All-AREA FOOTBALL: Mukwonago, Union Grove, lead annual squad

Union Grove’s Cody Cotton rushed for 1,342 yards and scored 23 touchdowns this past season despite missing four games due to injury. He was named to the Southern Lakes Newspapers All Area football team as a utility player on offense. (Photo by Michael Stefanich Jr.)

Berghorn, Gnewuch honored as player, coach of the year

By Mike Ramczyk


The high school football season was back to normal in 2021 with a full schedule of games and unforgettable Friday Night Lights.

The best of those teams and players who produced those memorable moments make up the heart of the Southern Lakes Newspapers sixth annual All-Area Football squad.

Mukwonago had the best season in the area with an 11-2 record and a conference championship in the Classic 8, arguably the best conference in the state.

If not for a late fumble in a Division 1 state semifinal, the Indians would’ve been back to the state championship game for the first time since 2004, but they fell, 35-31, to Sun Prairie.

Mukwonago’s Mike Gnewuch is our coach of the year (see separate story below).

Over in the Southern Lakes Conference, Union Grove was 10-2 and boasted a perfect 7-0 conference mark.

The Broncos beat Waterford for the first time since 2007, once in the regular season and another time in the second round of the playoffs.

Also, Lake Geneva Badger finished a banner season second in the SLC with an 8-3 overall record.

Badger’s Cole Berghorn shattered the school rushing record by more than 500 yards, finishing with 2,100 yards and all-state honors. The preferred walk-on to the Division 1 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers is our 2021 SLN All Area Football Player of the Year (see separate story below).

It was another great season for area football teams, and the following honor team is sure to bring plenty of Christmas joy and holiday cheer, and maybe even some bah, humbug.

Correspondent Mike Ramczyk reached out to coaches from four counties spanning four conferences for nominations, which were broken down into first and second teams and an honorable mention list.

There was heavy consideration given to All-State, All-Region and All-Conference players. In instances where those criteria were insufficient, we compared statistics.

The 15 teams in SLN’s coverage area include the entire Southern Lakes Conference, Mukwonago, East Troy, Big Foot, Catholic Central, Palmyra-Eagle, Whitewater and Williams Bay, which plays eight-man football.

Capsule profiles for the first team honorees follow:


Player of the year

Cole Berghorn, RB, Lake Geneva Badger – first team all region, first team all state, 2,178 yards rushing, 9.9 per rush, 27 touchdowns (see full story below).


Coach of the year

Mike Gnewuch, Mukwonago – 11-2, Classic 8 champions, reached Division 1 state semifinal (see full story below).


First team offense

  • Quarterback: Kegan Huber, LGB

The Division 1 North Dakota State preferred walk-on was a three-year starter and earned first team All-Southern Lakes recognition.

The senior ran for 664 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for 425 yards with three touchdowns.

  • Running back: Jakob Simmons, Westosha Central

Simmons was named first team all-SLC thanks to 1,374 yards, 18 touchdowns and 8.6 yards per carry, despite missing two games with a knee injury.

“As explosive an athlete as I’ve coached in a long time,” Westosha coach Jared Franz said.

  • Running back: Jake Adams, Mukwonago

Adams ran for 1,656 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Classic 8 champs. He earned first team all-conference, all-region and honorable mention all-state honors.

  • Wide receiver: Cole Meininger, Westosha Central

Only a sophomore, Meininger was a game-breaker for the Falcons and was named first team all-SLC (most votes) thanks to 38 catches, 529 yards and seven touchdowns.

“An impressive first varsity season with an incredibly bright future,” Franz said.

  • Wide receiver: Jake Timmers, Mukwonago

Timmers led the area with 57 receptions and 663 yards to go along with five scores. He was named second team all-Classic 8.

  • Tight end: Zach Pitcel, Mukwonago

The 6-foot-6, 215-pound three-time SLN All-Area selection was first team all-conference, all-region and honorable mention all state.

“Zach is one of the best blocking tight ends I have coached. Others recognized this as well, and he received a ton of postseason accolades,” Mukwonago coach Mike Gnewuch said.


  • Offensive line: Jake Young, Mukwonago

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound powerhouse was named WFCA first team all state, all-region and first team all-conference.

  • Offensive line: Connor Bates, Badger

Voted the top offensive lineman in the SLC, the senior Bates was a two-year starter and earned all-region honors in helping Berghorn and the run game put up record-breaking numbers.

  • Offensive line: Brock Malecki, Waterford

The first team all-SLC pick earned the second-most votes among offensive linemen.

