High School Turn Around

Waterford Union High School was unseen on the state's football radar with one playoff appearance in a 20-year stretch. That changed this past year. Thanks to an impressive turn around and leadership from players like junior lineman Brandon Miller, the Wolverines energized a town and are now looking to build a winning tradition.

WATERFORD, Wis. - The desired end result for most high school football teams is a championship – to be able to hoist a gold trophy over their heads after being victorious in the final game of the season.

For Waterford Union High School, all the fun last year came in the journey itself.

The Wolverines went 3-6 in 2010 and lost their last five games by an average of 10.8 points. Yet on a cool day last November, Waterford's football team boarded buses and headed for Camp Randall with a fire engine escort that added to the massive pep rally that ignited a town of about 5,000 the night before.

"That whole week was a lot different in school with a spirit week for the football team and all the elementary schools holding up signs for us as we left," said linemen and two-year varsity starter Brandon Miller. "It really was a great experience."

Even though the 45-0 defeat at the hands of a third straight WIAA Division 2 championship for Waunakee wasn't the cherry on top, the 12-2 turnaround Miller was a part of was certainly notable.

During a 20-year-stretch from 1984-2003, Waterford Union's high school football field was barely used in November, as the Wolverines went 55-125 with one playoff appearance. After hopes were raised from 2004 through 2009, with the program going 42-23 with five playoff trips, they were dashed with last year's finish.

After opening with a 39-point win over Brown Deer, the stakes were raised when the Wolverines defeated Division 1 powerhouse, Mequon Highlanders, 17-15 on a last second game winning field goal.

It was a theme all season for the co-champions of the Southern Lakes Conference, outscoring their four opponents in the playoff 146-17 and utilizing a balanced offense led by seniors Zach Fischer (18 TD passes) and Greg Steffens (1438 total yards, 20 TDs).

"There were a lot of things in place here," said coach Adam Bakken of his first season. "They bought in what I was trying to teach them. … The physicality, the size that we have, the athletes we have were all in place. We had to figure out a different way to play the game correctly."

Bakken, who left his defensive coordinator position at Walworth Big Foot to take over the program, injected his philosophies into the defense. Before state, Waterford hadn't allowed more than 15 points in a game and held seven of its 13 opponents to a touchdown or less.

"The season showed us the whole team that we are capable of making it that far and that work pays off," said Miller. "If we approach the offseason like we did this past season, we can get there again."

The 6-5, 289-pound Miller has taken that approach to heart. After earning first-team all-country and first-team all-conference honors, Miller also prides himself in shot put, breaking his personal mark with a 50-6.5 throw in May.

He also has been on the recruiting scene, recently picking up his first offer from North Dakota and having visited Wisconsin for the school's junior day back in February.

"It was pretty great with the clinics," Miller said of his UW visit. "I learned a lot more than I did when I was there for a game and their camp. It was nice to go around and talk to the players – getting a chance to ask our own questions and get their point of view.

"I like their staff. Being from Wisconsin, I know a more about them than I do the other schools. They are really good people and they make you feel a part of the family when you go see them. It really gives you a sense of state pride when you see what's going on."

Miller plans on camping at Wisconsin and has been invited to camp at the Chicago Showcase, Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, South Dakota and Western Michigan.

"I feel like I became a little faster, my technique is better with my hand movements and that I am more aggressive," said Miller. "I am anxious to show myself at these camps."

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