Young Panthers look to retain EWC title

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

SAMUEL STAEHLING, Plymouth junior tailback shown carrying the ball against Two Rivers last year, will be a key player in the Panthers’ ground attack this season. – Review file photo SAMUEL STAEHLING, Plymouth junior tailback shown carrying the ball against Two Rivers last year, will be a key player in the Panthers’ ground attack this season. – Review file photo PLYMOUTH – Despite losing several standouts from last year’s Eastern Wisconsin Conference championship squad, to graduation, the Plymouth Panthers have high hopes coming into the 2014 football season.

PHS returns 16 letter winners, led by senior split end Zac Cain and senior middle linebacker Tyler Willeford who were All-EWC first-team picks last season. Cain was named all-state honorable mention and the EWC’s Receiver of the Year. Willeford and Cain also earned all-region honors.

The Panthers return only four starters on offense and three on defense, so head coach Dan Knaus is counting on the new starters to step up and for his young team to improve each week.

“We come into every new season with optimism and hopes for a successful season,” said Knaus who is in his eighth season at the helm.

“We feel that if the kids work hard in the off-season and buy into the program, the outcomes will follow. It’s the new varsity performers’ time to shine.

“Every year brings a new look with new faces but with the same expectations and goals – the next- guy-up mentality. We need an all-in attitude from everyone.”

Last year, the Panthers finished 10-2 overall, reached the Division 3 state quarterfinals for the second straight season and earned their second consecutive EWC title with 7-0 records each time.

Knaus pointed out the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We have many skilled position players back with good speed, and athleticism,” he said.

The coach said the weak areas are inexperience in the offensive and defensive lines, having many new starters and a lack of depth.

“We are a little thin in overall numbers which will hurt us a bit with our depth but this may also give some younger players opportunities to gain experience,” Knaus noted.

The returning starters on offense are Willeford and junior Samuel Staehling at running back, Cain, wide receiver and senior tackle Matt Olig. The defensive starters back include linebackers Willeford and senior Izack Ohman, and senior Dominic Bocchini who was a part-time starter in the backfield. Willeford led the PHS defense in total tackles with 97 and solo tackles, 59.

Cain had a terrific 2013 season at receiver with a teamhigh 61 catches, 901 yards and 13 touchdowns. The receiving yardage is a single-season PHS record. He scored a team-high 78 points in 2013.

Willeford and Staehling rushed for 345 and 305 yards, respectively, last year. Brad Trakel, the Panthers’ top rusher in 2013 with 791 yards, graduated.

Willeford was Plymouth’s second-leading receiver last season with 37 receptions and 402 yards.

Bocchini, a wideout in 2013, has shifted to quarterback this season and will be the starter. Knaus likes what Bocchini brings to the table. Kollin Neils, the Panthers’ starting signalcaller the past three years, graduated. Neils, who passed for a school-record 2,266 yards and 24 TDs in 2013, was the EWC’s Offensive Player of the Year and all-state honorable mention last season.

“While Dominic has big shoes to fill, he will play the position with a little different style and bring some different dimensions for us on offense,” said Knaus.

“Dominic gives us more of a running threat at the QB position.”

The Panthers will again run the spread offense and a 3-5 defense this season.

“We always try to be a balanced offense but we may be a little more run-oriented this season,” said the coach.

Knaus pointed out several players who he expects to lead the way for the Panthers.

“Zac Cain, Tyler Willeford, Matt Olig, Samuel Staehling, Izack Ohman and Dominic Bochinni should be our leaders and play- makers,” he said.

Young varsity players who have impressed Knaus in the preseason thus far are Gabe Meyer, Mitch Meyer and Jake Schneider.

“Gabe has done a nice job at outside linebacker and Mitch Meyer looks solid on the offensive line. Jake Schneider gives us good speed and athleticism at receiver,” Knaus noted.

The coach said the keys for the team to have success are to stay healthy, improve each week and be disciplined within the schemes.

Knaus sized up the EWC title chase.

“Two Rivers and Kewaskum return the most players and should contend. We hope to be right there with them,” he said.

Two Rivers and Kewaskum finished second and third, respectively, last year.