  • Offensive line: Connor O’Reilly, Burlington

The senior guard earned the third-most votes in the all-SLC voting and second team All-Racine County honors. He was the best offensive lineman on the 5-5 Demons, who advanced to the D2 postseason despite being ravaged by injuries. O’Reilly is a three-year starter.

“He’s a fast, physical player,” Burlington head coach Eric Sulik said.

  • Offensive line: Max Bochat, Elkhorn

A two-year starter, Bochat was first team all-conference a team captain and won the Russ Bray Award despite playing the entire season with a partially torn labrum and a dislocated shoulder.

“Russ Bray is essentially an award for the best human being on the team named after a person who died on the field in the 1970s,” Elkhorn coach Todd Ghilani said.

  • Utility: Cody Cotton, Union Grove

The dynamic running back scored with 52 seconds left to beat Waterford in a Level 2 playoff game. He missed four games but still ran for 1,342 yards on only 147 attempts with 23 total touchdowns (20 rushing). Cotton was the Racine County Player of the Year and earned AP All-State and first team All-SLC honors.

“Cody has game changing ability and has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. He currently holds multiple D2 offers as well as a PWO at Wisconsin,” said Union Grove coach Craig McClelland.

  • Kicker: Sam Sonnenberg, Mukwonago

A second team all-Classic 8 punter and kicker, Sonnenberg made 7-of-9 field goals and 62-for-63 extra points. His two missed field goals were 53 and 55 yards, and Gnewuch says he only missed by a few yards. Gnewuch said there were few punters and kickers in the state with better stats than Sonnenberg.


First team defense

  • Defensive line: Luke Kokat, Union Grove

Kokat could’ve also been a first team tight end as he received all-region and honorable mention all state for tight end, but he could play defense, too.

He was first team all-SLC and all-county defensive end. He will play tight end for Division 1 North Dakota State.

“Defensively, Luke did an amazing job and would shut down one side of the field and help the edge,” McClelland said. “Teams would run away from Luke, yet he still amounted 35 total tackles with 4 sacks and 3 TFL.”

  • Defensive line: Braedon Bakken, East Troy

A first team All-Rock Valley selection, Bakken has 26 solo tackles, six tackles for loss, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown. Head coach Steve Collins said Bakken was one of the top defensive tackles in the RVC.

  • Defensive line: Billy Dzierzanowski, Badger

A two-way starter for three years, Dzierzanowski was all-region and first team All-SLC on defense, voted the top defensive lineman in the conference. He also was second team All-SLC on the offensive line. Dzierzanowski had 55 tackles, including an incredible 14 for loss and an area-leading 11 quarterback sacks.

  • Defensive line: Ethan Ivan, Wilmot

After a strong junior season, the Division 2 Minnesota-Duluth scholarship defensive tackle was double- or triple-teamed on almost every snap, according to Wilmot head coach Keiya Square. He was first team all-SLC thanks to 34 total tackles, 23 solo, five TFLs and 3 sacks.

“He’s been a great player for us the last three years,” Square said. “Also started every game for us on the offensive line.”

  • Linebacker: Ben Rehl, Mukwonago

Rehl, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior, was voted the defensive player of the year in the Classic 8 and a John Anderson finalist for top linebacker in the state.

He was first team all state, all-region and first team all-conference thanks to 133 tackles, 12 TFLs, two interceptions and a sack.

  • Linebacker: Riley Fischer, Mukwonago

A menacing presence to opposing offenses at 6-foot-9, Fischer was second in the state with 164 tackles and earned first team all state, all-region and all-conference accolades.

Linebacker: Gianni Scacco, Union Grove

The SLC’s defensive Player of the Year was first team all county and all-region. He led the team with 84 tackles.

“His ability to diagnose plays and ability to play with great instincts is a great sight to see on the football field,” McClelland said. “Gianni is an amazing football player, and I cannot wait to watch him at the next level.”

  • Defensive back: Anthony Corona, Wilmot

The junior was a unanimous first team All-SLC pick and all-region. He totaled 115 tackles in eight games, 71 solo and included four tackles for loss.

“Best DB in the area without a doubt,” Square said. “He played free safety for us and can cover sideline to sideline and also come down and stop the run. Getting D1 looks.”

  • Defensive back: Seth Johnson, Badger

A junior safety, Johnson was two-year starter and voted the top defensive back in the SLC. He was named all-region after tallying 64 tackles, 14 passes defended, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.

