Burlington’s Zach Wallace takes the handoff from quarterback Dalton Damon during a game in 2019. Wallace is back to lead the Demons offense in 2020. (File photo by John Fisher)

BHS football team is young, but Wallace, others will lead the way

By Mike Ramczyk

Correspondent

Burlington High School senior Peyton O’Laughlin thought he was going in for a routine appointment to get braces.

After all, his teeth were pushed in on his left side, and it seemed like the standard solution.

But X-rays told a different story.

The orthodontist found there was no bone where it was supposed to be, and this called for a biopsy from a surgeon.

After a long wait, O’Laughlin, just 17 years old, found out he had cancer.

It was an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor, or IMT, and it meant he could play a few more basketball games before surgery Feb. 17.

“I had a surgery to take out the tumor and 11 total teeth including wisdom teeth,” O’Laughlin said Tuesday. “I was out of physical activity for a month. I got cleared about a month and a half after surgery. I’m feeling great now. Sometimes I barely notice any of that happened. I knew it could’ve been a lot worse. And we caught it early so we got it out before it got worse. If I waited I could’ve gone blind in one of my eyes. I had a great surgeon who made me feel a lot more confident.”

From surgery at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee and tests at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to a football field. O’Laughlin’s journey continues on the football field this fall for the Burlington Demons, where he will be the starting quarterback and have the pretty big shoes of first team All-Southern Lakes gunslinger Dalton Damon to fill.

 

Looking the part

At practice Tuesday evening, O’Laughlin looked the part – he slung bullets on deep posts to Ethan Safar and showed off a quick release on out patterns to Eddie Kasper, who helped him get ready over the summer.

“I have watched plenty of film on myself, college players and professionals,” O’Laughlin said. “Over the summer I went to the field about 50 days to throw with Eddie, and he has helped me a lot to get better both physically and mentally.”

When asked if he was feeling healthy, O’Laughlin smiled and showed off his missing teeth at practice, as he put in more work after practice finished at 6 p.m.

O’Laughlin said he is just glad the team gets to play, as seven games are slated, all against SLC foes.

The 5-foot-11 quarterback with quick feet and a cannon for an arm has lofty expectations.

“My personal goals for this year are to average three touchdowns and 250 yards per game,” O’Laughlin said. “I have big goals because I know how much work I have put in, and I know the team around me can help me out. For team goals I want to go undefeated and win conference.”

But can the Demons knock off defending co-champs Waterford and Wilmot and win their first conference title since 2014?

Head coach Steve Tenhagen, now in his seventh season with Burlington, said the team lost some experience on both sides of the ball, including several first team all-conference selections, but he’s just happy there’s a season.

“We’re beyond excited to have the opportunity to play this year, as not everyone’s in the same situation,” Tenhagen said. “We’re fortunate our league decided to give it a go. It’s definitely been different. On a daily basis, something is new and different. Our staff and kids have done a good job. As much as any year, we’re taking it a day at a time. Every year, there are certain traditions. That’s changed.

“I want to play every year. Every year, it was more about the kids who might not have had their junior or senior year. I couldn’t imagine not having my senior year.”

 

Wallace leads the way

Zach Wallace returns as the SLC’s leading rusher, and the senior will be touch the ball a ton, according to Tenhagen.

Tenhagen said there are three or four starters back on each side of the ball.

“We had a first team all-conference player at every position on offense,” he said. “We’ll be ready, though.”

On offense, Conor O’Reilly returns at guard, Kyle Hackbarth is back at slot receiver and Cody Benzow is back starting as a tight end.

Defensively, Benzow is back at defensive end, Simon Riegert will be at linebacker and Safar will start at outside linebacker.

Wallace will also start at safety.

Tenhagen is excited to see what O’Laughlin can do under center.

“He throws the ball well, and he’s been in the program awhile,” Tenhagen said. “We’re hoping for a big year from him. And sophomore Drew Weis might have an opportunity to play at quarterback as well. He offers more in the run game, and Peyton is more of a pocket passer.”

Tenhagen said they’ll be looking to get the football in Wallace’s hands quite a bit.

After a 7-2 season and two playoff wins for the first time in a decade, Tenhagen is hoping the momentum and winning tradition continues.

“We have seven games, and it’s going to fly by,” Tenhagen said. “We need to get to the consistency we had at the end of the season last year. We’re looking to be competitive week in and week out. We know they’re young. We have about 47 or 48 on varsity.”

What’s the biggest challenge in this COVID-affected season?

“Really, it’s literally let’s get through the first week, and hopefully we get to Week 2,” Tenhagen said. “I know Kettle Moraine has already forfeited their first two games because their whole team’s in quarantine.

“I want to play seven games first and crown a conference champion.”

There are new coaches at Elkhorn and Westosha Central, and Lake Geneva Badger. Waterford and Wilmot figure to contend like every year.

“On a weekly basis, if you overlook anybody, they can win,” Tenhagen said. “The SLC is good top to bottom.”

A pleasant surprise this year has been Dane Kornely, who hasn’t played football since eighth grade. An emerging star on the basketball court, Kornely is 6-foot-2 and plays wide receiver and outside linebacker.

“He’s really adapted well, catches the ball well and has good speed,” Tenhagen said.

Defensively, Tenhagen is excited to see what Reese Schuls, a sophomore, can do. He played well as a freshman during the stretch run last season. At 5-foot-11, 260 pounds, Schuls will look to break out as a regular starter.

Burlington hosts Delavan-Darien at 7 p.m. Friday night at Don Dalton Field for the school’s annual Homecoming game.

Schedule

September – 25: DELAVAN-DARIEN (HOMECOMING). October – 2: at Wilmot. 8 (POSTPONED): at Waterford. 16: ELKHORN. 23: at Westosha Central. 30: at Union Grove. November – 6: LAKE GENEVA BADGER.