Oak Creek's four All-Suburban football selections are team-first players
After having superb seasons, Hahn, Koepsel, Lemke and Hammond selected
Oak Creek - As opposed to the flashy Oak Creek football teams of the 1990s, this year's 9-1 Southeast Conference championship squad was more the sum of its individual parts than of its overwhelming talent.
Part talent, all sublimated ego and always team-first.
But as noted, there was talent, as exemplified by the four NOW Newspapers All-Suburban selections the Knights earned. The all-senior group includes returning NOW selection and North Dakota State University recruit Alex Hahn, who shifted to outside linebacker from defensive end this season, linebacker Kyle Koepsel, center Aaron Lemke and running back Virgil Hammond.
Team chemistry was a reason for the team's success, Hahn said.
"This couldn't have been any better," he said. "An undefeated regular season, something we haven't had since what, 2003? And to do it all with my friends. That was just awesome."
As was the Oak Creek linebacking corps, led by Hahn (first-team all-state by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association) and Koepsel (first-team all-state by the WFCA, and a second-team all-state pick by the Associated Press).
Austin Sirovina and Jordan Veloz made up the rest of the linebacking crew that was dominant for most of the season.
Switch key to success
"It was the best thing for the team for me to move back," said Hahn of his position change. "That way I could use my speed (4.6 in the 40-yard dash) more and it's where I'll likely be playing more in college, anyway.
"And I was just playing with some awesome guys (on the linebacking crew). They were almost all-conference, and they're all D1 (NCAA) talent in my eyes. They all deserve scholarships.
"No way was this defense built around just one guy. We really played as a team this year.
"We didn't get to our ultimate goal (of the state finals in Madison), but we had a lot of leadership and teamwork out there."
Bartholomew said the position change also helped Hahn.
He did not have to match up directly against brawling offensive tackles who were often bigger than he was and could see better where he had to be.
"And his motor was on high all game long," Bartholomew said. "He could make the explosive big play at almost any time."
Taking it up a notch
Koepsel was a three-year starter, who Oak Creek coach Mike Bartholomew said really found his place this season.
"He struggled in past years," said Bartholomew, "but this year, he just flourished. He was very physical at the point of attack and led us in tackles. He was just fantastic all season."
Leader of the line
Lemke was another kid who Bartholomew called "very important" to the team's success.
Hammond had an enormous year out of the backfield (earning first-team WFCA all-state honors), but he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without the likes of the powerful Lemke, another three-year letter winner and two-year starter who made all the line calls for the Knights.
Lemke had started out as a guard and tackle in youth football before moving to the middle of the line his sophomore year.
"I thought it was a good fit," Lemke said. "You have to be smart and be able to lead a strong group of guys. They're all looking to you to make the right (line) calls. It was hard adjusting to the position (my sophomore year), but I was pretty much used to it by the end of that season.
"And this year was just a blast. We started off fast and kept going. The intensity just built with every game."
He and the rest of the line loved blocking for Hammond.
"I've known Virgil since I started here," said Lemke, "and he's just crazy good. He's got great athletic ability and is a very humble guy. Just unbelievable. And as you know, when the running backs get big yards and TDs, you know the offensive line is doing its job and Virgil always gave us tons of credit."
Bartholomew also appreciated Hammond's humble attitude, noting that if someone were to look up the term "team player" in the dictionary, it would probably have Hammond's picture next to it.
"He was the top vote-getter in the all-region balloting and he was as complete a back as I've seen anywhere," Bartholomew said. "Good hands, a great blocker and a fantastic team player. Almost too good to be true."
As was most of this Oak Creek team this season.
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