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WisSports.net Preseason Football Rankings: Division 3

07/09/2024, 10:00am CDT
By Travis Wilson

Christian Collins (#22) led the state in rushing last year and is a big reason that Notre Dame enters the season #1

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, WisSports.net will be producing Preseason Football Team Rankings, featuring a Top 15 for each division as well as Others to Watch.

Our preseason football coverage is brought to you by GoRout. GoRout Digital Play Sending helps teams of all levels get the most out of their practice time. By getting rid of huddles and paper scout cards, teams are maximizing both the quality and quantity of scout team reps. To make sure your players are seeing the development they need to be their best on gameday, visit www.gorout.com/quote and get started today.

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
Division 3
Division 4 (Coming soon...)
Division 5 (Coming soon...)
Division 6 (Coming soon...)
Division 7 (Coming soon...)
8-Player (Coming soon...)

WISSPORTS.NET SPRING FOOTBALL RANKINGS: DIVISION 3

1. Notre Dame

Notre Dame dropped just one game during the regular season, a tough one to Waunakee, as the Tritons captured an outright FRCC-South title and advanced to within a game of the state championship before falling to Rice Lake in the semi-finals. With defending state champion Rice Lake promoted to Division 2, there is guaranteed to be a new champion in the division, and Notre Dame has the pedigree, talent, and ability to be the one to take over. It starts with two of the best players in the entire state: James Flanigan and Christian Collins. Flanigan is a Notre Dame recruit who earned All-State as a tight end and also led the team in tackles. Christian Collins led the state in rushing a year ago, going for 2,503 yards with 40 touchdowns. Asa Poister, Charlie Hornacek, and Abe Augustine are other returning standouts for head coach Michael Rader.

2. Grafton

Grafton was sitting at 3-2 part-way through the season but rallied to claim a share of the Woodland Conference title. Not satisfied there, the Black Hawks won three straight very close playoff games to advance to the state title game for the first time in more than 40 years. They came up just short, falling 28-20 to Rice Lake. With 17 starters back, including 13 All-Conference players and 93% of the offensive production, there is every reason to believe the team could be even better in 2024. "We had a large number of underclassman gain valuable and extensive playing experience in 2023, while starting six sophomores and 12 juniors," said head coach Jim Norris. Brady Hilgart is the reigning Woodland Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for more than 2700 yards. Tommy Lutz is also back after a 1400-yard rushing season. Add in First Team All-Conference wide receivers Gavin Lempke and Carson Hildebrand plus a trio of all-league offensive linemen in James Nellis, Thomas Peterson, and Miles Muilenberg, and there's a lot to like about the offense. The defense shouldn't be too shabby either, bringing back eight starters, led by linebackers Tyler Heinle and Tyler Van Sluys. 

3. Catholic Memorial

Catholic Memorial went through a bit of an odd season, entering with loads of hype behind numerous scholarship prospects. However, the Crusaders lost the first two games of the year to Marquette and Franklin before rallying to win 10 straight. Locked in a tough game against Luxemburg-Casco in the state semi-finals, CMH was up in the closing seconds, only to see the Spartans score late and complete a shocking 23-21 win, sending Catholic Memorial home shy of Madison. This year, the team moves up a division due to the WIAA Tournament Performance Factor points, as they'll return to Division 3 after competing in D4 since 2019. While they lose Penn State recruits Corey Smith and Donovan Harbour amongst others, CMH can claim as much talent as any in the division. M.J. Mitchell had an excellent first season as a starting quarterback, adding a dual threat out of the backfield. Marvanous Butler-Brown is a two-way standout on the outside. Owen Strebig continues the offensive line tradition for the Crusaders, having committed to Notre Dame.

4. Mount Horeb/Barneveld

Mount Horeb/Barneveld has produced some excellent teams under a few different coaches in the last dozen years or so, and the 2023 Vikings were right up there with any of them. MHB went unbeaten in the regular season en route to a dominating Badger-Small title. The team went to the Level 3 playoffs, where they lost a 26-21 heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the final minute. "The strength of this team will be experience and skill," said head coach Bret St. Arnauld, when talking about the 2024 squad. "We have a lot of players returning especially on defense where we only lose three starters. Offensively we will have a new face at quarterback (Brooks Hendrickson) but he has incredible arm talent. It is tough to replace a Big Ten talent on the offensive line like Austin Leibfried, but with four offensive linemen who played significant snaps last year the outlook upfront is a positive one. We have playmakers on both sides of the ball, with eight All-Conference players returning, the biggest one being Honorable Mention All-State wide receiver Chris Kiel."

