By Jennifer Eisenbart

Sports editor

With a senior-laden team, many people wondered just how far the Waterford Union High School football team would go this season.

As it turned out, pretty far. The Wolverines made it all the way to the WIAA Division 2 state championship game before bowing out to Waunakee, 45-0, at Camp Randall in Madison.

Leading the way for the Wolverines were four captains: Dylan Dessart, Zach Fisher, Greg Steffens and Jordan Underly. Each played an important part in the Wolverines’ success, and as a result, are sharing the 2011 All-Area Player of the Year honors.

“They were four people on a very well-balanced team,” said Waterford coach Adam Bakken. “All four of them, they did a great job leading all year, as did a number of seniors.

“But those four … we didn’t have many two-way players, and Dylan, Greg and Jordan played both ways.”

While all four players had gaudy offensive stats, Dessart, Steffens and Underly made an impact on the defense as well.

“Jordan was one of our leading tacklers. He called our defense,” said Bakken. “He kind of did it all. Dylan played cornerback for us, such a good athlete.

“Greg played outside linebacker, free safety. He did a lot of stuff for us.”

With a proven leader in Fisher at quarterback, the Wolverines had it all.

“He’s a very smart kid,” Bakken said. “He just does such a good job of getting people in the right spot … getting the ball to the right guy.”

Bakken said the ending to the season was a little disappointing, but overall, it was a memorable year – the first double-digit win season, and the first trip to the state finals.

“There’s a lot of accomplishments I’m very grateful for,” Bakken said. “The kids played a certain way to allow that to happen.”

Here’s a look at the 2011 All-Area Football Team as selected by this newspaper’s sports staff. The All-Area team includes players from Burlington, Catholic Central, Union Grove and Waterford high schools.

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback

Zach Fisher, sr., Waterford Union High School: Fisher threw for 1,600 yards on the season in spite of missing two games with a knee injury.

He completed 90 of 132 passes for 18 touchdowns and had just three interceptions.

 

Wide receivers

Dylan Dessart, sr., Waterford Union High School: Dessart finished with the second-highest number of touchdowns – four – for the Wolverines this season.

He caught 17 passes for 355 yards, an average of 20.9 yards per catch, and also rushed for 529 yards.

T.J. Walkington, sr., Catholic Central: Walkington was another utility player for the Hilltoppers, playing at running back, wide receiver and kicker, but he led CCHS with 566 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

“T.J. is an exceptional athlete and an outstanding offensive football player,” said CCHS coach Tom Aldrich. “He is a very exciting player to watch and has the ability to score whenever he touches the ball.”

 

Running backs

Greg Steffens, sr., Waterford Union High School: Steffens was part of a three-pronged running attack for the Wolverines, finishing with 1,215 yards on 182 carries with 17 touchdowns.

Rayce Wadsworth, sr., Catholic Central High School: Wadsworth became the featured back for the Hilltoppers’ rushing game, and finished the season with 934 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. He also had three receiving touchdowns.

“Rayce really came into his own midway through the season,” Aldrich said. “He is a big back with halfback instincts and skills.”

 

Tight end

(tie) Ty Dennis, Burlington High School and Dustin Schindler, sr., Waterford Union High School: Dennis led the Demons with 33 receptions and 536 yards receiving.

“Ty has great hands and he runs excellent routes,” said BHS coach Hans Block. “His ability to catch the ball in traffic is what separates him from many other high school receivers.”

Schindler led the Wolverines in receiving with 517 yards.

“He’s a very complete receiver,” said Bakken. “He’s got very good hands. We asked him to do a little bit more blocking than he’s done in the past … and it was a role he embraced overall.”

 

Offensive line

Neal Miller, sr., Burlington High School: A three-year starter on the offensive line, Miller was the glue that held the Demons together this year.

“He is by far our strongest player and he has put in countless hours in the weight room in his preparation,” said Block. “Neal is our best offensive lineman.”

The senior played on defense as well.

Ryan Vinz, sr., Waterford Union High School: A three-year varsity player for the Wolverines, Bakken pointed to Vinz’s size – about 5-11 and 265 pounds.

“He’s a big, physical guy,” Bakken said. “He’s a very good run blocker. With his size and strength, he presents a lot of problems for defensive linemen.”

Jake Kunze, jr., Waterford Union High School: Kunze was another part of a tough, physical O-Line for the Wolverines.

“He played our left tackle position,” Bakken said. “He has to deal with more speed on the ends. He’s out by himself a lot of times.”

Tom Murray, sr., Catholic Central High School: Playing at center, Murray was the leader his team needed, Aldrich said.

