The last time the Verona football team won a playoff game, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in more than a century and Donald Trump won the presidency.
This year’s Verona senior football players were in eighth grade in 2016, when the Wildcats won a Level 1 playoff game 21-17 over Arrowhead. It also marks the last time Verona won the Big Eight Conference title, earning a co-championship with Sun Prairie.
The Wildcats have made six straight playoff appearances and 15 of the past 16 years.
“From the first minicamp the senior captains said we want to win a playoff game,” junior linebacker Mason Armstrong said. “That’s been the goal. We haven’t done that in a while.”
Verona finished 3-3 in the alternate fall season last spring, but there was no postseason. Two of the Wildcats’ three losses came to Sun Prairie. The Wildcats return a lot of talent with nine starters on offense. Senior Mason Fink returns at quarterback after passing for 513 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception last season.
Fink returns his top two weapons in the passing game — senior wide receiver Cole Jannusch and senior wide receiver Cole Zoromski. Jannusch had 12 receptions for 122 yards and Zoromski caught nine passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.
Another advantage is the Wildcats have several offensive line starters back, led by senior Vandy Fau at center.
“My expectations are pretty high because we have a lot of seniors starting,” Zormoski said. “It feels great to get back and have a normal season with no masks.”
Zormoski said having a short layoff and a quick turnaround from the spring season is an advantage.
“We have our formations down and everyone knows their positions,” he said. “We can kind of throw new stuff in on top of it.”
Verona coach Dave Richardson, who is in his 29th year, said the biggest improvements in the Wildcats since last spring is their energy.
“The energy is definitely better,” Richardson said. “We were just happy to be out and alive last spring. The spring was just a lot of uncertainty every day and week; who is going to be there, be sick, who is playing another sport. We are focused and ready to win some football games.”
Senior Kyle Krantz will step into an even bigger role at running back after Jackson Acker, a University of Wisconsin-Madison running back, graduated.
Krantz was a big-play weapon last year rushing for 151 yards and one touchdown in limited duty last spring. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and proved to be a dependable receiver out of the backfield with six receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Fink said he’s gained confidence and has improved as a passer since playing six games last spring.
“I’ve been out here practicing getting more comfortable making throws and being able to make certain types of throws and being on time with them,” he said.
Senior Isaiah Marsh also is a big back with speed who could emerge with a heavy workload.
“He’s raw,” Richardson said of Marsh. “He has good speed and instincts. He plays high and the ball is too loose. He’s going to get better.”
The Verona defense will be led by two inside linebackers — junior Mason Armstrong and senior Vince Langlois. Armstrong had a team-high 47 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack last season. Langlois tallied 40 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Senior defensive linemen Andres Garrido at 290-pounds will help the Wildcats stop the run in the middle. Garrido had 14 tackles and one sack last season.
Senior NJ Elias is back at defensive back after intercepting four passes last spring.
“We have been flying around on defense,” Richardson said.