Dedicated Bluejays capture All-Valley honors
The Bluejay football team racked up a runner-up finish after returning to the Valley in 2010, and reached Level 2 of the D2 playoffs.
That type of teamwork and individual talent didn’t go unnoticed to area coaches as Merrill loaded up the All-Valley team and pushed several onto the All-Region squad.
Linebackers Sam Arneson and Zach Ament, Arneson also at quarterback, center Matt Haffemann and wide receiver Matt Woller collected All-Region honors to add to their First Team All-WVC accolades. Offensive coordinator John Paul was one of just two All-Region Assistant Coach of the Year honorees.
“You don’t get to coach kids like Sam all the time,” MHS coach Tom Tourtillott said of the Valley’s Defensive POY. “The greatest thing is on both sides of the ball he didn’t ever care about his stats. He just had a deep burning desire to win football games.
“Zach was just another fantastic linebacker, and a huge part of our run game at tight end. He’s a great hard-nosed football player that rarely stepped off the field.
“Matt Woller just had a great mid-season run. Clearly, scoring five touchdowns in two weeks is huge. Some kids dream of scoring one touchdown. He finished with 9 touchdowns, 38 catches and 585 yards. That’s darn fine for a high school receiver. He’s big, fast, strong, has good hands in a good route-runner.
“Matt Haffemann was the anchor of our offensive line and voted a captain by his teammates. He’s someone you always know you can count on. He’s a portrait of how great you can be if you have the desire to be the best and work to achieve it.”
Guard Nick Leskey, defensive end Brandon Folta and DB Kyle Kubichek all made the Second Team.
“After getting hurt his junior year, Nick just wanted to get back on the field,” Tourtillott said. “He is one of the finest pull blockers I’ve ever coached. He’s a quiet kid that lets his pads do his talking.
“In a normal conference, Brandon Folta is First Team, but the four First Team guys are Big 10 college prospects. Brandon has the heart of a champion. Pound for pound, he gets the most out of his frame of any defensive lineman in Wisconsin. Kubi is a three-year starter in the defensive backfield. He’s a playmaker and a class kid.”
Merrill finished with 11 positions filled in Honorable Mention.
“I was pleased with the number of guys honored but I just felt some people were slighted,” Tourtillott said. “A big one was Jordan Burton. I thought at the very least he should be Second Team on both sides of the ball. He’s just one example, too.”
Burton took two at DB and wide receiver, and Ament (TE) and Kubichek (RB) did it in their alternate positions.
Also on offense were lineman Grant Collins, RB Austin Voigt and kicker Alex Cordova, and on defense, linemen Matt Thistle and Mitch Grabko, LB Luke Zuelsdorff, and DB Dylan Koss made the grade.
All of Merrill’s selections are seniors except for Collins, Grabko, Voigt and Cordova.
“Grant was one of our most improved players,” Tourtillott said. “He has the body and work ethic to have college scouts recognize him.
“Kubi and Voigt as running backs both worked very, very hard to improve. They played an important role in our offensive success. Alex really came on in the middle of the season. He had some booming kickoffs.
“Matt Thistle is clearly a guy I thought should be Second Team. He is a class kid that will be a success later on in life without a doubt. Mitch had a very nice junior year. He has all the tools to dominate next year. Luke is a portrait of what you can achieve if you buy into the Merrill football program. He played JV last year and earned his letter on special teams, but he worked his tail off to make the most of his senior year.
“Dylan ended the season with three interceptions. He had surgery between his junior and senior years and he just gave everything he had to make our team better.
“Eighteen guys, that’s very good. But guys like Michael Koppelman and Andy Bloch were also very deserving. Unfortunately, unless you win every game, you’re not going to have some of these people get recognition.”