 yards despite limping for much of the game.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Krause could run past, or over, opposing defenses, all the while exhibiting tremendous patience while waiting for a hole to be created.
Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak said Krause's success could be traced directly to his work ethic.
"The best thing I can say about the kid is that he's a great teammate," Spiwak said. "His success on the field is a byproduct of doing all the right things for four years. You like to see kids like that get rewarded with a special senior season, and that's what he had. He was banged up pretty bad at the end of the year, but we knew if we had any chance at all, he had to be out there for us, and he was."
Hononegah coach Brian Zimmerman was honored as the Coach of the Year after leading the Indians to an undefeated regular season and a convincing playoff victory over Harlem. After co-coaching the Indians with Chad Smith in 2015, Zimmerman was handed the reins in 2016 and has grown the Indians' streak of qualifying for the postseason to 11 years.
North Boone quarterback Britton Morris had a monster junior season, passing for 2,442 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He was also a threat on the ground, rushing for 886 yards and 13 more touchdowns.
The stable of talented running backs includes Krause, Beloit Turner junior Kyle Hanaman and Hononegah senior Dallas Washington.
Hanaman fought off a knee injury to post 1,087 yards on 151 carries (7.2 average) while scoring 13 times. He rushed for at least 100 yards four times, highlighted by a 233-yard performance against McFarland in the regular season finale.
"We called Kyle 'The Raptor' because he ran so close to the ground," Turner coach Derek Diehl said. "I told him he's a tough kid who has a forward lean that makes him tough to bring down. You could see when he was a freshman that he was going to be a special player for us."
Washington was a rugged bruiser who finished with 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns on a NIC-10 high 200 carries.
North Boone senior Hayden Corson was easily Morris' favorite target, catching 45 passes for 870 yards and an eye-catching 16 touchdowns.
Pedro Sierra of Big Foot had a terrific season despite a mid-season quarterback change due to an injury to Jackson Enz. Sierra finished the season with 42 catches for 639 yards and eight touchdowns.
Brandon Malkow, who will play for Western Illinois next season, was a force at offensive tackle for the Trojans, helping them rack up a tremendous offensive season.
Eric Paschke, along with second-teamer Clayton Hahn and all-area defensive lineman Kenny Ballmer, were instrumental in the success of the Clinton ground attack, which finished among the best in Wisconsin.
"Eric has such a high football IQ," Spiwak said. "He just understands how to play the game. He made all of our line calls, made the adjustments for us when we needed that, and that was a big part of his value to us."
Hononegah's Nate Kaiser and Kaden Carnes helped Washington rush for over 1,000 yards and second-team quarterback Ryan Van Schelven pass for 1,316 yards as well. Kaiser, the senior center, was the glue to the Indians' line, while Carnes, at 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, mauled opponents at guard.
South Beloit's Seth Norris was recognized as the SoBos' only Northeastern Athletic Conference choice as a first-team player.
Tight end Hunter Waldsmith averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and scored two touchdowns for the Trojans, and provided steady blocking on the edge to help the running attack.
"Hunter was kind of an unsung her for us, so it's great to see him get recognition for his efforts," Diehl said. "He didn't put up huge numbers, but we really relied on him a lot in terms of blocking in our running game."
Juan Reyes makes our first-team as the kicker, but could have been put at any number of spots. Reyes did it all for Turner, catching 31 passes for 477 yards, rushing for 172 more, while leading the team in total tackles with 92. Reyes averaged 40.3 yards per punt, and made 30-of-33 extra point tries as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, the front is dominated by Indians. Sean Davidson,a junior transfer from South Beloit, Jake Hoper and Nate McElmeel all were first-team All-NIC-10 selections.
Joining the Hononegah trio on the defensive line is Beloit Memorial's Amaurii Grosskopf, who came up with 62 tackles, including 16 for loss from his defensive tackle spot. Ballmer finished with 60 tackles, including an eye-popping 17 for loss, and had a memorable fumble return for a touchdown in the playoffs to cap his season.
"Kenny still hasn't stopped growing," Spiwak said. "He had a setback one year when he broke his foot and missed the season, but since then he's really took off. He was a great player on both sides of the ball for us. And
Davidson recorded 48 tackles, including an impressive seven behind the line of scrimmage, and added four sacks as well. Hoper finished with 46 tackles (six for loss) and four sacks, while McElmeel finished with a team-best seven sacks to go along with 50 tackles and seven for loss.
