Two years ago, East Butler football finished the season atop the mountain, winning its second state championship in school history. The departure of key players quickly made the 2018 season a rebuilding year that ended at 3-6 and in a first-round playoff loss.
East Butler now hopes to turn things around with a more experienced team that features four seniors - Austin Pierce, Jaden Rhynalds, Wade Wright, and Nolan Makovicka.
"I’ve really enjoyed the energy this year with the kids," head coach Shawn Biltoft said during practice on Aug. 21. "They have a year under their belt where they feel a little more confident. We’re looking to build from that and are excited to head into our first games of the season."
East Butler opens the season at 7 p.m. on Friday at Beemer against West Point GACC.
Last year GACC defeated East Butler 68-14.
Given the result of last year, the seniors are excited to get back on the field and flip the script.
"It’s a great feeling playing for East Butler," Pierce said. "It’s second to none. The energy, dedication, the heart that gets put into this football program is insane. The community support is outrageously good."
A key part of the Tigers offense last year was Rhynlads, who passed for 671 yards and ran for 937 yards while accounting for 26 touchdowns.
The Senior quarterback will once again be vital if the Tigers hope to have a winning season.
"Jaden brings a solid skill set to the quarterback position," Biltoft said. "He’s able to do a lot of things. He throws the ball well, and for not being a big quarterback he runs the ball really well. He runs the show for us and gets things going for us.
"Our other kids fill in nicely and do those things as well. It’s gone really well. I’m looking forward to Jaden’s senior season and all these kids' upcoming season."
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Although Rhynalds can be a one-man wrecking crew at times, team success will depend on a supporting cast. With three other seniors on the team, the Tigers will look to them for leadership while expecting the younger players to improve game-by-game.
Thus far, Rhynalds has been impressed with the group through preseason camp. There are fewer unknowns, and he says he can tell the Tigers are physically stronger.
Keeping that rolling and finding consistent improvement Week 1 to Week 9 is what Biltoft is looking for.
"I think really what our guys are focusing on is getting better every week," he said. "I think that happen throughout the year last year. By the end of the year we were playing really good football.
We were excited about how it ended and I think that carried over to this year. As far as expectations, we’re just going to play it game-by-game and do what we can."
Part of the motivation to have a successful season comes from the support of the local communities that make up the East Butler school district.
"It means the world to me," Pierce said. "Seeing the community show up and knowing they have our backs. We’re playing for them. That’s the reason we’re out here is we’re playing for the name that’s on the front of our jersey. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing."
This mentality plays into the identity of East Butler football.
"I really want our teams to symbolize what our communities are about," Biltoft said. "They’re a tough group of players and they work hard and represent all those people from the towns. We have quite a few towns that are part of our school system so it’s nice to see all that come together on Friday nights."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net