Oak Creek seniors out to set an example
After just missing playoffs last year, leadership doesn't appear to be missing
Behind a sound senior class that is not afraid to lead by example, the Oak Creek football team has adopted a "playoffs or bust" attitude this fall.
"To not make it last year and the way we did it was really disappointing," said Knights coach Mike Bartholomew, referring to the team's wild, 42-40 loss to rival Muskego in the regular season finale. "We felt we were playing our best ball at the end of the year.
"But this year's seniors have done an excellent job of leading. They got everybody organized before we got started and have really set themselves up as good role models. They don't hesitate to get into the front of the line (on drills). They really set that example and that should really help with the younger players."
Oak Creek, which scrimmaged Waukesha West, Sussex Hamilton and Milwaukee Lutheran on Aug. 17, will open live action on Friday at non-conference opponent Menomonee Falls (7 p.m.). The Indians were also a near-miss for the playoffs last year and should provide a good test for the Knights.
A primary focus for Bartholomew and his staff will be the improvement of the defense. NOW All-Suburban defensive end Alex Hahn (6-1, 215), who has already committed to NCAA Division I subdivision national champion North Dakota State, will be the focal point, but will get help from returning senior outside linebackers Austin Sirovina (6-3, 225) and Kyle Koepsel (5-10, 215).
Also involved in the linebacking corps is tight end Jordan Veloz (6-3, 245). Another convert is senior defensive lineman Ian DeChambre (5-10, 250) who was a second-team All-Southeast selection at offensive lineman last fall.
"We think he can be a real disruptive force," said Bartholomew, of DeChambre.
In fact, two other tight ends have been converted into defensive linemen. They are seniors Colten Brickler (6-3, 215) and Peter Jakus (6-3, 210). Senior Dylan Oleszak (6-0, 172) is a returning defensive back.
On offense, there are also question marks. Junior Jordan Strong (5-10, 155) and sophomore Steve Stillwell (6-0, 190) battle to replace Nick Marks, who had a fine year at quarterback for the Knights in 2011. Whoever wins that battle will be helped by the return of Veloz, who is currently being looked at by several top-level programs for his role in making Oak Creek's split back/veer option set go.
All told, there are seven returning starters on offense including senior running back Virgil Hammond (5-11, 195), who was a letter winner last season and has looked "spectacular" in camp, according to Bartholomew. Depth at back will include senior Paul Saari (5-9, 180), senior Ae Vang (5-7, 167) and junior Derrick Stephan (5-11, 190). Saari was on the Knights' state-bound 1,600-meter relay team in track last season.
The offensive line will be anchored by three veterans including senior center Aaron Lemke (5-11, 255), senior guard Steve Abbott (6-3, 255) and sophomore tackle Nathan Veloz (6-4, 275), Jordan's not-so-little brother.
"The start hasn't been bad," Bartholomew said. "We're a little in-between (in terms of experience) but we have some pieces in place."
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