Another Purple Knight, junior Matt Wedig, joins Grosskopf on the all-Big Eight first-team from a linebacker spot. Wedig had 52 tackles, including nine behind the line of scrimmage, two sacks and two interceptions, both of which he returned for a touchdown. Wedig also led the team in receptions with 20.
Joining Wedig on the linebacking corps is another Indian, Zach Hale.
Rounding out the linebackers is Clinton's Connor Mullooly, who was named Rock Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 127 total tackles, including 14 for loss, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.
"There wasn't a statistic on the score sheet that Connor didn't have," Spiwak said. "He's the most instinctual player we have. I'm not sure why, because he did it for us for three years, but he always kind of flew under the radar for us. He was a quiet leader who showed up every day and worked hard."
In the secondary, Hononegah's Drew Rollette is joined by Brodhead-Juda's Brekan Day, Turner's Sereno Ferone and Beloit Memorial's Casper Clark.
Rollette missed his junior season with an ankle injury but came back to record 39 tackles, including four for loss, and one interception that he returned for a touchdown.
"Drew is a tough, hard-nosed player that also plays really smart," Zimmerman said. "He can shed blocks and make plays all over the field for us."
Day, who was a state champion high jumper in the spring, picked off a team-best four passes for the Cardinals to go along with 34 tackles. He was Brodhead-Juda's leading receiver and second-leading rusher as well.
Ferone was a dynamic athlete who found ways to tilt the field in Turner's favor time and again. Ferone was third on the team in tackles with 58, picked off a team-best four passes, averaged nearly 19 yards per punt return and was the team's leading receiver with 673 yards and six touchdowns.
Clark led the Purple Knights in tackles with 83, forced one fumble and picked off a team-best four passes.
"We really designed our defense around Casper," Beloit Memorial coach Rodney Wedig said. "The goal was to keep him free to play center field or for him to come up and deliver a big hit. He made a lot of plays when there was a blown coverage or came up and made a tackle when someone didn't fill a gap."
The punter on the team is Big Foot's Jackson Enz, but like Reyes, Enz could've earned first-team designation in a number of areas. Despite playing just six games, Enz's numbers and talent were too good to ignore. As a quarterback, he was on his way to a record-setting season, throwing for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 609 yards and 11 more touchdowns.
Enz, the area's highest-recruited player, will play defensive back for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State next season. He made 60 tackles to go along with a forced fumble and an interception before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He averaged 39.8 yards per kick, placing five inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
• FiRST TEAM: QB: Britton Morris, North Boone, jr.; RB: Kyle Hanaman, Beloit Turner, sr.; Dallas Washington, Hononegah, sr.; Zach Krause, Clinton, sr.; WR: Pedro Sierra, Big Foot sr.; Hayden Corson, North Boone, sr.; OL: Brandon Malkow, Turner, sr.; Eric Paschke, Clinton, sr.; Kate Kaiser, Hononegah, sr.; Seth Norris, South Beloit, sr.;' Kaden Carnes, Hononegah, jr.; TE: Hunter Waldsmith, Turner, sr.; DL: Kenny Ballmer, Clinton, sr.; Sean Davidson, Hononegah, jr.; Jake Hope, Hononegah, sr.; Nat McElmeel, Hononegah, sr.; Amauri Grosskopf, Beloit Memorial, sr.; LB: Matt Wedig, Beloit Memorial, jr.; Connor Mullooly, Clinton, sr.; Zach Hale, sr., Hononegah. DB: Drew Rollette, Hononegah, sr.; Brekan Day, Brodhead-Juda, sr.; Sereno Ferone, Turner, sr.; Casper Clark, Beloit Memorial, sr. K: Juan Reyes, Turner, sr.; P: Jackson Enz, Big Foot, sr.
• SECOND TEAM: QB: Ryan Van Schelven, Hononegah, jr.: Tyler Halsted, QB, Clinton. RB: Kyle Hereford, Beloit Memorial, sr, Danny Passialis, South Beloit, sr.; WR: Cameron Carey, Hononegah, sr.; Miles Beckham, South Beloit, sr. OL: Clayton Hahn, Clinton, sr.; Angel Zuniga, Beloit Memorial, sr. DL: Steve Espinoza, Clinton., sr.; Adrian Estrada, Turner, jr., Gavon Brown, Parkview, sr.; Christian Winfield, Beloit Memorial, jr. LB: Colin Warpula, Clinton, sr.; Ivan Williams, Hononegah, sr.; Nathan Mohr, Parkview, sr; Nik Carpenter, Beloit Memorial, sr.; DB: Nick Carter, Hononegah. Ryan Miller, Parkview, sr.; Riley Carroll, Parkview, sr.