Knaus said his top goals this season are to improve each week, win a conference championship and make a deep in the playoffs.

On Aug. 15, PHS scrimmaged against Oshkosh North, Sheboygan

North and Little Chute. Knaus was pleased with his team’s performance.

“I thought it was a good learning experience for us. Players got used to varsity competition and we looked better with each team we scrimmaged,” Knaus noted.

The Panthers kick off their season with a nonconference battle at Kenosha Indian Trails Thursday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. Indian Trails defeated PHS, 35-14, in last year’s opener for both teams.

“It will be a very tough test for us. They are a big physical, explosive type of team – the type of team we would run into deep in the playoffs,” Knaus observed.

Aug. 21 – @ Kenosha Indian Trails
Aug. 29 – Oostburg, here
Sept. 5 – @ Two Rivers
Sept. 12 – @ Sheboygan Falls
Sept. 19 – New Holstein, here
Sept. 26 – Waupun, here
Oct. 3 – @ Kiel
Oct. 10 – Campbellsport, here
Oct. 17 – Kewaskum, here
Junior Varsity
Aug. 21 – @ Kenosha Indian Trails
Aug. 28 – Cudahy, here
Sept. 8 – @ Two Rivers
Sept. 15 – @ Sheboygan Falls
Sept. 22 – New Holstein, here
Sept. 29 – Waupun, here
Oct. 6 – @ Kiel
Oct. 13 – Campbellsport, here
Oct. 20 – Kewaskum, here
Aug. 28 – @ Oostburg
Sept. 4 – Two Rivers, here
Sept. 11 – Sheboygan Falls, here
Sept. 18 – @ New Holstein
Sept. 25 – @ Waupun
Oct. 2 – Kiel, here
Oct. 9 – @ Campbellsport
Oct. 16 – @ Kewaskum


Name Gr. Wt. Pos.
Dominic Bocchini 12 155 QB-DB
*Zac Cain 12 190 SE-DB
*Lucas Johnson 12 150 SE-DB
*Tyler Willeford 12 205 RB-LB
*Izack Ohman 12 180 RB-LB
Austin Ramminger 12 150 SE-LB
Alex Lockwood 12 195 SE-DB
*Cole Bruggink 12 195 OL-LB
*Pat Lemkuil 12 260 OL-DL
*Matt Olig 12 220 OL-DL
*Cole Meyer 12 185 OL-DL
*Brady Grapentine 12 175 SE-DB
*Alex Lefeber 12 195 TE-LB
*Nick Schultz 12 220 TE-DL
*Jake Schneider 11 175 QB-DB
Ethan Keller 11 185 SE-DB
Kyle Theune 11 155 RB-LB
*Gabe Meyer 11 165 RB-LB
*Samuel Staehling 11 175 RB-DB
Zach Albers 11 170 TE-LB
Alex Teteak 11 175 RB-LB
*Jared Weinbauer 11 175 PK
Jared Holdridge 11 190 RB-LB

Kyle Birenbaum 11 195 OL-DL
Nathaniel Benike 11 240 OL-DL
Mitch Meyer 11 200 OL-DL
*Davon Mayer 11 190 OL-DL
Ben Potrykus 11 140 SE-DB
Ryan Brooks 11 215 OL-DL
Alex Shutter 10 135 SE-DB
Gavin Falk 10 150 QB-DB
Cody Kuhn 10 165 RB-LB
Bailey Entringer 10 140 SE-DB
Jake Weisensel 10 150 RB-LB
Josh Beeck 10 145 SE-DB
Erik Ohman 10 155 RB-LB
Joe Chandler 10 185 RB-LB
Tyler Luedtke 10 205 OL-LB
Trevor Horneck 10 190 OL-DL
Derek Schweiger 10 225 OL-DL
Logan Rusch 10 275 OL-DL
Jeremy Winter 10 230 OL-DL
Jared Beck 10 275 OL-DL
Harrison Strutz 10 130 SE-DB
Shane Holcomb 10 160 TE-LB
Matt Klas 10 135 SE-DB
Jake Steinhardt 10 175 TE-LB
*_ =_ _ R_e_tu_r_n_in_g_ _ le_t_te_r_ w_i_ n_e_r._______

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