skip navigation Preseason Football Rankings: Division 1

07/08/2024, 7:00am CDT
By Travis Wilson

Marquette celebrates the 2023 Division 1 state title

The first football practices of the year are less than a month away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the new season.

Over the next several weeks, will be producing Preseason Football Team Rankings, featuring a Top 15 for each division as well as Others to Watch.

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While things will certainly change prior to the start of the year (players lost to injury, grades, transfers plus players gained via transfer, returning from injury, players improving, etc.), this list will provide a general guide as we look to the 2024 campaign and of course facilitate discussion. Please note, divisions are based on last year's cutlines; divisional placement for some teams may change for the 2024 playoffs; official enrollments for the 2024 season are not available yet from the WIAA and will also impact eventual divisional placement. 

Previous WSN Preseason Football Rankings
Division 1
Division 2 (Coming soon...)
Division 3 (Coming soon...)
Division 4 (Coming soon...)
Division 5 (Coming soon...)
Division 6 (Coming soon...)
Division 7 (Coming soon...)
8-Player (Coming soon...)


1. Marquette

Marquette opened the season with a tough loss to Arrowhead, and was blown out by Sussex Hamilton 50-21 to finish second in the Greater Metro. The Hilltoppers didn't have a lot of buzz heading into the playoffs with a 7-2 record, but there were certainly glimpses of what could be, as Marquette scored shutouts in the other seven regular season contests. They leaned on that dominating defense in the postseason, allowing just 39 points in five playoff games. That included a harrowing 14-7 win over Kimberly in the state semi-finals, setting up a showdown with favored unbeaten Franklin in the championship game. The Hilltopper defense rose to the occasion and dominated the second half, limiting the Franklin offense to just 30 yards after the break en route to a 27-10 win. There are 20 letterwinners and ten starters back for head coach Keith Klestinski. After a strong sophomore campaign, Tommy Novotny is expected to leap into the conversation as one of the best players in the state. He's one of six returning starters on offense, while four starters return on defense, led by All-State linebacker Mitchell Nigro. An ace up the sleeve for the Hilltoppers is All-State punter/kicker Erik Schmidt, who has committed to Wisconsin.

2. Muskego

Muskego finished second in the Classic Eight Conference, dropping a harrowing 8-7 decision to Kettle Moraine in the regular season finale. The Warriors advanced to Level 3 for the sixth consecutive playoffs, but went out in the state quarterfinals for a third straight year, this time to Franklin. Muskego brings back five starters on both offense and defense for veteran head coach Ken Krause, who led the Warriors to state titles in 2018 and 2019. The defense should be very good once again, led by perhaps the best defensive line duo in the state in seniors Liam Shaw and Nicholas McCollough. The team's Wing-T offense is a machine in producing skill players and linemen that suit it to a, well, "T". Jack Labisch is back as the workhorse fullback, and Jackson Niemiec is a very talented player coming up from JV that will be a key ball-carrier as well. Speaking of JV, that group went undefeated last season and is ready to carry on the tradition of success.

3. Mukwonago

Mukwonago started the season with four straight wins, including Stevens Point and Sun Prairie East in the non-conference season. However, things went downhill as the Classic Eight schedule toughened, as the Indians finished 6-4 overall, dropping three straight to close the year, including a 31-28 defeat to league rival Arrowhead in the opening playoff game. Head coach Mike Gnewuch has a talented group back that should challenge in the loaded Classic Eight Conference. There are seven starters returning on offense, including First Team All-State running back Mason Radobicky, who went for 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns in just eight games. Also returning is leading receiver Mason Kelley as part of a talented pass-catching group. Six starters are returning on the defensive side of the ball, as the team brings back 44 letterwinners overall.

4. Franklin

Franklin seemed poised to run the table and capture another state title in 2023, winning their first 13 games of the season, most in dominating fashion. After knocking off playoff rival Muskego in Level 3, the Sabers shutout a very good Sussex Hamilton team 35-0 in the semi-finals. Facing two-loss Marquette in the title game, things went downhill after a 10-10 halftime score, with Marquette pulling away for a 27-10 victory as the Sabers' ground game behind WFCA Large School Offensive Player of the Year Terrance Shelton couldn't get going. Replacing Shelton at running back will be one of the key areas of need heading into 2024, though quarterback Joey Kallay is one of the state's best. He's one of five starters back on offense, where Jake Pekar, Tyson Shelton, and Henry Vallee are returning regulars up front. Ben Verges is a very talented tight end, but there's loads of carries and catches to replace from last year. The defense brings back just two starters from a year ago, very talented defensive lineman Ben Hefter and standout safety Dominic Walters. Head coach Louis Brown likes the look of his offensive line group and will get reinforcements from a very good JV squad.

