Central Wisconsin Bandits working toward a Championship
Merrill’s new semi-pro football team begins playoffs at Jay Stadium Saturday
BY TINA L. SCOTT
Austin Levine and Jeremie Writz are Co-Owners of the Central Wisconsin Bandits, a central-Wisconsin-based semi-pro adult football team in the Northern Lights Football League (NLFL). The Bandits now proudly called Merrill, and Jay Stadium, their home. Their season runs from late April through August and games are played on Saturday afternoons, so this adult football league co-exists easily with Merrill High School football.
The team began in 2019 in Marshfield and was originally co-owned by Writz and Scott Van Handle. Jessie Clenny helped get things organized and also played for the team. About a year later, Van Handle decided to become a player only, opting out of ownership. The team started out strong, but then COVID canceled their season, leaving the team to play games against other willing teams just for fun and practice.
In 2022, Writz moved to Merrill and soon after realized the Merrill community was also the perfect fit for the football team. Jay Stadium and the Merrill community welcomed the new team and are starting to embrace the Central Wisconsin Bandits as their own. At the end of 2022, Austin Levine, former quarterback for the team, came on board as a Co-Owner and Head Coach. Levine had been injured and wasn’t sure he’d be able to play again, and he wholeheartedly embraced coaching and working with Writz to develop the team and become a part of the Merrill community. “We decided to relocate here to Merrill, as we saw a lot of opportunity here player wise and community wise,” Levine said. He said it’s been a great fit.
Bandits wrap up regular season play
Last Saturday, July 22, the Bandits played their last regular season league game against the Rock River Rampage at Jay Stadium. “We lost 30-12, but it was a very good back and forth game with a lot of positives from the game,” Coach Levine said. “It also showed us what we need to work on leading into the playoffs.”
“Running back Dakota Ress had 9 carries, 78 yards, and a touchdown rush,” he said. “This man is the heart, soul, and toughness of this team. We are very blessed to have him. Right now he’s a top 5 rusher in the entire league.”
“Defensively, Matthew Sveda came up huge with 5 tackles and 2 huge interceptions,” Levine said.
“This is my first year as Head Coach,” he said. “I was also the team’s starting quarterback this year until I completely tore my ACL against the defending champ (Rough Riders) week two of this season.”
“I will definitely be back next year as Head Coach, but we will see how my knee is next season in regards to playing,” Levine said. “I had a great start to the season until injury.”
It’s playoff time!
Although the Bandits completed regular league play last weekend, this Saturday marks the beginning of the playoffs, and they will play right here at Jay Stadium in Merrill. While this is the third time out of four seasons the Bandits will be in the playoffs, Levine said this is the first home playoff game in Bandits’ history, “and to do that here in Merrill is amazing and a great feeling.”
“As a former quarterback for the Bandits for the last three years, the transition to first year Head Coach has been amazing,” Levine said. “There are a lot of different emotions getting wins as a coach instead of as a player; it is a much more humbling feeling.”
“I miss being on the field with my team going to battle, but to sit back and see, wow, we’re going to the playoffs my first year as coach AND it’s at home first time in Bandit history is a very emotional, amazing feeling,” he said. “To know the hard work my guys and myself have put in is paying off is amazing. A lot of players have families, and to show their sacrifices are paying off is amazing. This Saturday we hope to see ALL of Merrill there supporting us and watching us battle to bring a semi-pro Championship to Merrill! We love all the support and are proud to call Merrill home!”
“We will be playing the Eau Claire Cowboys,” Levine said. “They are our rival team, and it’s always a fun match-up when we play them, as a lot are former Bandits players and friends.”
“The game is at Jay Stadium, and kickoff is at noon,” he said. “We hope to fill the stands and see everyone there! Bring your family, have some fun, and cheer on your Bandits as we look to bring a Championship to Merrill, Wisconsin!”
Playing for the Bandits
Players for the Bandits must be 18 or older, but beyond that, all they need is a desire to play football. The current team is comprised of some players who have never played football before joining, along with guys who played in high school and/or college recently or years ago, and some who’ve been playing semi-pro for years for fun and some healthy competition. Thirty-one guys make up the 2023 team, with players from all over Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Washington, N. Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, and one is even international, hailing from the Netherlands! Three of the 31 are from Merrill.
2023 Central Wisconsin Bandits Team Roster:
80 Omarion Banks from Milwaukee
6 AJ Becker from Cumberland
96 Elvis Bosley from Wichita, Kansas
11 Jessie Clenney from Hot Spring, Arkansas
70 Brandon Fermanich from Antigo
22 Caleb Hart from Fayetteville, N. Carolina
71 Nick Houdek from Antigo
30 Logan Kluck from Shantytown
5 Austin Levin from Seattle, Washington
Dalton Mateer from Stevens Point
29 Zion Mckinney from Chicago, Illinois
8 Logan Meharg from Katy, Texas
10 Kalib Merchant from Phoenix, Arizona
54 Brent Never from Toledo, Ohio
3 Mitch Neitzel from Horicon
95 Alec Nys from Antigo
90 Travis Peterson from Wausau
25 Steven Reed from Merrill
28 Dakota Ress from Merrill
20 Rudy Rhyner from Marathon
21 Russel Rhyner from Marathon
4 Kendrick Samuels from Wausau
34 Jared Schell from Okemos, Michigan
13 Andrew Schertz from Auburndale
17 Matthew Sveda from Deerbrook
16 Scott Van Handel from Handel, Netherlands
92 Ryan Waltemate from Marshfield
7 Michael Wilcox from Tucson, Arizona
52 Jeremie Writz from Merrill
69 Rennen Zahn from Antigo
1 Dylan Zanders from Beloit
Jared Schell, Social Media Director; Serra Levine, Manager; and Morgan Hartenstein, Manager.
Austin Levine is Head Coach with Rudy Rhyner as Offensive Coordinator, William Meyer as Defensive Coordinator, Russel Rhyner as Assistant DC, and Brent Naver as Special Teams Coach.
Bandits Pop Warner Football
The Bandits have been working to put together kids football camps and, beginning Aug. 1, they will also introduce Bandits Pop Warner Football, a kids tackle football team for 9U, 10U, and 11Us. The Bandits started the league “to help get kids a jump start on their future football endeavors,” organizers said.
Designed to teach kids the fundamentals of football and how to play safely, the program will focus on respect, sportsmanship, and leadership among many other life skills, and they’re planning to have a lot of safe, fun, football. For more information, find the “Central Wisconsin Bandits Pop Warner” page on Facebook.