Turner Trojans (Beloit) - Rock Valley
Coach: Derek Diehl (3rd Season) 10-9 Overall (0-1 Playoffs, 2015) - Career: 6th Season (20-27 Overall, 0-2 Playoffs) ... 10-18 in 3 seasons at Williams Bay '12-14
2016 Result: 3-6 (3-6), 7th in the Rock Valley
Three-Year Record: 11-17
2016 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 3 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 10 First-Team, 14 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (33 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (5): OL/DL Brandon Malkow (First Team-OL) (WSN Top 15 Class of 2018 - OL), Sr.; WR/DB/K/P/KR/PR Juan Reyes (Second Team-WR) (First Team-DB and K in 2015) (Second Team-P and ATH in 2015) (First Team-P in 2014), Sr.; OL/LB Phyllip Brown (Second Team-OL), Sr.; QB/RB/K/P Emiliano (Nano) Reyes (Second Team-K), Jr.; WR/DB Sereno Ferone (Honorable Mention-DB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: OL/DL Greg Kuhnle, Sr.; OL/DL Chase Larsen, Sr.; WR/LB Nick Frank, Sr.; TE/DE/LS Hunter Waldsmith, Sr.; TE Shawn Waters, Sr.; WR/DB Jack Sagaitis, Sr.; FB/DL Adrian Estrada, Jr.; RB Kyle Hanaman, Jr.; FB/LB Joey Yuhas, Jr.; FB/LB Jo'Vontae Coleman, Jr.; LB Andrew Ries, So.; LB Trey Griinke, So.; QB/LB/P Ken Draeving, So.; WR Dee Strong, So.; WR/DB Treavon Bivens, So.
BIG Games: at Evansville September 1, at Big Foot September 15, vs Clinton September 22 (Homecoming), at Jefferson September 29
2016 didn't play out as Turner intended or expected.
Looking to build off of the momentum of a playoff season in 2015, the Trojans seemed poised to reach the postseason for the second straight year, particularly after starting the season 3-1. Injuries and tough competition in the conference took their toll, however, and Turner didn't win again after Week 4.
This will be the strongest team Turner has produced in recent years. That doesn't always translate into success, but we will not be able to use [lack of] strength as an excuse. This could be the team to put us back on top of the conference, but anything can happen in the Rock Valley." - Turner Head Coach Derek Diehl
Turner Head Football Coach Derek Diehl isn't one to focus on a disappointing record, however. "The team should improve this year after taking a step back last season," said Diehl, now in his third season at the helm of the Trojans. "The Trojans competed in all but two games last season, and was decimated by injuries in key positions."
Diehl, who previously coached at Williams Bay, where he took over a team that didn't win a game in 2011 and turned them around to make the playoffs in 2014, found himself in a similar situation at Turner when he was brought on board. The Trojans had gone since 1992 without a playoff berth before Diehl arrived, and then Turner reached the playoffs in his first year, 2015.
It's a different situation this season after missing the playoffs last year, but Coach Diehl thinks that last year's result had some positive effects on the Trojans' program. "Younger players got the much-needed playing time to improve this season," said Diehl.
Last year's seniors experienced being part of the first playoff team at Turner in decades, and Coach Diehl reflected on the graduating class. "They were talented kids that made good decisions," said Diehl. "All made an impact in our school as multi-sport students."
This year's team will feature an outstanding senior group led by two of the top players in the state. First-team all-conference offensive lineman Brandon Malkow, who will move to left guard this year, returns to anchor the front line. Malkow is rated in the top 15 of all offensive linemen in the state of Wisconsin. He's one of many multi-sport athletes on the Trojans. He'll be joined on the front lines by second-team all-conference lineman Phyllip Brown at the other guard spot and Greg Kuhnle at right tackle, both seniors.
Another senior offensive lineman will man the center position, and his other sport isn't one you typically see at the high school level. "Chase Larsen has been a starter at center last two seasons," said Coach Diehl. "He has had a great off season in the weight room and put on some good weight."
Coach Diehl noted that he had added 50 pounds to his frame, up to 235. "Chase is a boxer, and always kept a lean weight the last two seasons. This year, he put his fighting dreams on hold and is focused for his last year of high school football."
The last remaining spot on the offensive line will likely feature a non-senior. Two players in the mix appear to be junior Cody Krueger and Sophomore Kolton Berger. "Both have done a terrific job in the weight room," said Coach Diehl.
The other top player returning is all-everything senior Juan Reyes, who has been selected to the Rock Valley all-conference team at least once in the first or second team at kicker, punter, receiver, defensive back, and as a utility player. All told, he's earned three first-team nods and three second-team selections, including a first-team pick his freshman season and four total selections as a sophomore.
Juan Reyes, as a junior, was injured early in the year, forcing him to miss chunks of the Trojans' football season. Coach Diehl noted that while he battled injuries, ultimately requiring surgery, Reyes is now ready to go. "He is healthy, and had a great off season in the weight room, adding 25 pounds of muscle," said Diehl. "Reyes is a star."
Reyes will lead a receiving corps that will include four other seniors at wideout and tight end. Nick Frank, Jack Sagaitis, Hunter Waldsmith, and Shawn Waters all figure to see playing time as seniors in those roles. Some other contributors could be junior Thai Ransom and sophomore Dee Strong, who is 6'5".