5. Arrowhead

Arrowhead defeated eventual D1 champion Marquette to open the season then took down Homestead the next week, but the Warhawks struggled to a tie for third in the Classic Eight's incredibly deep conference standings. While they'd defeat Mukwonago in Level 1, the Warharwks fell to Sussex Hamilton in a Level 2 nail-biter. Despite losing a trio of Power-5 Conference players off last year's team (OL Derek Jensen, Wisconsin; OL Garrett Sexton, Penn State; DL Jace Gilbert, Iowa State), Arrowhead has as much individual talent as any team in the state. Can it all finally come together for a special run? "Every skill player on offense returns," said fifth-year coach Matt Harris. "We are extremely fast. Four starting offensive linemen who started the last four games return also." Vance Holtz is a top level quarterback talent who has committed to Western Michigan. Jacob Siner went for more than 1000 yards on the ground as just a sophomore last season. A state champion track team provides plenty of athletic ability on the outside, including Harper Hughes and Ryan Heiman. Keep an eye on sophomore kicker Evan Wozniak, one of the top specialists in the country in his class.

6. Sussex Hamilton

Sussex Hamilton has posted back-to-back outstanding seasons, claiming outright Greater Metro Conference titles and advancing to the state semi-finals each year. Head coach Justin Gumm has done an excellent job bringing his up-tempo spread offense to the Chargers, who head into 2024 needing to replace All-State quarterback Tyler Hatcher (who had more than 1100 passing and rushing yards) plus All-State receiver Nick Kihn. In fact, only three starters return on offense, none at the primary skill positions. Chas Powell and Cole Erdmann are the primary candidates to take over at quarterback this fall, and both have the talent to continue the success of the offensive group. "We are very new at wide receiver but have six or seven guys competing for those spots," said Gumm. The defense brings back six starters and should have some versatile playmakers in the back seven.

7. Kimberly

Kimberly has continued to be a powerhouse under head coach Chad Michalkiewicz, last year earning a share of the FVA title and advancing to the state semi-finals. A tough 14-7 loss to eventual Division 1 champ Marquette ended things for the Papermakers. "We return a large roster who have made great gains in the weight room and through speed development this off-season," said Michalkiewicz. There are just three starters returning on offense, however, with one being talented running back Marcus Doucette, who ran for more than 700 yards last year. The defense may be a bit ahead early in the season with five talented starters coming back. Always a deep program, Kimberly returns 40 letterwinners this season.

8. Waunakee

Waunakee is always one of the teams that people talk about and focus on, and that was certainly the case last year, and will be again in 2024. The Warriors weren't really challenged in the regular season, winning every game by at least four touchdowns. Heading into the Division 2 state championship game, just three of the team's games did not end in a running clock. The offense continued to produce, but Badger's flexbone attack couldn't be stopped, as a thriller came right down to the end and resulted in a 34-33 loss for Waunakee. The silver ball ended up being the last game for legendary coach Pat Rice, who retired with seven state titles, four runner-up finishes, and the highest winning percentage in state history. Waunakee stayed in-house for his replacement, hiring Chris Graverson to lead the way. "We are excited about the upcoming season," he said. "We lost 13 starters, so we will need some unproven players to step up and play big." Quarterback Vance Johnson leads four returning starters on offense as one of the most efficient passers in the state, while Sully Scadden is the top returning rusher for the Warriors. Keep an eye on Kaden MacKenzie at receiver, he's a very good basketball player but has the size and athletic ability to put up huge numbers on the gridiron, coming off a junior campaign that saw him catch 19 passes for 293 yards. The Warriors bring back five starters on the defensive side, led by three returning regulars up front. After a one-year foray into Division 1 a couple years ago, Waunakee dropped back to D2 last season. However, with a state title in 2021 and runner-up finish in 2023, Waunakee hit the threshold to be elevated to Division 1 based on Tournament Performance Factor points, regardless of where their enrollment places them.

9. Bay Port

Bay Port has dominated the FRCC-North for years, and that continued in 2023, as the Pirates claimed an outright league title. The team struggled outside the league, however, dropping close early non-conference games to Middleton and Kimberly before a Level 2 playoff exit against eventual D1 champion Marquette. Change is in the air for 2024, as longtime and very successful coach Gary Westerman stepped down, replaced by Steven Jorgensen. He's been an assistant the last couple years, but previously served as head coach at Fond du Lac for parts of three seasons, including an incredible team in the COVID spring campaign that dominated all opponents. A talented assistant coach group will remain for the Pirates, who welcome back five starters on offense and five on defense. "A physical and huge offensive line with many college prospects will lead the offense and will be expected to be dominant," said Jorgensen. Alex Warden and Alex Michels are up there with any offensive line duo in the state. Aiden Dirksen and David Provist are promising newcomers up front. Matt Stevens is expected to take over at quarterback, with Anthony LeFebre a talented running back and Sawyer Torp sporting loads of potential at receiver.

