Waupaca opens at Menasha
Comets to face a major test in first game
By Greg Seubert
It won’t take long for the Waupaca football team to face a quality opponent.
The Comets will open the 2019 season Friday, Aug. 23, at Menasha.
Although the Bluejays finished behind West De Pere in the Bay Conference standings and only made it to the second round of the WIAA playoffs last year, they are one of the Fox Valley’s most successful football programs.
“It’s a great way to start,” Waupaca coach Tom Noltner said after a recent Saturday morning practice on Comet Field.
“It just makes you better for the second week,” he said. “Sometimes, it great to start out with one of those games. You can measure yourself right off the bat and you know you’re going to be playing a very, very good team. You just have to go out there and compete, learn from any mistakes you make and be ready for the next week.”
Noltner, a longtime assistant coach with the Comets, is starting his fourth season as head coach. He took the Comets to the playoffs in his first season in 2016, but the team hasn’t been back since then. Missing the 2017 playoffs ended a 26-year string of playoff appearances dating back to 1991.
Noltner was on the coaching staff for the Comets’ Division 3 state championships in 2006 and 2008 and state final appearances in 1994, 2002 and 2012.
Getting back to the postseason is one of the team’s goals, he said.
“Make the playoffs, that’s our goal,” he said. “Staying as healthy as we can. Those injuries really hurt is last year. Staying focused and working hard every day that you’re out here trying to get better.”
Waupaca will compete in the Bay against Menasha, West De Pere, New London, Shawano, Seymour, Xavier, Green Bay East and Green Bay West.
Five of those teams – West De Pere, Menasha, Seymour, New London and Xavier – made the playoffs last year and West De Pere ended up in the WIAA Division 3 state title game.
The Bay will go from a nine-team conference to a seven-team league starting next year, as Fox Valley Lutheran and Winneconne will replace West De Pere, Menasha, Green Bay East and Green Bay West.
“Menasha and West De Pere will be extremely good and then it’s a mix of everybody else,” Noltner said. “You can look at the schedule. Everybody knows that you have to go in with the mindset that you can’t make mistakes, you can’t get down, you have to put it all together. The conference has very good teams, so you always have to be prepared.”
The Comets have to replace several players from last year’s team that finished sixth in the Bay with a 3-5 record, including all-conference players Jack Menzies (first team defensive back), Trey Noltner (second team inside linebacker), Gene Bertram (honorable mention offensive lineman), Griffin Trinrud (honorable mention defensive end) and Cody Rasmussen (honorable mention outside linebacker).
“We lost a lot of really good seniors, but we have a lot of talented seniors this year and a very good junior class,” Noltner said. “They’re going to see a lot of playing time. It’s their time to step up and show what they have.”
One of those returning players is senior Davis Levine, who will start his second season at quarterback.
“Davis will be the quarterback again and he’s much better with one year under his belt,” Noltner said. ”He’s really taken leadership here in practice, he’s kind of that captain of this team and he’s leading by example.
“He’s in charge every time out there,” he added. “The kids listen to him, they can count on him, they know what he’s done and they know what he’s capable of. He is the leader.”
Waupaca also has several players back that saw considerable action last year.
“Sam Grall is doing a great job on defense, Kyle Hamm was an all-conference player last year as a sophomore and JC Colbert, our center, is a big, strong guy,” Noltner said. ”Bryce Schuelke is a two-year starter at tackle and Hunter Marcom is a big target out there at receiver. A good one is Kadin Wanty, who’s going to play split end this year. He’s a very good athlete and he’s got lot of upside, so we’re very fortunate to have him out here with us.”
A successful week-long summer camp is paying dividends, according to Noltner.
“We had a great turnout in camp,” he said. “Anytime you can have over 50 kids in the summer giving up work in the morning and family things, we appreciate everyone being here. That has helped us tremendously. We’re a little ahead of schedule right now because of the great camp we had.”
The effort during camp has also carried over to the first week of practice.
“The kids have done a great job with a lot of energy out here,” Noltner said. “The last two days, we had great tempo on both sides of the ball. It’s a very energetic group of young men who are working hard and doing everything they can to be successful.”