  • Defensive back: Drew Trudell, Mukwonago

He was named first team all-conference and honorable mention all-region. Teams just didn’t throw Trudell’s way because he “locked them down,” according to Gnewuch.

“His stats are misleading because he was too good at covering receivers,” Gnewuch said.

  • Defensive back: Cole Girard, Mukwonago

A second team All-Classic 8 selection, Girard tied for the league lead with five interceptions.

“He is a thumper coming downhill from his safety position,” Gnewuch said.

  • Punter: Blake Weaver, Wilmot

A two-time first team All-SLC punter, Weaver averaged 40 yards on 26 punts and pinned 12 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. He averaged 38.2 yards per punt for his career, including 20 inside the 20.


Second team


  • QB – Evan Herbig, Mukwonago.
  • RB – Jax Hertel, Big Foot. Wynn Stang, Mukwonago.
  • WR – Alex Schmitz, Big Foot. Kade Frisby, Wilmot.
  • TE – Cal Miles, Catholic Central.
  • OL – Noah Morris, Union Grove. Mason McNeill, Westosha Central. Murphy O’Brien, Catholic Central. Nate Duncan, Mukwonago. James Tsakonas, Wilmot.
  • K – Christian Pedone, Catholic Central.

Utility – Zach Kazamura, Westosha Central.



  • DL – Mike Metz, Badger. Carter Friend, Whitewater (linebacker). Sam Orlando, Mukwonago. Carson Nickel, Elkhorn.
  • LB – Taylor O’Laughlin, Badger. Garrett Foldy, Union Grove. Aidan Schaefer, Waterford.
  • DB – Owen Martinson, Waterford. Kaleb Zabielski, Burlington. Max Robson, Catholic Central. Connor Lom, Elkhorn.


Honorable mention

  • Badger: EJ Gritzner, OL. Charles Zigmund, DE.
  • Big Foot: Basil Demco, QB. Shawn Robinson, OL.
  • Burlington: AJ Dow, WR. Tommy Teberg, Utility. Zeke Tiedt, DL.
  • Catholic Central: Murphy O’Brien, OL/DL. Henry Amborn, RB/DE.
  • Delavan-Darien: Erik Cesarz, LB. Alex Papke, LB. Logan Mortlock, P.
  • East Troy: Aiden Taylor, WR. Blake Kader, Jr., LB. Conner Paullin, DT.
  • Elkhorn: Zach Pflanzer, LB. Tyler Etten, RB.
  • Mukwonago: Nathan Roy, DE. Wolf Schnabl, OL. Ethan Wrasman, OL.
  • Palmyra-Eagle: James Merryfield, DB. Mason Blazewicz, OL.
  • Union Grove: DJ Fox, OL. Adam Ross, DB. Nathan Williams, QB.
  • Waterford: Parker Peterson, RB. Aiden Webb, LB.
  • Westosha Central: Dennis Padget, OL. Vinny Greco, DB.
  • Whitewater: Marcus DePorter, WR. Brock Grosinske, QB.
  • Williams Bay: Cole Oertel, QB. Elian Valadez, DL. Tyler McKean, DB.
  • Wilmot: Anthony Hall, UTIL. Jake Christiansen, LB.



Out-work everyone

Badger’s Berghorn breaks rushing record, will play college football at Minnesota

By Mike Ramczyk


He lives all the way down on the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

It’s a quiet setting, with five acres, a big silo and miles of farmland in all directions.

It’s a Walworth address, and across the street is Illinois.

Lake Geneva Badger senior running back Cole Berghorn shattered the school rushing record with 2,178 yards in 2021 and earned all-state honors in the process. He is the Southern Lakes Newspapers Player of the Year. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

Cole Berghorn lives in the Big Foot district and attended Reek Elementary, but when it came time to go to high school, Berghorn and a lot of his friends he grew up playing football with wanted to go to big, bad Badger – even if it meant a 20-minute drive to school every day.

The 18-year-old Lake Geneva Badger senior is just chilling at home with mom Heather on a Friday night, nursing his injured knee on crutches and hoping to fully heal by January. The living room is festive with a towering Christmas tree, and it’s just Cole, mom and the family dog hanging out.

It was only two months ago that Berghorn was fighting for extra yards during a WIAA Division 2 playoff game against Kettle Moraine when four players piled on and Berghorn heard a pop.

He ended up tearing a ligament in the knee and missing most of the biggest game of his life.

Badger fought hard without its star player and went into overtime before the Lasers won, 13-7. It took a diving catch in the back of the end zone to beat the Badgers, who finished 8-3.