Reyes' younger brother, Emiliano (Nano) Reyes, will return as a starting quarterback. "(Nano) Reyes was forced into starting after our starter, senior James Snyder, went down with a season-ending injury in week three last year," said Coach Diehl. "Reyes made the most of his opportunity as a sophomore, and will be counted on to run and throw the ball this year with the lessons learned as young starting quarterback from last season."
Because Nano Reyes is compact, he will be a leading candidate to step in as a starting running back as well. "At 5'10" and 210 pounds, he is a powerful kid who has dominated the weight room," said Diehl.
Another factor at quarterback is the presence of strong-armed 6'5" sophomore Ken Draeving, who Diehl says was discovered to be a great candidate in practice last season. Coach Diehl says Draeving will focus on quarterback this year, which could allow Nano Reyes to move around in the backfield.
At running back, the team will graduate their top two rushers from last year, but add junior Kyle Hanaman back to the roster. "He runs low and extremely hard and has the speed to take it to the house," said Coach Diehl. Diehl noted that Hanaman took last year off, his sophomore season, to recover from a baseball injury. Hanaman also plays hockey.
Fullback looks to be manned by juniors Joey Yuhas or Jo'Vontae Coleman, who respectively represent power and speed as a compliment to the running backs. "The Trojans will have all the running styles to pick from," said Coach Diehl.
Defensively, some of the same names will be occupying positions as two-way players. Brandon Malkow will play both ways, and as a defensive tackle on defense. Returning starter Adrian Estrada, a junior, also is back, who Diehl says is athletic enough to play off of the line of scrimmage on offense as well if needed. Defensive end figures to be a tough competition among several players.
Phyllip Brown will be another two-way starter, as he will play middle linebacker. A pair of sophomores will take over the outside linebacker positions, Trey Griinke and Andrew Ries, the latter of whom Diehl believes will solve the consistency problem the Trojans had at the position last year.
Honorable mention all-conference defensive back Sereno Ferone, a senior, returns to the defensive backfield along with Juan Reyes. Senior Jack Sagaitis looks to take over one of the vacated starting positions left by graduation, while sophomore Treavon Bivens may be a replacement for his older brother, Tony, at cornerback.
One strength the team has is in special teams: all of its top performers from last year are back. "Both Reyes brothers return, and have been proven weapons on the field," said Coach Diehl. Juan Reyes has been first-team all-conference at both kicker and punter, while Nano Reyes was selected second-team at kicker last season.
Even the long-snapper, Hunter Waldsmith, is back, who Diehl calls 'extremely consistent'. Holder Jack Sagaitis also returns.
"This will be the strongest team Turner has produced in recent years," said Coach Diehl. "That doesn't always translate into success, but we will not be able to use [the lack of] strength as an excuse."
On the schedule, because the Rock Valley is a closed conference (the 10 teams play nine games, all against other Rock Valley opponents), Turner will see the same schedule of teams as they did last year.
"I think teams will be surprised of the size and strength that has been added," said Diehl. "This could be the team to put us back on top of the conference, but anything can happen in the Rock Valley."
Turner started off last year with a pair of victories over Edgerton and Whitewater, and they will open up against the same two teams this year, at Edgerton and home against Whitewater.
September will be a telling month for the program, with all five games (and six in a row) against 2016 playoff teams. It begins on September 1st at defending Rock Valley co-champ Evansville/Albany, before the Trojans hit the road for a showdown with Brodhead/Juda on September 8, which was the last team that Turner defeated in 2016 before dropping five straight to end the season. It also was the week last year that Turner's star player, Juan Reyes, went down with injury.
Three of the next four contests have the Trojans on the road against playoff teams from 2016. First, it's a date with Jackson Enz and Big Foot on September 15. Turner then returns home for Homecoming against the other Rock Valley co-champion, Clinton. Wrapping up September in Week 7 is a game at Jefferson, and the Eagles handed Turner their largest loss of 2016, 49-7.
East Troy is the opponent on the road in Week 8 before the Trojans end the season playing McFarland, a team that won 34-6 in Week 9 over Turner a year ago.
It's typical in the Rock Valley that the race for conference championship is a bit muddled, but there aren't any clear-cut favorites in 2017. Jefferson features a very strong defense and figures to be one of the favorites in the conference this year. Big Foot will feature one of the top players in the state in Jackson Enz. East Troy will rely on a strong offensive line to pave the way towards the playoffs and conference title contention this season. Brodhead-Juda's run game looks to power the Cardinals to another postseason. Edgerton will lead a youth movement this year behind incoming juniors and all-conference honorable mention players Jaden Johnson at quarterback and Mason Simmons at linebacker. McFarland will have experience at most of its skill positions, with the strength of its team in the junior and sophomore classes. Whitewater returns one of the top players in the state in Jimmy DuVal.
Of the defending conference champions, Clinton looks poised to be at or near the top of the conference again behind seven returning all-conference players, one year following a run to the state semifinals. Evansville/Albany loses 13 players that earned all-conference honors last season, but have a fourth-year varsity quarterback in Zach Mielke, and another large, talented group of upperclassmen set to increase their roles.
"The conference as a whole should be stronger than last year, which will lead to an exciting season," said Coach Diehl. "The playoffs is our team goal every year."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska