Panthers primed for another strong season

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

KOLLIN NEILS (11), senior quarterback, will play a huge role in the Plymouth football team’s offense this season. Neils was an All-EWC first-team pick last year when he passed for 1,584 yards and 16 touchdowns overall. - Review file photo KOLLIN NEILS (11), senior quarterback, will play a huge role in the Plymouth football team’s offense this season. Neils was an All-EWC first-team pick last year when he passed for 1,584 yards and 16 touchdowns overall. - Review file photo PLYMOUTH – A talented returning nucleus and a strong senior class boost the Plymouth Panthers’ hopes for retaining the Eastern Wisconsin Conference football title and making a deep run in the state playoffs.

The Panthers have eight starters back, including four who started both ways, and four All-EWC first-team picks from last season. The first-team players are senior quarterback Kollin Neils, senior offensive linemen Luke Held and Zack Bradley, and senior defensive lineman Westley Meinnert.

“We are very optimistic for a successful season. Our players have worked very hard in the offseason and we have some very good players back from last year’s team,” said Dan Knaus who enters his seventh season as the Panthers’ head coach.

The Panthers are coming off an outstanding 2012 campaign when they won the EWC championship with a 7-0 record, reached the Division 3 state quarterfinals (level 3) and finished 10-1 overall. PHS has 20 returning letter winners.

In addition to the All-EWC first-teamers, the Panthers’ other starters back include senior Clay Henning, split end and defensive back; Denton Saladini, senior offensive lineman; junior Tyler Willeford; and senior Jack Heginbottom, place-kicker. Willeford started at linebacker and tight end last year and will play linebacker and fullback this season.

Neils will direct the offense which was very explosive last season. He had an impressive 2012 season when he passed for 1,584 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for 283 yards and three TDs.

“Kollin Neils is in his third year starting and will be looked at to be a huge leader of this team,” Knaus said.

“Four linemen with lots of experience last year will solidify our offensive and defensive lines: Westley Meinnert, Luke Held, Zack Bradley and Denton Saldini.

“Clay Henning will lead our receiving corps.”

Henning averaged an impressive 21 yards per catch (11 receptions for 231 yards) and had four TD receptions last season.

“Our senior class is one of our main strengths. We have a nice big group of seniors with some very talented players in this group,” said Knaus.

“For the most part we have a team that is close-knit, and that always helps with team chemistry.

“Our main weakness right now is our gap between our No. 1s and our No. 2s. We will need some of our 2s to step up and close the gap because we all know it’s a long season, and injury can happen and we will need a No. 2 to step in and not skip a beat.

“We have one of the fastest teams that we have had in the past 10 years or so. Pound for pound, we are very strong but we do lack overall size. We will be outweighed up front every game this season,” Knaus noted.

“We have decent numbers out for football but still lack some depth because of the gap between the starters and backups right now.”

Knaus has been impressed with junior wide receiver Zac Cain, senior running back/linebacker Brad Trakel and Willeford.

“Zac Cain has really caught the ball well. He played part-time varsity last season but will really help our receiving corps this season,” the coach said.

Cain had 17 receptions and four TDs as a sophomore.

“Brad Trakel will start both ways for us this year, and really looks solid. Tyler Willeford will move from tight end to fullback and will move to Mike on defense and be our defensive leader,” Knaus pointed out.

The Panthers lost their top-two rushers from last season to graduation, including Eric Roberts who was the EWC’s Offensive Player of the Year and ran for 1,363 yards on the year.

The Panthers will use a spread offense and a 3-5 base defense.

“We will try and be balanced between the pass and run but will also take whatever the defense gives us week by week,” Knaus noted.

“The offense has been clicking very well, with six returners and three of them on the offensive line. They have lots of experience.

“Defensively, we still are progressing. We have a lot of new starters on this side of the ball, and are still getting comfortable with our reads. But I do expect us to be better week by week as each player gets more confident.”

Knaus said the main keys for having success this season are to stay healthy, improve each week and play as one.