Berghorn was held to 39 yards, a season low, on six carries.

And the 6-foot, 215-pound beast of a runner still ended up with a mind-boggling 2,178 yards for the season.

It only took Berghorn seven games to shatter the previous school record of 1,546 yards, set by Tyler VanDeVelde in 2015.

In fact, he ran for 200 yards in a game seven times, including six in a row, totaling 27 touchdowns and 9.9 yards per carry.

His season high was 328 yards on a mere 26 carries against rival Waterford.

In the one playoff game he started and finished, a 21-20 victory over Milton, he ran for 222 yards.

Berghorn earned first team all-state and all-region honors and was named the Southern Lakes Conference player of the year.

For his efforts, Berghorn has been selected the 2021 Southern Lakes Newspapers All-Area Football player of the year.


The right school for running

Berghorn chose the right school to become an elite running back.

Badger is a “Running Back U” for its success on the ground, as it regularly racks up the most rushing yards in the area.

With talented runners like VanDeVelde, Peter Krien, Trevor York, Chris Walker, Kyle Poplar, Badger’s system has helped produce memorable stats and seasons during the 15-year Matt Hensler era.

But now Berghorn stands alone in a class by himself.

He is a preferred walk-on for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Wisconsin’s Big 10 neighbor and rival, and he earned every bit of this dream come true.

“Cole is an awesome kid and a tremendous worker,” said Hensler. “One of the hardest workers we’ve had. His practice habits are unbelievable. A few weeks into his sophomore year, he just kind of flipped a switch. We knew then that he was going to be something special. He’s been on a steady climb ever since.

“He was a great leader for us and obviously had an awesome season and has had such a positive impact on our program. He’s been so much fun to work with and to watch play.”

To give you an idea of his dedication, Berghorn has three gym periods in school, and since he is injured is able to leave school to drive to Elkhorn for physical therapy.


‘Like a son to me’

He also works out to strengthen the rest of his body at Evolve Performance Training Center (EPTC) in Lake Geneva, where owner Cory Englebert practically gave Cole a key to the place for whenever he wants to train, not only with weights and running but also football-specific training.

The bottom line is Berghorn had a decent junior season before turning heads at summer football camps thanks to a huge offseason of living in the gym.

He’s thrilled to be stacking up the postseason awards.

“It means a lot,” said Berghorn, sitting in the dining room of his home Dec. 17. “I worked really hard for it. It’s cool to see that hard work really does pay off. It’s a great feeling.”


A season to remember

Cole said Badger’s well-oiled triple option offense, where the quarterback is constantly faking handoffs to three different backs, and the defense often can’t locate who has the ball, helped him put up video game numbers.

He credited his offensive line and quarterback Kegan Huber, a first team All-Area selection that will be playing at Division 1-AA North Dakota State next year.

“It worked out great with me and him,” Cole said. “They would always think I would get the ball, but whenever he kept the ball, he’d be gone.”

Berghorn opened the season with a 120-yard performance in a loss at Greendale. Then, he flipped a switch and reeled off six straight games of 200 or more yards. In a nine-game stretch, he ran for 2,026 yards.

Cole finished fourth in the state in the rushing yards, and there were only seven kids with more than 2,000 rushing yards.

In perhaps the game of the year, Badger and Union Grove met Oct. 8 in Union Grove with the Southern Lakes championship on the line as both squads came in undefeated in conference play.

It was a battle of the league’s two best running backs, as the Grove’s Cody Cotton ran for 209 yards and four touchdowns and Berghorn ran for 170 as the Broncos won, 27-22, and went on to capture the league title.

Cotton had missed the previous four games with an injury.

“Cody’s a good player (and) that was a tough game,” Berghorn said. “That was more like pounding, like yard by yard.”

Berghorn was held to 5.9 yards per carry, but the game could’ve gone either way.

“My parents have shown me how to work hard, especially my dad. He’s a very hard worker. Also, I looked up to the high school players when I was little. We would stand out there with our jerseys and give them high-fives. I was always so excited for high school football.”

The hard work paid off exponentially, as Cole realized his dream of high school stardom.

Now, it’s about healing and using that work ethic at the next level.



A return to glory

Mukwonago back in state championship mix thanks to Gnewuch


By Mike Ramczyk


Mike Gnewuch loved growing up in Waukesha County.

The small, quiet towns.

The lakes.

The football.

Lake Country offers a peaceful, serene setting with small-town hospitality and the convenience of both Milwaukee and Madison not far away.

