Conference championships and state playoff berths are the goals on the minds of nearly every high school football player and coach in the state.
It is no different at Greendale, Franklin, Oak Creek and Whitnall, where some of the NOW coverage area's best talent resides.
Expectations might be highest at Franklin, where eight starting defenders return along with five offensive starters from a team that went 10-3 and made it to the state semifinals for the second time in five seasons.
"I don't think they feel pressure," Franklin coach Jeff Klemp said. "I think they think they're going to walk out and win every game. They think they are a good football team, and they are.
"I've heard a lot of comments (from players) like, 'We're going to Madison.' That's pretty tough. Our first goal is always to get our (fourth league) win and make it to the playoffs. Once we get that, then hopefully we move on. If we have a chance to win a conference championship, then we go for that."
Kenosha Bradford, the state's top-ranked Division 1 team, stands in Franklin's way as far as the Southeast Conference title goes, with Muskego, Oak Creek and Franklin also among the contenders. Klemp likes his chances thanks to the large contingent of returning defenders.
"I think our defense - it sounds weird to say - but I think our defense could carry us at times this year by just putting our offense in good positions," he said. "Our defense was good last year and it will be better this year. … There were times when we had to try to outscore opponents, but we won't have to do that."
Oak Creek nearly upended the eventual state champion Marquette Hilltoppers in the second round of the Division 1 playoffs last fall. The Knights eventually lost, 35-28, but the game played a major factor in Oak Creek's offseason preparation.
"From a confidence standpoint, the kids now know that they're pretty good," coach Mike Bartholomew said. "I had a parent tell me last year, and I tend to agree, last year we were probably better than even the kids thought we were. But when you're coming off a couple of not-so-good seasons or developmental seasons, you don't have that inner confidence that you need to compete."
Oak Creek went 7-4 a year ago and made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 in Bartholomew's third season at the helm. The Knights' goal now is to battle for a conference title and continue to make strides in the postseason.
"Playoffs should be an expectation," Bartholomew said. "That's one of our goals. Now it's just to continue improving every year. We want to play in November, which would put us in round three (of the playoffs). … We should be in every game."
Though high victory totals and playoff berths have been steady, the Panthers have not won a conference title since 2007, when this year's senior class, including four-year starter Jordan Campbell, were freshmen.
In 2010, however, the Panthers are considered one of the Woodland Conference Black Division favorites.
"On paper we definitely are the front-runner, but that's on paper," Greendale coach Rob Stoltz said. "On paper and the reality of what happens between the lines are different things, and we're not where we need to be right now. We're not at a level Greendale's been accustomed to. At season's end, we weren't where we wanted to be, for sure. … It will be interesting to see how all parties respond."
One switch in philosophy for the Panthers is the implementation of platooning. Even Campbell, an all-conference lineman on both sides of the ball as a junior, is expected to play just one position this year, and defensive back/receiver Jo Jo Sardina is the only player to play both ways.
"To be able to compete in Division 2 at the level we want to compete at, we had to do something different and make some changes," Stoltz said. "We feel confident, this year and in the future, we'll have the players and the ability to do what we're trying to do."
Whitnall coach Rob Leboeuf, whose team went 7-3 last year, said playoff victories and a conference title would be nice but neither would define 2010 as a success, even though the Falcons hope to earn their first league title since 2000 and their first playoff win since 1998.
"Our players feel we can compete for the conference title, but we don't really talk about that much," he said. "We worry about getting better every day in practice, every repetition. We really focus on the process of being the best that we can be day in and day out. It doesn't matter to us, the outcome of games. At the end of the year, we'll worry about what our record is. At the end of the game, we'll worry about who won.
"We just want to give our best on every repetition and play that we have."
AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
(all games 7 p.m. unless noted)
AUG. 26: Greendale at Campbellsport
AUG. 27: Hartford at Oak Creek; Pius XI at Whitnall; Greenfield at Franklin
SEPT. 3: Oak Creek at Brookfield Central; Greendale at Pewaukee; Whitnall at New Berlin West; Franklin at Marquette (Hart Park)
SEPT. 10: Oak Creek at Racine Case (Hammes Field); Greendale at Brown Deer; Franklin at Muskego
SEPT. 11: Whitnall at St. Thomas More (St. Francis), 1 p.m.
SEPT. 17: Kenosha Bradford at Oak Creek; New Berlin Eisenhower at Greendale; Wauwatosa West at Whitnall; Racine Case at Franklin
SEPT. 24: Franklin at Oak Creek; South Milwaukee at Greendale; Greenfield at Whitnall
OCT. 1: Oak Creek at Racine Horlick; Greendale at Greenfield; Whitnall at New Berlin Eisenhower; Franklin at Kenosha Tremper
OCT. 8: Kenosha Tremper at Oak Creek; Whitnall at Greendale; Racine Park at Franklin
OCT. 14: Franklin at Kenosha Bradford (Jaskwich Stadium)
OCT. 15: Oak Creek at Muskego; Greendale at Wauwatosa West; South Milwaukee at Whitnall
OCT. 20: Racine Park at Oak Creek, 6 p.m.; St. Francis at Greendale, 6:30 p.m.; Brown Deer at Whitnall, 6:30 p.m.; Racine Horlick at Franklin
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