5. New Berlin West

New Berlin West finished second in the Parkland behind Catholic Memorial, following up a state semi-final run in 2022 with a playoff victory last season. Losing Parkland Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jack Wesolowski will certainly hurt, but the Vikings do bring back a 1000-yard rusher in Sean Ryan, who doubles as an outstanding linebacker for head coach Ben Chossek. Owen Athas, Lucas Hartung, and Bennett Mueller are returning starters on the offensive line.

6. Waterford

Waterford struggled out of the gates in the 2023 season, dropping both non-conference games and an early league contest against eventual Division 2 state champion Badger. However, the Wolverines rebounded from the 1-3 start to rattle off six consecutive victories, and seemed poised for a nice playoff run before getting upset by seventh-seeded Stoughton in Level 2. Waterford brings back 14 starters from a year ago as they try to challenge for the Southern Lakes title. "We return a lot of skill players, especially at receiver and quarterback, but lose our leading rusher from last season on offense and the conference defensive Player of the Year," said second-year head coach Tony Shiffman. "We will be young in spots but have great senior leadership in others." A player to keep an eye on is senior Carter Thompson, who led the team in receiving last year and was one of the standouts of the off-season camp and combine schedule.

7. Port Washington

Port Washington put together an outstanding 2023 season, winning the first ten games of the year en route to an East Central Conference title. While things came to an end in a one-point loss to Grafton in Level 2, it was a continuation of a nice run for the Pirates in the last few years. Head coach John Bunyan brings back eight starters on offense and eight on defense as they'll try to stay on top of the redesigned East Central, that welcomes Beaver Dam and Watertown this season. While there's a lot returning for the Pirates, there are a couple big pieces that will need to be replaced. It starts with two-time league Offensive Player of the Year Ben Fritsch, who did a lot of everything for Port. Also graduated is standout offensive lineman Casey Arendt. I'm a big fan of Josh Arnold, who led the team in receiving last year and is also a key part of the defensive backfield.

8. Menasha

Menasha dropped a non-conference game to neighboring rival Neenah and fell to Notre Dame during the season to finish second in the FRCC-South. Going on the road in the playoffs, the Bluejays knocked off Plymouth and New Berlin West before going out to Grafton in Level 3. "We will be strong on offense with several returning players/starters at all positions," said head coach Jeramie Korth. "We return First Team All-Conference players at quarterback (Logan Liegel), running back (Elijah Gigl), and receiver (Parker ienandt), and a strong offensive line. Defensively, we will be athletic and be looking for some seniors to take the next step on varsity." There are seven starters returning on offense with four on defense.

9. Plymouth

Plymouth won the first six games of the 2023 campaign before dropping a 35-7 showdown against eventual East Central conference champion Port Washington. Finishing 8-1 in the regular season, the Panthers won a playoff game over Sheboygan Falls before falling to Menasha in Level 2. Veteran head coach Dan Knaus returns 22 letterwinners this year, including five starters on each side of the ball, as he likes the depth of this season's squad. Running back Brett Shutter is one of the best in the conference, coming off a 1000-yard season.

10. Onalaska

Onalaska has become the top program in the Mississippi Valley Conference in the last few years, and despite some ups and downs, the Hilltoppers claimed a share of the league crown after an outright title in 2022. The team lost the first two games of the year, then saw three league games decided by a single point. With a chance to secure an outright title in Week 9, Onalaska would fall to Tomah by four scores. The team rebounded for a couple playoff wins before going out to eventual D3 champion Rice Lake in Level 3. "We return four of five on the offensive line and a running back who saw a majority of the action due to our starter being out last year," said head coach Tom Yashinsky. "We will need to replace four great receivers and a generational talent at quarterback (Adam Skifton). Two quarterbacks will compete for the role -- we plan on the ball being in the air as much or more than it was last year even with the change at quarterback." One of those potential signal-callers is junior Ian Kowal, the son of Hilltoppers boys basketball coach Craig Kowal.

