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It’s been over two weeks since high school football teams all over the state hit the field for the first practice of the season. Since those first practice sessions on Aug. 6, athletes have been working hard under the hot summer sun, getting ready for the opportunity to show everyone just what they can do on the football field this fall.

That first opportunity is just two days away, as Friday is opening night for the 2019 high school football season. Some area teams like Lodi and Cambria-Friesland will be looking to improve on last season’s playoff appearances, while others like Portage and Westfield are just looking for a victory after going winless in 2018.

As we get ready for the season to begin, now is a good time to take a look at the area athletes who figure to star for their teams this season. Here is a list of 10 area players to watch this fall:

Aidan Knudson, Cambria-Friesland

The big senior offensive lineman has been one of the best in the Trailways Small Conference the last two seasons, earning second-team honors as a sophomore in 2017 before picking up first-team accolades as a junior last season. Conference coaches are selecting him for all-league honors for good reason, as he opened up holes for a Cambria-Friesland offense that rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry while racking up 26 touchdowns on the ground. Knudson is also a two-way threat for the Toppers. Last season he had a team-high three sacks and a fumble recovery as a defensive linemen.

Derek Lindert, Pardeeville

Lindert moves to the tailback position after being Pardeeville’s starting wing back as a freshman last season. The move should make Lindert more of a featured back, after he earned honorable mention in the Trailways Large Conference last season by finishing second on the team in rushing and first in receiving. Expect Lindert to also make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. From his safety spot, he had three interceptions last season, including one he returned 65 yards for a touchdown.

Brayden O’Connor, Poynette

The speedy senior, who qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state track and field meet in the 100-yard dash in the spring, is probably best described as an offensive weapon for the Pumas. Last season, O’Connor was Poynette’s second-leading rusher with 603 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging a team-best 6.2 yards per carry. O’Connor also led the team in receiving with 377 yards and three scores on 19 catches, while adding a kickoff return touchdown. “There’s a lot of things offensively that we can do with him,” Poynette coach Greg Kallungi said. “He’s definitely a Mr. Do-It-All for us.”

Dustyn Paulson, Lodi

The Blue Devils return four of their five starters from the offensive line a year ago, with Paulson anchoring the stout group. The 6-foot-1, 255-pound senior shined last season, earning first-team All-Capitol North Conference honors, the lone returning first-team pick for the Blue Devils. Paulson pummeled defenses last season, helping Lodi rush for 1,570 yards and 21 touchdowns. Lodi added another 1,090 yards and nine more scores through the air behind the protection of Paulson, a tone-setter for coach Dave Puls. “If you control the clock and move the sticks, and you don’t allow the other team to get back on the field, you affect every aspect of the game,” Puls said.

Abe Postler, Montello/Princeton/Green Lake

The senior from Montello returns after leading the Phoenix in rushing last season. Postler showed what kind of impact he could have when given the opportunity as he rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-21 loss to Palmyra-Eagle last season. Unfortunately, that was his last game of the season, as injury kept him out of the season finale the following week, a game that saw his younger brother Nate step in and rush for 91 yards and three scores against Orfordville Parkview.

Teagan Prochnow, Fall River/Rio

Last year as a junior, Prochnow established himself as one of the best running back in the area when he rushed for 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns for Rio. His season saw him rush for over 200 yards in a game twice while clearing the 100-yard barrier three other times, earning All-Trailways Small Conference first team honors. Prochnow was also pretty good on defense last year, finishing with 52 tackles and a pair of interceptions. The senior’s next challenge will be finding a role on a newly formed co-op, as Rio has joined forces with neighboring Fall River for the upcoming football season.

Max Raymond, Cambria-Friesland

Raymond was the featured back last season for a Cambria-Friesland offense that ran the ball on 82% of the time. He responded by rushing for 725 yards on 102 carries, good for a 7.1 yards-per-carry average, while scoring nine rushing touchdowns. Raymond also added 162 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in the passing game. And if his offensive contributions weren’t enough, he had 28 tackles and a pair of interceptions on defense.

Delnato Sheppard Jr., Portage

Sheppard’s nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving) were by far the most for a Portage team that scored just 115 points all season. Last year as a junior, Sheppard finished with a team-high 468 rushing yards, including a season-high 117 against Waunakee. He also had three rushing touchdowns in a 50-36 loss to Sauk Prairie before earning honorable mention in the Badger North Conference. Sheppard, now in his fourth year as a varsity contributor for the Warriors, will certainly be a key piece for Portage under first-year coach Shane Haak.

Camden Stampfl, Westfield

Stampfl was one of the few bright spots for a Westfield team that went winless last season. Stampfl was the lone Westfield player to earn All-South Central Conference honors last fall, as he was a second-team punter and return specialist. This season, he will once again be one of the team’s main offensive weapons out of the backfield after leading the Pioneers in rushing last season with a 5.1 yards per attempt average. He should also benefit from a Westfield offensive line that returns four of its five starters from last year.

James Trahms, Pardeeville

Trahms earned second-team All-Trailways Large Conference honors at tight end a year ago. His receiving numbers from last season weren’t eye-popping — seven receptions for 68 yards — but his ability to move defenders in the running game is what made him stand out. Pardeeville coach Tyler Johnson said Trahms worked hard in the offseason to improve his speed, which could help him become more of a weapon in the passing game.

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