10. Kettle Moraine

Kettle Moraine has won ten playoff games in the last three seasons, including a Division 2 state championship in 2022 and an undefeated regular season last year. The Lasers were the outright Classic Eight champs last year, but ran into the Badger buzzsaw in the playoffs, falling in Level 3 to end a 16-game winning streak. Thanks to that recent success, Kettle Moraine is elevated to Division 1 this year as part of the WIAA's Tournament Performance Factor proposal. The Lasers figure to compete well in the Classic Eight again and should be a playoff threat, but do have to replace four WFCA First Team All-State players. Braydon Thompson will be among the league's top offensive linemen, and Hawk Denor is a stud up front on the defensive line for head coach Mathew McDonnell.

11. Racine Case

Racine Case made history last season, winning the first playoff game in program history, a 47-0 decision over Milwaukee Reagan. The Eagles finished the season 7-4 and lost to Muskego in Level 2, but there is plenty of reason to think 2023 was just the start of things for Case. While they lose talented players like Michael King, Jr., Brandon Nabbefeld, and Termarion Brumby, the upcoming classes feature some outstanding talented under head coach Anton Graham. Anthony Liggins is a breakout candidate at running back after a promising sophomore campaign. The talent is there for Case, but can they put it together to eclipse the stalwarts of the Southeast Conference, Franklin and Oak Creek?

12. Neenah

Neenah finished third in the FVA last year, a game behind co-champs Kaukauna and Kimberly. It was the Papermakers that took out the Rockets in Level 3 of the playoffs in a very competitive contest. Neenah will be a threat for the league crown this season behind perhaps the two best offensive offensive players in the conference. Grant Dean is a two-way star who ran for more than 1700 yards last year and has committed to Wisconsin as a defensive back. Senior classmate Evan Vanevenhoven was off to an excellent start as a single-wing quarterback for the Rockets but suffered an early injury that limited him to just three games. That dynamic duo, if healthy, can help the Rockets contend with anyone in a very strong and balanced FVA.

13. Oak Creek

Oak Creek was thwarted by old foe Franklin last year, dropping a 41-0 decision to the Sabers in the regular season, leading to a second place league finish, then falling 45-7 in Level 2 of the postseason. With Franklin looking strong again and a new challenger rising in Racine Case, the Knights will need to step up to keep pace and push for the league title. Six starters are back for head coach Joel Paar, along with five on defense. "We have strong offensive and defensive line groups," said Paar. That includes James Thomas, perhaps the state's top player in the 2026 class who holds a number of offers, including Wisconsin. A couple talented young quarterbacks, junior Blake Firkus and incoming freshman J.J. Chapman, will vie for time in the backfield.

14. Verona

Verona has taken control of the redesigned Big Eight Conference the last couple years, claiming back-to-back unbeaten league titles. The Wildcats finished 10-2 overall, advancing to Level 3 for the first time in more than a decade before going out to Sussex Hamilton. "We have many returning players on both sides of the ball that had an impact on the 2023 season, including some studs from our JV team who will now get their shot," said head coach Andrew Riley. Having Tre Poteat back on offense, defense, and special teams will be a huge piece of the team. I'd look for Verona's offense to be just as potent as their defense has been in the past. Our defense gave up less than a touchdown per game during the conference season, improving by almost a whole point per game over 2022." Poteat recently committed to Tennessee as a defensive back, but is also the team's top offensive weapon. Austin Perez could be ready for a big junior season after rushing for nearly 100 yards in the playoff loss.

15. Fond du Lac

Fond du Lac lost the first four games of the season and finished in a distant fourth place tie in the FVA. In a 6-6 season, there were some pretty significant highs, however. Facing the prospect of five losses to open the season, the Cardinals took down Kaukauna in Week 5, handing the Ghosts their only league loss of the year. With a favorable postseason draw, the team then advanced to Level 3 of the playoffs before going out to eventual D1 champion Marquette. "We lost a lot of great senior players," said third-year coach Sam Plucker. "A lot of young guys will have to step up and fill their roles if we want to compete within a really deep FVA conference." Three starters return on offense, with the strength up front. There are four returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, including elite linebacker Rhett Hlavacka. 

Others to Watch

Appleton East
Appleton North
Brookfield East
Chippewa Falls
D.C. Everest
De Pere
Janesville Craig
Janesville Parker
Kenosha Bradford
Kenosha Indian Trail
Madison Memorial
Milwaukee Hamilton
Milwaukee Marshall
Milwaukee Pulaski
Milwaukee Reagan
Milwaukee Riverside
Sheboygan North
Stevens Point
Sun Prairie West
Wausau West

About the Author

Travis Wilson serves as the 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 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), inducted to the Richland Center High School Hall of Fame in 2023, 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)

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