The Joe Thomas Award is presented annually to the state's top senior offensive lineman as part of the WSN Senior Football Awards. The award is named after former Brookfield Central and University of Wisconsin athlete Joe Thomas, who has gone on to great success in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. After an All-American career at UW, Thomas has been selected to the NFL Pro Bowl each of his three years in the league.
The pre-season watch list was trimmed down to 25 semi-finalists, and five finalists for the award have now been selected. Winners are announced the week of the state finals.
Joe Thomas Award Finalists:
Zack Degner, Catholic Memorial – Competing against much larger schools in what many consider to be the state's best conference, the Classic Eight, Catholic Memorial finished alone in third place, just behind powerhouse Division 1 schools Waukesha West and Arrowhead. Zack Degner, part of a strong offensive line, was one of the reasons for the success. Degner received rave reviews from CMH head coach Bill Young, who indicated not only was Degner a great player but also a great leader. Young characterized the 6-2, 277 pound senior as extremely strong and able to dominate opponents in the trenches.
Jeremy Kelly, Somerset – Playing at a smaller school in northwest Wisconsin, Kelly may not have gotten as much attention as some of the other players on this list, but he put together an outstanding season according to Somerset head coach Bruce Larson. The Spartans feature a run-heavy offense, and Kelly helped pave the way for some impressive totals this season. Already holding scholarship offers from Illinois State and Southern Illinois, he earned his first FBS offer recently with an invite to the United States Air Force Academy. At 6-6, 240 pounds, Kelly projects as an offensive tackle at the collegiate level, although he was also a standout on defense in high school. He received first team all-conference recognition on both offense and defense for the second straight season.
Jon Pahl, Kimberly – The Papermakers racked up some impressive offensive totals this year, including over 2,000 yards rushing by senior Ben Wassink, a nominee for the Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch Award. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line, including guard Jon Pahl, who was not only a first team all-conference selection but also the FVA Offensive Lineman of the Year. Pahl received a strong recommendation from respected Kimberly head coach Steve Jorgensen, who lauded Pahl's play and leadership on the season.
Dylan Seiter, Sun Prairie – Sun Prairie featured a balanced offensive attack that put up 3348 yards in nine regular season games. A big reason for their success was up front, where the line opened plenty of running lanes and gave the quarterback time to get the ball downfield. The leader up front was Dylan Seiter, a three-year starter who was named to his second straight 1st team all-Big Eight team. In addition, he was a unanimous selection as the league's Offensive Lineman of the Year by conference coaches. “He has excellent feet for an offensive lineman,” head coach Brian Kaminski said. “He is a dominating run blocker as evidenced by his 31 pancakes on the season.”
Frank Vruwink, Wisconsin Rapids – The only unanimous first team all-conference offensive lineman in the Wisconsin Valley Conference, Vruwink was so highly thought of by opposing coaches that he even received a vote for Offensive Player of the Year, an award that ultimately went to teammate Joe Ritchay, the fullback Vruwink helped open holes for. Rapids rushed for more than 3500 yards this year and averaged 378 yards per game overall. “We ran to Frank's side 70 of the time,” head coach Tony Biolo said. “Even after teams knew we were 'right-handed', he still made his blocks and then some. He is always viewed on film blocking downfield on our long runs.” A 3.9 student and positive influence on his teammates, he wasn't so nice to opposing players. “He demoralized defensive linemen,” added Biolo.