Oak Creek football team had fun in winning Southeast title this fall
Knights were talented and deep
Oak Creek - The Oak Creek football team earned its fair share of trophies, press attention and victories this season.
But after their surprisingly early exit from the WIAA state football playoffs, the Southeast Conference champions weren't thinking about that.
"One of my assistants told me at the end that the saddest thing about this was that we wouldn't have another practice with these guys," said Knights' coach Mike Bartholomew. "We had fun with this group in all aspects including the practices. For me, it was probably as much fun as I've had in 28 years of coaching. They really understood the work component. These kids really responded."
Football isn't always about the Lombardi mantra "Winning is everything."
No, it's supposed to be fun and these Knights and their coaches got that point in their very fine 9-1 season that ended in a second-round playoff upset to Southeast rival and 2011 Division 1 state champion Kenosha Bradford.
But as much fun as these Knights had, they had talent and they had drive and that's why they turned in their best season since 2003. It came from a sturdy set of co-captains who kept everyone on the same page. They included likely all-state linebacker Alex Hahn, running back and all-around team player Virgil Hammond and arguably the most valuable offensive lineman center Aaron Lemke.
"A guy like Virgil really lives it," said Bartholomew, "and that's our hope every year. To find people like that, who will set an example, set the tone for others because it really is a team game. If you look up the term team player in a dictionary, you'll probably find Virgil's picture next to it.
"And these guys really bought into it. They weren't concerned about stats or who was doing this or who was doing that. That was what was so impressive about this group. It's the kind of stuff that gets you through adversity on and off the field. The lessons kids learn by being teammates can last a lifetime."
It would be nice if it would work out that way, because the adversity of a last-second bomb ending your season, your hopes for state finals glory is still no doubt resting uneasily on the head and hearts of many in the Oak Creek camp after the crushing loss to Bradford.
"After that, I went to the Catholic Memorial-Wisconsin Lutheran game (Lutheran was heavily favored and maintained a comfortable lead for most of the contest before falling to CM). Lutheran did have it under control for all but three possessions, but it was a credit to those kids (from Memorial). Momentum shifts like that are crazy in high school football.
Bartholomew knows the feeling of momentum shifts.
"Even in our last game (as Bradford maintained a lead in the second half), the kids came back to make it competitive, except for a few obvious plays we handled them. They just executed a perfect play (at the end). They made it and we didn't and that's how it works sometimes."
The real finality for these Knights came Nov. 8 with the banquet where a great senior class bid their farewells and bid good luck to the juniors, the sophomores (4-4 record with 62 players in the class), and the freshmen (4-3, with 64 players).
"No one really knew how hard these kids worked," Bartholomew said. "We've got a lot of kids in the program. These kids deserved everything they got. We're hoping to find some more to carry on their example."
FINAL RECORD: 9-1 (Southeast Conference champions)
POINTS FOR-387; POINTS AGAINST-106
RUSHING: Hammond 196 carries, 1,373 yards and 20 TDs; Derrick Stephan 103-841-11
PASSING: Jordan Strong 35 of 62 for 551 yards for seven TDs with no interceptions
RECEIVING: Zack Harvey 12 catches for 242 yards and three TDs
TACKLES: Kyle Koepsel 34 solos and 50 assists (84); Jordan Veloz 31 and 40 (71), Alex Hahn 36 and 21 (57); Peter Mitchell 24 and 28 (52) and Austin Sirovina 29 and 22 (51)
SENIORS: Dylan Oleszak, Hahn, Jeff Wroblewski, Harvey, Sirovina, Peter Jakus, Veloz, Chase Leonardi, Corey Skenadore, Levi Hoskins, Brett Bartholomew, Ae Vang, Paul Saari, Bianca Alarcon, Hammond, Dylan Parks, Koepsel, Tyler Ungerecht, Aaron Lemke, Ian DeChambre, Colten Brickler, Steven Abbott, Grayson Ruhl, and Brad Ploch
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