Get ready for a whole lot of football

With the National Football League settling its lockout and the early start of high school football in Wisconsin, the next few weeks are going to be a football fan’s dream.
The NFL and its players union had to settle their differences. There was simply too much money to be lost for the lockout to last for any consequential period. The late end to the lockout will create a maddening scramble of free agent signings and roster moves, but none of the possible contractual money will be lost. That’s all that was important to both sides of the labor impasse.
Each day should be packed with football news for the foreseeable future. News is already trickling out about veterans that won’t be re-signed and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While this is a comparably poor year for free agent talent, some of the free agents available are going to get obscene contracts because teams are scrambling to fill roster holes quickly.
The early start to high school football has players praying for fair weather for the early practices. Early August is frequently the hottest stretch of the summer. Starting the practices a week earlier this year will mean coaches will have to be extra careful to watch athletes so they don’t get overcome by the August heat.
It will be interesting to see how the early start affects crowd sizes for the football season. With a third of the regular season games being played before the start of the school year, the loyalty of the football fans will be tested.

Keefers keep adding to football accomplishments

The Keefers, father Dan and son Jake, continue to add to their football accomplishments.
Jake, the two-way All-State standout at Baldwin-Woodville, will officially sign his letter of intent this week to join the Wisconsin Badger football program. The Badgers are looking at Jake as a linebacker. That would be fitting, because he would be following in his dad’s footsteps.
Dan, the Baldwin-Woodville head coach, played at Augustana College in South Dakota. He was a three-year starter at linebacker and was a team captain his senior year. Dan is a graduate of Rice Lake High School.
The condition of Jake’s knee has been a hot topic since the high school football season ended. Jake put off knee surgery until he played in the The U.S. Army All-American Bowl. This is considered as the premier high school football game in the country. It is held each January in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas and it showcases some of the top collegiate players in the country. Jake was the only Wisconsin player selected for the game. Former Wisconsin products who played in the All-American Bowl are Cleveland Browns All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas and Badger running back John Clay.
By all reviews, Jake gave a strong performance in the All-American Bowl. He played inside and outside linebacker and played on all special teams. He was involved in a handful of tackles and recovered a fumble during the game.
Dan said the experience wasn’t just about football. He said each player was paired with a soldier. Jake happened to get matched up with a soldier from Medford. The players did several community-based activities, including visiting recovering soldiers in a hospital.
“It was really powerful stuff,” Dan said.
Right after Jake returned from Texas, he had surgery on his knee. The result was the about the best he could have asked for. The doctor did not have to remove the meniscus, only a small part of it that was damaged.
Last week Jake received the blessing of Badger coach Bret Bielema to come back to the Baldwin-Woodville boys basketball team. He is expected to be playing for the Blackhawks in games this week.
Jake will be a difficult decision for the Badger coaches. He has been recruited as a linebacker and that’s understandable. He had 134 tackles this season as the Blackhawks finished 11-2, losing in the state semifinals.
But those who saw Jake play of offense can visualize him following in the steps of Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum and the other hugely successful tight ends the Badgers have produced over the past decade.
While Jake is getting ready to join the Badgers, Dan has taken on another project. He will be the head coach for the Small School North squad in the 2011 WFCA All-Star Game on July 16 in Oshkosh.
Dan said he followed the advice of Somerset coach Bruce Larson, who was a head coach in the All-Star Game last year, to pursue a head coaching position.
While the full rosters haven’t been announced, Dan said he has taken his son and B-W quarterback Jordan Weyer for his North team. Prescott’s Mark Nahorniak has also been chosen, as have Mondovi’s running back tandem of Alex Wolf and Collin Laursen.
Dan said he has thoroughly enjoyed the process of building a staff of coaches from around the state. They spent a part of their Christmas break reviewing films of 90 players who were nominated for the team.

Badger football forcing us to believe

It seems that every year, we’ve grown hesitant to believe in the University of Wisconsin football team.
This year, we may have a true reason to believe.
This may be the best Badger football team since the Badgers’ Rose Bowl titles in 1999 and 2000. The Badgers seem to have all the ingredients necessary to be a top five team in the nation. Whether they can get into a BCS bowl game is yet to be seen, but this is a team that has played as strongly as any Badger team in a decade.
Scott Tolzien is becoming one of the best directors of the Badger offense in a long line of successful quarterbacks. The Badgers have done well with a formula of smart, perceptive quarterbacks like Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi. They’ve gone on to be great clipboard holders (aka backup quarterbacks) in the NFL. Whether Tolzien can be any more will be interesting. He’s an exceptionally accurate quarterback, but he could show more zip on his passes.
One of the best moves by Badger coach Bret Bielema has been to recruit a large number of running backs. John Clay’s academic issues forced the coaches’ hands, to make sure there were other alternatives available. This has been a huge benefit. Clay’s injury issues have opened the door for Montee Ball and James White. As well as they both have done, Clay may have trouble getting his starting job back. The way the running game dominated the second half against Michigan was a spectacle that stands out in Badger history. The Badgers are making a tradition of being a power running team and Saturday’s performance was one for the ages.
The Badger defense has been a revelation. For three quarters on Saturday, the Badgers made the Michigan Wolverine offense look more like the Minnesota Gophers (I can’t think of a bigger Big Ten insult this season). The Badgers caught heat nationally for rolling up 83 points against Indiana the week before, but it wasn’t really fair. The 63-point margin was a pretty accurate measure on how big a disparity there was in the two teams that day. It doesn’t seem fair of send the reserves into the game early in the second half, then tie their hands. The coaches gave the younger players a chance to prove what they could do and most of them showed they are ready to step into the starting lineup when their time arrives.
This Saturday the Badgers host Northwestern in their final regular season game. A victory would assure the Badgers with a share of the Big 10 championship. It would also put the Badgers into great shape for a premier bowl game.
One of the reasons for the team’s success is the coaching staff. Bielema has several former NFL players on his staff like John Settle, Joe Rudolph and Greg Jackson. They all cut their teeth on other coaching staffs and now they are proven successes that have added to the scope of the team’s knowledge.