11. Stoughton

Stoughton certainly went through its share of ups and downs in the 2023 campaign. The Vikings finished just 3-4 in the Badger-Small, and 4-5 overall. It was just enough to sneak into the playoffs, where the team received a seven-seed. From there, they went on the best postseason run in school history, winning road games at Greendale, Waterford, and Monroe before bowing out against Grafton in a close state semi-final showdown. So which Stoughton team will we get in 2024? The one that was a sub-.500 regular season squad; or the one that went to the state semi-finals? With seven starters back on offense and five on defense, head coach Jason Becker certainly hopes it is the latter. Drew Viney returns to lead the offense at the quarterback spot after passing for more than 2300 yards. A couple of his top targets, receiver Jay Johnson and tight end Mason Richter, also return. Up front, Illinois recruit Griffin Rousseau headlines the offensive line unit that has several veteran players. Another Nelson (Max) and Empey (Gatlin) are on their way up from the JV squad as well.

12. Waukesha North

Waukesha North went 3-6 last year and 1-6 in league play, losing six games in a row at one point. The Northstars haven't made the playoffs since 2006. But perhaps more than any team in recent memory, a conference change could open up a whole new world of possibilities for North. After several years of requesting out of the ultra-tough Classic Eight Conference, the team finally makes a move to the Parkland Conference, still a tough league but without the weekly grind of facing the state's best large school teams. "We have lot of guys returning with playing experience who learned what it takes to win and will be playing against similar schools," said fourth-year head coach Vince Sciano. One Curtis, A.J., moves on from the quarterback spot, but another is waiting in the wings, with Connor ready to take over. Top receiver Jason Webster is back as well for the Northstars.

13. Fox Valley Lutheran

Fox Valley Lutheran finished in a tie for second in the North Eastern Conference and won a playoff game for a second consecutive season, something that hasn't happened in more than two decades. "On offense, our entire receiving crew is returning this season," said head coach Seth Jaeger. "On defense, we had many underclassmen get a lot of experience down the stretch and into the playoffs. We have an experienced secondary returning along with a few key defensive lineman who received solid snaps in 2023." Lucas Papendorf has some solid experience filling in at quarterback the last couple years and should step into the primary role in 2024.

14. Pewaukee

Pewaukee won a Division 3 state title in 2021, but hasn't gotten to Level 3 since then, including a Level 1 playoff exit against Waterford a year ago after finishing fourth in the Parkland Conference. Imagine the surprise of the Pirates when they found out that the WIAA Conference Realignment Task Force was moving them from the Parkland to the Classic Eight, where all other schools are D1 or D2 and considerably larger. Pewaukee very well could be one of the top 15 Division 3 teams in the state, but may also struggle to qualify for the playoffs in a league that has been considered the best in the state over the last decade. Head coach Justin Friske welcomes back Parkland Conference Defensive player of the Year Jackson Servais, an inside linebacker, plus starting quarterback Owen Dobberstein.

15. Medford

Medford scored an impressive early non-conference victory over Onalaska and put up some dominant offensive numbers in its run-heavy offense. However, in a late-season de facto Great Northern Conference championship game, the Raiders were shutout 14-0, finishing second in the standings. After beating Onalaska 52-35 early in the season, things were reversed in the playoffs when the Hilltoppers took down Medford 35-16 in Level 2. Head coach Ted Wilson's group should compete near the top of the standings again, but have some work to do, especially up front. "We lost a strong senior class and need to replace many offensive and defensive linemen," said Wilson. "We do have our top running back back which should help as younger lineman develop and learn to play varsity ball." Paxton Rothmeier is a workhorse, carrying it 179 times for 1,457 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. There's some work to do on the defensive side of the ball, where just two starters return.

Others to Watch

Antigo
Ashwaubenon
Baraboo
Greendale
Hayward
La Crosse Logan
Lakeland
McFarland
Milwaukee Washington
New Berlin Eisenhower
Obama SCTE
Rhinelander
Seymour
Sparta
Tomah
West Bend East
Wisconsin Lutheran


About the Author

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 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)wissports.net.

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