“As our center, he was the glue that held our line together,” Aldrich said. “An excellent technician, Tom was also very aggressive and played with a lot of desire.”

Calvin Kempken, sr., Catholic Central High School: Aldrich said Kempken was a physical force to be reckoned with for the Hilltoppers.

“He has great hand strength and footwork,” Aldrich explained. “His biggest attribute as an offensive lineman is that he is a finisher. He does an outstanding job of finishing his blocks.”

 

Kicker

Nick Wirsching, sr., Waterford Union High School: Wirsching made his mark early in the season by hitting the game-winning field goal against Homestead, but the senior also did much, much more.

Wirsching set a state record with 64 of 64 point-after attempts made.

“(It’s) truly amazing,” Bakken said. “He was also eight of 11 on field goals. He had the best year of a high school kicker that I’ve ever seen.”

 

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Lucas Winker, sr., Burlington High School: Winker finished second for BHS with 31 solo tackles and 22 assists, and he also had an interception return for a touchdown and four pass breakups.

“Lucas is a tenacious defensive football player,” Block said. “He has a unique blend of talent and ability that allows him to play the run at the line of scrimmage, rush the passer and fall back into pass coverage.”

Erik Hanson, sr., Waterford Union High School: Bakken said Hanson was a strong contributor at defensive end.

“He’s probably one of the most athletic kids we had on the defense,” Bakken said. “He also used his athletic ability to knock down a number of passes throughout the year.

“He was a big part of our defensive scheme, week in and week out.”

Brandon Miller, jr., Waterford Union High School: Bakken said Miller was double-teamed a lot this year, having started as a sophomore.

“He’s so big and so strong, he’s still able to be successful,” Bakken said. “He’s 6-5, almost 300 pounds. He’s got pretty good feet and pretty decent athletically.

“When he wants to, he’s the most dominant player on either side of the ball.”

Abel Wagner, sr., Catholic Central High School: The senior finished with 18 solo tackles and 37 assists this season, and also had three tackles for loss.

“Abel is a tremendous athlete,” Aldrich said. “He was a great edge player for us. Abels’s football instincts and savvy helped to set him apart as a defensive player.”

 

Linebackers

Ryan Jazdzewski, sr., Burlington High School: The senior led Burlington in tackles with 73 total – 43 solo and 30 assists.

He also recorded five tackles for loss, broke up three passes, forced one fumble and recovered another.

“He plays with a high level of intensity and confidence,” Block said. “Ryan is a sure tackler who plays well from sideline to sideline.”

      Jordan Underly, sr., Waterford Union High School: Aside from calling the plays on defense and leading the Wolverines on that side of the ball, Underly finished the season with 42 tackles.

J.J. Ahlers, jr., Waterford Union High School: Ahlers was another returning starter for the Wolverines, and Bakken said he showed leadership and will again next year.

“He’s a very talented player,” Bakken said. “He’s certainly not afraid. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the better linebackers in the area.”

Ahlers finished the season with 31 solo tackles and 23 assists in a very balanced Waterford defense.

Scott Vrzan, sr., Catholic Central High School: Vrzan put up the best numbers for the Hilltoppers, finishing with 40 solo tackles and 72 assists.

“Scott played with a reckless abandon,” Aldrich said. “He was a very determined and passionate football player. Scott had a knack for always being around the ball and was relentless in being involved in making the play.”

 

Defense backs

Matt Briggs, sr., Waterford Union High School: Briggs led the Wolverines in interceptions this year with four in the playoffs and seven on the year.

“He’s the most complete defensive back I’ve ever coached,” Bakken said. “He didn’t get beat deep really all year. But he’s not just a cover corner. He hits as hard as anyone we had on defense.”

Chris Benavides, jr., Waterford Union High School: A first-year starter, Benavides turned into one of his best options on defense, Bakken said.

“He’s an excellent open-field tackler,” Bakken said. “He probably improved more from the beginning of the year to the end of the year than anyone on defense.

“He’s extremely physical.”

Dylan Dessart, sr., Waterford Union High School: In addition to 23 tackles, Dessart had three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

 

Punter

Brett Van Vreede, sr., Union Grove Union High School: One of the high points in the Broncos’ 1-8 season was the performance of Van Vreede as punter.

Van Vreede averaged 35.2 yards per punt, and punted 27 times for Union Grove.

“He did very well,” said coach Scott McBride. “We asked him to punt toward the sidelines.”

 

Honorable mention

Jayden Essman, quarterback, Burlington High School; Eric Zeman, kicker, Burlington High School; Carson Meinholz, quarterback, Catholic Central High School; Vinnie Basile, offensive line, Union Grove Union High School.