Despite a couple “should’ve-could’ve” contests and a late season injury bug, the 2015 Bluejay varsity football squad pulled out yet another successful season. The boys posted a 5-3 overall regular season record, worked a second place GNC tie with Mosinee (4-2) and secured a 7th consecutive berth in the WIAA playoffs.
Along with success, recognition tends to follow and last week nine Jays were tabbed for post-season accolades.
Topping the list were Jake Collinsworth, Christian Kleinschmidt, Isaac Buntrock and Jon Gruetzmacher; all of whom were repeat selections from last season. Ben Tabor also garnered top-end honors after a tenacious junior season in the defensive secondary for the Jays.
Collinsworth was named to the 2nd team at middle linebacker in 2014, after a very successful inaugural varsity season as a sophomore. This season, the stalwart junior jumped to the top of the list as a unanimous 1st team selection at middle linebacker and in turn was recognized for his offense prowess with a 2nd team selection at fullback. The 6’0”, 205 pound junior paced the team in tackles this season with 69 total (49s, 10a, TFL, sack, PD, FR).
Offensively, he proved to be a back to be reckoned with on offense (81car/442 yds, 4TD), consistently reflecting his ability to pound the ball for the dirty yards inside, or hit the afterburners and take it the shed around the outside.
“Jake is a very committed and hard-working young man,” said head coach Nick Sturm. “Jake was recognized by the coaches in our conference for earning a lot of tough yards. Defensively, he was one of the top linebackers in the conference week in and week out. His speed and ability to find the football were evident.”
Joining Collinsworth on the first team defense was 6’0”, 240 pound senior defensive tackle Christian Kleinschmidt, the second year he garnered a 1st team selection.. Kleinschmidt – nickname “Moose” by his peers – finished as the team’s second-ranked tackler with 40 tackles (36s, 4a, 5TFL), but led the team in sacks (3) and forced fumbles (2).
“Christian was a very difficult young man to block.” Sturm adds. “Teams often had to run away from him because he was so dominant inside.”
Tabor nailed down First Team honors as the team’s leading tackler in the secondary, from his corner back position with 28 total tackles, (26s, 2a). Tabor also showed a knack for smothering pass coverage as he led the team in defended passes (4).
“Ben was a top cover corner who often mirrored the opponent’s best receiver. Coaches recognized his quality coverage skills.”
Rounding out the First Team honors for the Jays was 6’0”, 265-pound center Isaac Buntrock, a repeat First Team selection.
“Isaac had a great senior season. He is a very hard working, tough football player and is very deserving of this honor.” Sturm said.
Joining Collinsworth on the 2nd Team All-GNC offense was behemoth, 6’8”, 280-pound left tackle Jon Gruetzmacher.
Gruetzmacher made his varsity debut on the offense’s blind side last season as a sophomore and quickly made his presence known, as videos of his tremendous drive-blocking ability went viral by mid-season.
His ability was recognized at the end of the season when he was selected to the 1st Team All-GNC offense and became a Division 1-A football prospect, garnering attention from Big 10 schools including Wisconsin and Nebraska.
“Jon had a very good junior season. In critical situations we often ran behind him. His ability to move defenders was evident.” Sturm notes.
Despite battling the injury bug for three games toward the end of the season, nifty-footed senior quarterback Drew Hoff still managed nearly 700 yards on the ground (98 carries/683 yds, 12TD) and another 472 through the air (44/82, 53.6%, 4 TD/4INT) en route to an Honorable Mention All-GNC selection.
Even when hobbled by an ankle injury, defenses struggled in vain to contain him, much less shut him down, as Hoff consistently used his extensive ball carrier vision and nifty foot work to snap off runs of 30 yards or more throughout the season.
“Drew missed a couple of games with an ankle injury, or he would have garnered more recognition. He is a very explosive athlete who could break a long run at any time.” Sturm said.
The Jays will have a bright offensive future with the HM selections of the ‘Thunder and Lightning’ sophomore backfield duo of 6’4 220-pound fullback Braeden Dorn and turbocharged running back Nevada Laabs.
The pair came on strong toward the end of the season to combine for over 1,000 yards (Dorn: 77 carries/364 yards and Laabs 102 carries/695 yards) and 5 touchdowns (Laabs: 4/Dorn:1)
Dorn’s relentless, bruising running style proved to be a formidable weapon in the Bluejay arsenal, especially late in the season when injuries plagued the backfield. His career night came on the drizzly night in Ashland, when he would charge, plow and smash his way to 116 yards on 26 carries.
“Braeden is a very tough hard working individual,” Sturm adds. “For us to rely on him to start on both sides of the ball as a sophomore, speaks volumes about his ability.”
Dorn proved to be a force on the defensive side as well and gained Honorable Mention status, attacking from his defensive-end position for 26 total tackles (13s, 3a, 3TFL).
Laabs could be relied upon to slash, dash or run around anyone in his path. His potency became readily apparent early in the season when he raced up and down the field and back again for 92 yards, on just 15 carries in a Week 3 contest at Lakeland. The fleet-footed sophomore cashed in on back-to-back games of 86 yards over Rhinelander and Medford, in weeks 4 and 5, in which he punched in three scores.
His career-night came on the same night as Dorn, coming through when he was needed the most for 118 yards on just six carries.
“Nevada was a big play scoring threat on our football team. His running ability is very good, and he should be quite a football player in years to come.” Sturm commented.
Perhaps one of the biggest success stories for Bluejay football this season, aside from the emergence of young talent, was that of defensive tackle Elijah Emmer.
Emmer got the starting nod in the pre-season after showing consistent playmaking ability opposite Kleinschmidt in the defensive interior.
The senior took the opportunity and ran wild with it, literally.
From that first tough loss to Superior in week 1, through the highs and lows to the heartbreaker playoff loss to Medford, Emmer remained a force inside. While Kleinschmidt paced the team in sacks, Emmer piled up 21 total tackles (16s, 5a) and made his presence felt in just about every aspect of defensive football.
The 6’0”, 215 senior led in tackles for loss (6), nearly tied in total sacks (2), scooped up 3 fumble recoveries, forced a fumble, blocked a kick, and picked off a pass to boot.
“Elijah had an outstanding football season. He really grew as an athlete and made some very big plays this season.” Sturm added.