He offered his take on the conference race.

“I would say the top-three teams will be Plymouth, Two Rivers and Kewaskum but the other teams will all be improved,” Knaus said.

Two Rivers and Kewaskum finished 2-3, respectively, in the league last year.

“Win the conference title, and make a deep playoff run that hopefully ends at Camp Randall [in Madison for state finals],” said Knaus, referring to his top goals for the season.

The Panthers face Kenosha Indian Trails at home Friday at 7 p.m. to open the season.

“Indian trails will be a great test for us. They play a fast, up- tempo style of football. They are a big D-1 school, with great size and speed,” Knaus observed.


Aug. 23 – Kenosha Indian Trails, here
Aug. 30 – @ Grafton
Sept. 6 – Two Rivers, here
Sept. 13 – Sheboygan Falls, here
Sept. 20 – @ New Holstein
Sept. 27 – @ Waupun
Oct. 4 – Kiel (Homecoming), here
Oct. 11 – @ Campbellsport
Oct. 18 – @ Kewaskum


Name Gr. Wt. Pos.
Trevor Miske 12 160 RB-LB
Collin Denzin 12 155 SE-DB
Clay Henning 12 165 SE-DB
Brad Trakel 12 180 RB-LB
Kollin Neils 12 175 QB-DB
Justin Picard 12 145 SE-DB
Jack Heginbottom 12 160 PK
Mikko Liuksiala 12 175 SE-DB
Aaron Unger 12 220 TE-DL
Nick Hildebrand 12 195 RB-LB
Brody Reichardt 12 150 SE-DB
Ben Albers 12 170 TE-LB
Denton Saladini 12 200 OL-LB
Cody Hoffmann 12 180 OL-LB
Zach Lederer 12 170 OL-DL
Zack Bradley 12 220 OL-DL
Dylan Ermer 12 190 OL-DL
Westley Meinnert 12 245 OL-DL
Trevor Jensema 12 225 OL-DL
Henry Heim 12 180 OL-DL
Luke Held 12 205 OL-DL
Isaac Zimmermann 12 170 OL-DL
Adam Schmitz 12 160 SE-DB
Dominic Bocchini 11 130 SE-DB
Zac Cain 11 190 SE-LB
Lucas Johnson 11 150 SE-DB
Tyler Willeford 11 205 RB-LB
Izack Ohman 11 175 RB-LB
Michael Birenbaum 11 170 OL-DL
Zack Klabechek 11 190 OL-DL
Cole Bruggink 11 190 OL-LB
Pat Lemkuil 11 260 OL-DL
Matt Olig 11 220 OL-DL
Cole Meyer 11 205 OL-LB
Brian Cecka 11 220 OL-DL
Brady Grapentine 11 175 SE-DB
Alex Lefeber 11 195 TE-LB
Nick Schultz 11 220 TE-DL
Jake Schneider 10 165 QB-DB
Ethan Keller 10 160 SE-LB
Kyle Thuene 10 140 RB-LB
Gabe Meyer 10 150 RB-LB
Samuel Staehling 10 170 RB-LB
Hunter Saladini 10 155 RB-LB
Zach Albers 10 165 TE-LB
Alex Teteak 10 160 RB-LB
Jared Holdridge 10 185 RB-LB
Alex Schmdt 10 135 SE-DB
Jared Weinbauer 10 175 PK
Kyle Birenbaum 10 185 TE-DL
Max Haun 10 185 OL-DL
Nathaniel Benike 10 185 OL-DL
Skylar Simenz 10 160 OL-DL
Brandon Herrin 10 220 OL-DL
Mitch Meyer 10 170 OL-DL
Ryan Brooks 10 200 OL-DL
Davon Mayer 10 195 OL-DL
Adam LaVine 10 155 OL-DL
Brett Hipple 10 125 SE-DB
Ben Potrykus 10 120 SE-DB
Jordan Marshall 10 160 SE-LB
Will Hunter 10 1 5 SE-DB

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