Mineral Point linebacker Will Straka
The John Anderson Award is given annually to the state's top senior linebacker as part of the WSN Senior Football Awards. The award is named after John Anderson, a former Waukesha South standout who went on to star at the University of Michigan and later with the Green Bay Packers.
The pre-season watch list was trimmed down to 22 semi-finalists, and eight finalists for the award have now been selected. Winners will be announced the week of November 23rd.
Owen Arnett has played all over the place in his career at Arrowhead, from running back to safety to linebacker. After earning First Team All-Conference recognition as a defensive back last year, Arnett played full-time in the box at linebacker as a senior. In seven regular season games, Arnett recorded 54 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, a pair of interceptions, and blocked two punts. "Owen is the definition of team player," said head coach Matt Harris. "He will do anything that is asked of him. Our defense was built around his ability to be an incredible playmaker and he more than delivered for us this season!"
D.C. Everest's Orion Boe has been an extremely consistent two-way player the past couple seasons for the Evergreens. He played some as a fullback on offense, but his primary spot is over on defense. As an inside linebacker, he's a tackling machine, following up a 100-tackle season in 2019 with 60 stops in 2020. That includes five tackles for loss and three sacks. "Orion truly loves the game of football," said head coach Tim Strehlow. "His passion, work ethic and determination are second to none. His wrestling background gives him a good understanding of leverage and toughness that is needed to play in the inside with bigger/stronger kids."
Austin Dahlke is a prototypical Edgar player, excelling all over the field with great versatility, strength, and football acumen. A four-sport all-conference player, Dahlke is always around the ball on the football field. In eight games, he has 78 tackles, including 23 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and three interceptions. After an Honorable Mention All-State junior season, he's been even better as a senior.
Menomonee Falls has put together one of the best seasons in school history, and while it unfortunately won't end with a state championship, the Phoenix have a lot to be proud of. The defense has been outstanding, with a trio of linebackers that are as good as any in the state. That includes Colin Heckman, who has been a three-year starter on the defense. This season he has 33 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and six sacks for Menomonee Falls. "Teams consistently ran away from him and when they did run his way, he shut them down," head coach Dan Lutz said.
Wilmot senior Caden Mulhollan has been a tackling machine the past three seasons, racking up 275 stops in his career. Despite playing just three games this year as Wilmot battled COVID issues, he accumulated 60 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Mulhollan did it in his first year at linebacker after previously playing in the secondary. "He was a top defensive back last season but with what we needed from him he moved down and played inside linebacker for us," head coach Keiya Square said. "He put on some weight and added strength to get himself ready for the challenge and he was more than ready. He can play from sideline to sideline but was unreal taking on blocks and making plays."
Will Ockler was the rare sophomore starter at Menomonie, but not only did he start in 2018, he started on both offense and defense. The team's leading tackler the past two years, Ockler had 56 tackles, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, and a pair of fumble recoveries, despite only playing in four games during the regular season. "He is a unique athlete because he is such a physical presence on the field and such a big time hitter, but what separates him from other linebackers's is his flat-out speed," said longtime head coach Joe LaBuda. "He plays inside linebacker but plays sideline to sideline and runs plays down from behind on a regular basis. He ranks up with Mason Stokke as the best two defensive players I have coached in my 32 years at Menomonie."
Mineral Point's Will Straka is another elite two-way standout, seeing time on varsity since his freshman season. In just six games this season, he has 50 tackles, including 30 solo stops. He's also contributed eight tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception. Straka is also an excellent running back, with more than 1800 yards in his career, as he averages 90 yards per game on the ground this season. "He has the strength and the speed to cover the whole field," Mineral Point defensive coordinator Justin Leonard said. "He rarely ever misses a step based on his reads. His reaction time whether it was playing downhill, reading guards, route reading in coverage, tackling etc. was something special to watch."
Xavier's Mac Strand had 110 tackles...as a freshman. Since that time, he's moved from defensive end to linebacker and blossomed into the top-ranked player in the state at his position in the WSN Player Rankings. In eight games this season, he recorded 63 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and seven sacks. For his career he has 360 tackles, 48 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, and 10 forced fumbles heading into Level 2. "Mac is the most physical player I have coached in my 20 years at Xavier High School," head coach Dave Hinkens said. "Teams have to account for Mac on every snap and that changes games with relentless physical force to the ball."
The Muskego defense has been as good as any in the state this year, posting a number of outstanding performances against some of the top competition in Wisconsin. The Warriors have elite players at every level, including at linebacker where Anthony Tomczak leads the group. The senior has 59 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and an interception this season. "In my 24 years as head coach he has had the best individual season of any linebacker I have ever coached," head coach Ken Krause said. "He has made huge play after huge play."
Travis Wilson serves as the WisSports.net General Manager, Football Editor, and contributing writer for other parts of the site. Wilson was selected as part of the Sports 40 Under 40 list by Coach & AD Magazine and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for 2019. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) named Travis the 2015 recipient of the Dave McClain Distinguished Service Award. He currently serves on the WFCA Executive Board as the Website and Communications Director and is a member of the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. A graduate of Richland Center High School and Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Travis was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball) and currently resides in Reedsburg. You can follow him on Twitter at @travisWSN.
For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.