Mukwonago head football coach Mike Gnewuch led his team to a tie for the Classis 8 Conference championship, an 11-2 record and a trip to the Division 1 state semifinal. He is the Southern Lakes Newspapers Coach of the Year for 2021. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

Gnewuch enjoyed the experience as a kid in Oconomowoc and became a darn good football player, good enough to play defensive back at the collegiate level.

That love of the game led to an assistant coaching gig with state powerhouse Arrowhead, where he learned the ropes and helped win two state championships under legendary head coach Tom Taraska.

The Warhawks advanced to the state finals six of 10 years.

Eventually, Gnewuch landed a head coaching gig in Fond du Lac, where he turned a bottom dweller into a playoff contender.

But he always wanted to come back home, so when a job opened in his home county in 2017, he couldn’t say no.

About 30 minutes from his hometown in Mukwonago, Gnewuch again took a program that was losing games and resurrected it.

It’s only taken four years, three technically because of last year’s lost COVID-19 season, to return the Indians to prominence despite playing the best competition in the state in the Classic 8 Conference.

This season, Gnewuch led Mukwonago to a tie for the conference championship, an 11-2 record and a trip to the Division 1 state semifinal, where the Indians were a late fumble away from their first state championship game since 2004, the year they won it all.

A longtime football powerhouse is back on top, thanks to Gnewuch.

For his efforts, Mike Gnewuch is the 2021 Southern Lakes Newspapers All-Area Football coach of the year.


Another rebuild

A physical education teacher at Mukwonago High School, Gnewuch, 44, knew he was going to turn Fond du Lac around and build up his resume so he could get back to the Classic 8, and back home.

“In 2017, this job opened up, and one of my high school classmates teaches and coaches here,” said Gnewuch Dec. 17 in his office, just off the boys locker room. “I knew people here. We moved from Fond du Lac back to Oconomowoc, and I commuted the first few years. We’re building a house now.”

So has Gnewuch now turned around two football programs?

“Fond du Lac was a joint effort,” he said. “Steve Jorgensen won a state championship at Oshkosh North, and then he turned the Kimberly program around and won a couple titles. When ‘Jorgy’ resigned from Kimberly, he wasn’t doing anything, and he was interested in helping build the Fondy program. I said, ‘Hey, you wanna do this?’ and he said, “Sure, I’m in.’ That’s all I needed to hear.

“I didn’t have to worry about the offense at all. I was a ‘D’ guy. He’s a great football mind, so he was a really, really good mentor for me. Plus, I was in Tom Taraska’s pocket constantly at Arrowhead. I knew I wanted to be a head coach, so when I became a head coach, nothing really fazed me. I had most of that stuff down.”


Mukwonago a football power

The Indians won a Division 1 state championship in 2004 under head coach Keith Hensler, the father of current Lake Geneva Badger head coach Matt Hensler.

Ten years later, Mukwonago advanced to the state semifinals in 2014 thanks in part to one of the best players in the state, Dominic Cizauskas.

“It’s a tough conference, and this community loves football,” Mike said. “It’s awesome. This community, administration, school district is all about athletics and supporting kids, and that was attractive for me. All the T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted.”

“I compared it to Kimberly, which had a 70-game win streak. I looked at academics, ACT scores, everything. I thought, maybe we can build this into a powerhouse.”

The Indians suffered two straight losing seasons prior to Gnewuch’s first season in 2018.

His first year, they went 6-5. Then, in 2019, they were 9-2, when they lost twice to Muskego, the eventual state champion.

Last year, Mukwonago finished 7-2 overall, tying for second place behind Muskego and Arrowhead.

This year, the Indians gained revenge, beating Arrowhead twice and knocking both Arrowhead and Muskego out of the playoffs.

The Indians exorcised some Classic 8 demons and made it to within one game of state, where they lost 35-31 to Sun Prairie in Level 4.

“I’m still not over it, and I don’t think our kids are, either,” Mike said. “That’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes. I give Sun Prairie credit. They converted on fourth downs multiple times in that game.”

Gnewuch says the Mukwonago football future is bright. They’re still working on end-of-the-year analysis, and they’ve started “padding,” or going over what every single player does on every play.

So, what will it take for the Indians to win a second gold ball?

“A little bit better luck,” Gnewuch said. “We lost three guys with broken bones, and in my opinion that was the difference. We lost a Division 1 quarterback before the season started. He’s playing at South Dakota State next year.”

Gnewuch gives credit to his assistant coaches and said its his job to stay “humble and hungry.” His biggest fear is complacency.

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