TREMPER FOOTBALL SCRIMMAGE

Three Trojans team up to tackle a Manitowoc Lincoln player during a scrimmage Friday at Ameche Field.

Tremper football coach Jared McGranahan knows the facts.

If the Trojans don’t make the postseason this year, it’ll be one year shy of a decade since they last played beyond the regular season.

Of course, McGranahan hasn’t been there for all of Tremper’s playoff drought that’s lasted since 2010. And though the fourth-year coach is 7-23 as the team embarks on its 2019 campaign, he took the job expecting a rebuilding situation and hasn’t wavered from his vision.

Last year’s 4-5 mark showed progress from McGranahan’s first two seasons.

Postseason aspirations

Yet the expectation remains: At some point, the program — which has three WIAA Division-1 state titles, four state runner-up finishes, 16 conference titles and 21 playoff appearances in its proud tradition — needs to at least make the playoffs.

McGranahan doesn’t shy away from that.

“Externally, are there people with higher expectations? Yes,” he said. “But I hope so. Because we’re going to be good for the first time in a long time.”

Why the confidence? Well, nobody has higher expectations for the program than McGranahan, whose team opens its season with a non-conference game 7 p.m. Friday against Milwaukee Pius XI at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

“I’m one of the most competitive coaches in the state,” McGranahan said. “I expected excellence, even when we weren’t physically capable of beating anybody. ... Now that we are physically capable, I expect to beat everybody.”

Physically capable. That’s the key.

The Trojans are well stocked at the skill positions, and they mostly have been during McGranahan’s tenure, but they’ve simply been whipped in the trenches in the physical Southeast Conference.

“Championship teams are good up front on both sides of the ball,” McGranahan said.

Solid scrimmage

McGranahan was encouraged by what he saw in Tremper’s scrimmage against Middleton and Manitowoc Lincoln, two teams that have scholarship players on the interior.

“Middleton was huge,” McGranahan said. “... I thought we were probably a small step behind them, but not much. ... I thought that we were every bit as good as (Lincoln). We were very happy with the outcome.”

The offensive line will be anchored by senior center Matt Loomis, listed at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds.

“He was a dominating force in the scrimmage,” McGranahan said. “He’s a very smart kid, very physical. He’s in the middle for a reason. I think our success up front, everything is going to start and end with him.”

Loomis and his linemates will be charged with protecting Ryan McGonegle, the Trojans’ 6-1 junior quarterback.

McGonegle played sparingly in mop-up duty last season behind then-senior Jayden Boero. A three-sport athlete, McGranahan calls McGonegle “sport smart,” meaning he can throw but can also gauge when it’s time to run. He’s already received an offer to play baseball at UW-Parkside, according to McGranahan.

“He’s really come along,” McGranahan said. “... He’s going to be a good player.”

If he is, McGonegle will have plenty of weapons to throw to.

Tremper features a receiving corps as talented as any in the area, starting with 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior Raymone Jones — who’s been on varsity since he was a freshman — and 6-2, 175-pound senior Justin Dierckens, a second-team All-SEC selection last season who was listed on WisSports.net’s Al Toon Award Preseason Watch List among the top senior receivers in the state.

Dierckens tied for third in the county last year with 31 receptions, which were good for 360 yards and four touchdowns.

Additionally, Tremper has senior Brennan Eckert — who ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Combine this offseason — and outside linebacker/receiver Jake Korbakes, a junior, to target.

“Justin Dierckens and Raymone Jones are going to be about as good of a receiving tandem as there is in the state,” said McGranahan, quick to point out his other receiving talent. “... We feel that we can roll out four guys out there that can play with anybody.”

And McGranahan believes that if anyone can mirror his receivers on the other side of the ball, it’s his secondary.

Senior Josiah McCall (6-1, 170 pounds) and junior Lucas Mattioli (5-11, 160) will start at cornerback, with Jones and fellow junior Michael Dinaso (6-0, 170) playing safety.

“Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt,” McGranahan said when asked if he thinks all four of his starting defensive backs can play collegiately.

Senior Connor Rosko — who goes 6-0, 245 pounds and is a four-year varsity player — will anchor the defensive line along with junior Anthony Santana. Senior Ryley McCreary and junior Mitchel Schwartz are the top returning linebackers.

As far as the rugged SEC goes, defending champion Franklin — which went 7-0 in conference last season and has claimed at least a share of five of the last six SEC titles — has to be considered the favorite.

But McGranahan pointed to his own program, as well as Racine Case and Racine Park, as teams that have been on the bottom in recent years but return a lot of varsity starters as squads that should prevent the conference from being top-heavy.

“Our conference is going to be fascinating,” McGranahan said. “There’s something happening this year with the bottom of the league coming up.”

That said, at least in Tremper’s case, ending a long postseason drought — much less competing at the top of the SEC — can only be achieved in the trenches.

McGranahan believes his team has that ability.

“We’re ready to take the next step on our offensive and defensive lines,” he said.

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