The Joe Thomas Award is given 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 15 semi-finalists, and six finalists for the award have now been selected. Winners are announced the week of the state finals.
Joe Thomas Award Finalists:
Ben Bredeson, Arrowhead – Bredeson was an All-State selection last year, ranked in the top 50 nationally by most recruiting services, and chose Michigan over scholarship offers from a Who's Who of college programs. He's a dominating run blocker but athletic enough to play on the edge with good knee bend and agility. “His play and his character are this year, like the three before, unbelievable,” said head coach Greg Malling. “He is the consummate teammate, an incredible mentor for the younger players, and a dominant force on the game field.”
Mike Caliendo, Brookfield East – Caliendo is a versatile player, having moved all over the line during his career at Brookfield East, playing at right tackle, left tackle, and even center. No matter where he lined up, he was outstanding in drive blocking, but also excelled pulling and moving to reach defenders. “He is the most dominating lineman I have seen this year, and every coach I have talked to said the same thing,” opined Brookfield East head coach Tom Swittel. Caliendo has given a verbal commitment to Western Michigan.
Sam Heckel, Waukesha West – Playing left tackle for head coach Steve Rux, he he showed outstanding strength and technique in drive blocking situations, but also agility in pulling situations and pass set. His recruitment exploded in the off-season, as Heckel racked up more than 20 Division 1 offers. Ultimately, he chose to give a verbal commitment to Syracuse. “He is the best offensive lineman I have coached in 24 years and has played outstanding in 2014 and 2015,” said Rux.
Spencer Kanz, Luxemburg-Casco – Kanz has outstanding size with plenty of room to put on good weight, and shows excellent agility and mobility to maneuver in open space on screens and downfield blocks. He's been a big factor for a Luxemburg-Casco team that finished tied for second in the North Eastern Conference and has advanced to Level 2 of the playoffs. He committed to Western Michigan over offers from Illinois, Oklahoma State, and others.
Sam Ruetz, Franklin – Ruetz spent part of the 2014 season as a tight end/h-back, which tells you about the athletic ability he has. Later moved to offensive line, he has played center as part of a group that includes four players that have/had D1 offers. As you can imagine, he does a very nice job getting out in space on screens, but is big and strong enough to simply maul defenders in one-on-one blocking. He'll be in line for big-time postseason honors as they are announced over the next few weeks.
Cole Van Lanen, Bay Port – A WFCA First Team All-State selection last year, Van Lanen is explosive off the ball and shows excellent drive blocking skills. Committed to Wisconsin for football, the All-State standout also claimed state titles in both the shot put and discus at the Division 1 State Track & Field Meet in La Crosse. He is ranked in the top 100 players in the country by most recruiting services. “Cole is a dominant run blocker and is as physical as I have seen at the point of attack. He is explosive and athletic for a big man,” said head coach Gary Westerman.