According to Wisconsin Dells head coach Scott Flood, the goal for the 2019 Chiefs is pretty simple. The time has come for Wisconsin Dells to play in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
“Playoffs. It’s definitely playoffs,” Flood said. “That’s the goal.”
If the Chiefs are going to reach their coach’s goal for the season, they will have to find a way to make another leap forward. They made positive steps in the right direction a year ago, winning three games overall, but ended up once conference victory short of playoff eligibility.
There are reasons to believe the Chiefs can finish in the top half of the South Central Conference this season. Wisconsin Dells returns all-conference performers from last season in seniors Gavin Kingsley and Brett Hirst and junior Jacob Hunkins.
The Chiefs also seem to have a better grasp of the playbook and Flood’s expectations now that he’s in his second season in charge of the program.
“I would definitely say we’re ahead of schedule with compared to last year,” Flood said after the first week of practice last week. “The kids have an understanding what we expect when we hit the football field: High effort, having a positive attitude on the football field and high enthusiasm. So we’re definitely in the right mindset.”
Wisconsin Dells is also feeling good about the addition of John Stellmacher to the coaching staff. Stellmacher is a former defensive coordinator at Jefferson High School, where he helped lead the Eagles to a Division 3 state championship in 1991. Stellmacher, who recently retired and moved to Wisconsin Dells, was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018.
In the offseason, Stellmacher agreed to return to coaching and will be leading a Wisconsin Dells defense that gave up 30 or more points four times last season, including back-to-back losses to Wautoma and Mauston to finish the season.
Flood has been impressed with Stellmacher in practice.
“He’s a technician of the game. He know inside and out what he needs to get done, how much time it’s going to take him, the fundamentals for each position group,” Flood said. “He knows exactly how the whole defense works together and the parts of it.
“Plus, all the time commitment that he’s put in. He spends a lot of time doing a lot of the stuff I do myself, watching other people’s game film, studying what they do offensively, so he can know the plan on defense. I think he’s gone through most of the schedule already.”
Stellmacher’s defense enters the season a little thin on the defensive line. It’s a group that last season was led by senior Hunter Stenson, who recorded 47 tackles, a sack, a pair of fumble recoveries and a forced fumble on his way to becoming an All-South Central Conference first team selection.
Stenson’s graduation left a big hole in the defense that will need to be filled, but with players like seniors Billy Dethloff and Mikhail Stafford along with juniors Preston Backhaus and T.J. Houghton on the roster, the Chiefs should be OK.
Wisconsin Dells does return a pair of standout defensive players in Hirst and Kingsley. Hirst was a first team All-SCC pick last year as a defensive back after recording 29 tackles and an interception. Kingsley was a second team All-SCC linebacker last season when he had 74 tackles and recovered a pair of fumbles, including one for a touchdown.
Hirst will lead a defensive backfield group that will also include Ben Koenig. Kingsley will help lead a linebacker group that includes Hunkins and Marty Koenig. Together, they will try to fill the void left by graduated senior Kayleb Galloway, who had a team-high 75 tackles last season.
On offense, Wisconsin Dells will again turn to its spread offense to attack opposing defenses. Last season it was Hirst who moved from wide receiver to play quarterback, where he threw for 1,052 yards and nine touchdowns. This season, Hirst is back at receiver, a spot he scored five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2017.
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Hirst should lead an athletic group of receivers that will also include Ben Koenig, Kingsley and Jack Steinhaus.
“I think those are four guys that definitely are going to stretch defenses and make them think about what the heck they’re really trying to do,” Flood said of his receivers.
Steinhaus is an especially intriguing prospect at wide receiver. He’s in his first season with the Wisconsin Dells football program after running cross country last fall, but he stands 6-foot-8 and will no doubt be a big target in the red zone.
At running back, the Chiefs have some options, but the leader of the group will likely be Hunkins, who was a second team All-SCC back last year when he rushed for 556 yards and three touchdowns on just 87 carries.
Flood said Hunkins has stepped up and is ready for an increased work load.
“He’s going to be a downhill runner,” Flood said. “He’s going to attack vertically and use his strength to his benefit. He’s one of the strongest kids we got on the team and he’s going to use it.”
Joining Hunkins at running back will be Marty Koenig, Kingsley and Jamar Fuhrman.
Leading the offense as the team’s quarterback will be junior Barrett Witt, who has experience playing the position at the junior varsity level the last two years.
“He’s looking great throwing the football. He’s understanding the playbook and concepts. We had a couple changes with concepts and that kind of stuff but he’s looking great,” Flood said. “He can do both (run and throw). He can throw the football around along with be a threat on the ground.”
The Chiefs do have some question marks on the offensive line, where graduation hit them especially hard. Gone are the likes of Kevin Coughlin, Logan Janke and Galloway, who were all reliable linemen. Finding guys who are ready to play on the offensive and defensive lines has been tricky for Flood and his fellow coaches.
“Based off numbers, or the lack of numbers, the o-line and d-line (needs to improve),” Flood said last week. “That’s kind of a struggle for us right now. We’re still trying to figure out the right mix for the offensive line and defensive line. We’ve moved a couple pieces during the week and I’m excited to see how that all plays out for us.”
Some of the offensive line candidates early in the season included Patrick Hoving, Dethloff, Stafford, Houghton and Backhaus.
To get the Chiefs ready for the season, which opens Friday night with a road game at Richland Center, and continues with a Thursday non-conference game against Lodi on Aug. 29 for the home opener, Flood has been stressing some “core values” to the team. One core value has been TCB (take care of business), while the other one is ACE (attitude, character and enthusiasm).
Flood said both values are a part of every practice they hold.
“We start off in the classroom. It might be 15 minutes, it might be 20 minutes,” Flood said. “We’re talking about a core value, talking about a game plan defensively or offensively along with it, and then preaching it out on the football field the entire time we’re going.”