Ho-hum? Well, Bullis and the Warhawks aren’t buying into that theory in the least, if comments they made during media day activities recently are any indication.
Two Stateline area athletes are among those returning starters for UW-W, which is ranked in the top three in the country in three preseason polls.
Wide receiver Marcus Hudson of Delavan-Darien and linebacker Paul Foster of Janesville Craig, both seniors, will play key roles again as the Warhawks seek to make their 15th playoff appearance.
“I feel terribly spoiled,” Bullis said of his senior-laden team. “It’s one thing to have that large group of seniors, it’s when you sit back and look at who those seniors are … they’re just a super group of young men.”
And they’re talented.
Hudson topped the team with 54 catches, 942 yards and nine scoring receptions, making the WIAC’s first team and earning third team all-West Region honors. Foster led the Warhawks with 88 total tackles, including a season high 13 in a win over UW-Stevens Point.
Hudson took his game to new levels last fall after contributing 14 catches as a sophomore, and nobody noticed the growth more than Bullis.
“That wide receiver class in front of him with (Jake) Kumerow and (Justin) Howard, he was overshadowed,” Bullis said. “He was a role player … that’s always the big question -- can someone step in and be a primary player? That was the thing that Marcus did last year. That’s not always easy.
“The thing that he does special, in my mind -- he’s a big man and he can run well -- but the thing that’s amazing to me is his ability to catch the ball in traffic. There’s people hanging on him, there’s people hitting him and somehow he comes down with the ball. A lot of that has to do with his concentration, his size and his ability to not get bounced around. The other part is his ability to control his body in the air. That’s something you don’t teach. We don’t have drills for that one.”
For his part, Hudson said he’s happy but not satisfied with his progress.
“Coming here I learned a lot from Jake and Justin … their philosophy was working hard and not letting the ball hit the ground,” Hudson said. “They said just let the passing game come to you. And we have a pretty strong receiving corps because everybody can play at this level. We just want to get after it every day and have fun with it.”
And Hudson will have starting quarterback Chris Nelson behind center again, which means the former Comet should be targeted plenty again.
“He’s my roommate and we’ve become pretty good friends,” Hudson said of the former Wilmot standout and Southern Lakes Conference rival whom he intercepted three times. “I got him twice in one game, including a 99-yard pick six. But he ended up throwing four or five touchdowns against us …
“But we’ve been working on our timing and he’s been looking great,” added Hudson, a D3football.com preseason All-America choice. “We’ll talk about that after the season. I definitely need to block better in the running game, and I’d like to lead the conference in receiving yards.”
Meanwhile, Foster also hopes to provide Hudson with more opportunities to make big plays as he moves from outside to inside linebacker in the team’s standard 4-3 defense.
Foster intercepted two passes last year, including one in the national quarterfinal win over the Titans to help UW-W avenge a regular-season setback.
He said the Warhawks possess depth and talent.
“I feel really good about this year,” Foster said. “We seem to always have guys coming up every year with talent. We’re bringing back pretty much our two deep or guys who had playing time. I’m confident with the group we have this year. Hopefully we can make some plays.”
Bullis is confident in the group and with Foster being the guy to replace All-America pick Justin Dischler.
“Paul has got a great motor,” Bullis said. “Him replacing Dischler is big for us. Paul has been a starter for two years, so it’s not like we’re replacing our Mike ’backer with a guy who’s immature. He’s a guy we projected as a Mike, and he was a backup there last year. We’re excited that he’s our feature field general because that’s one of the things a Mike linebacker does.”
Another important cog for the defense is lineman and fellow captain John Flood, a Spring Grove, Illinois, native and Richmond-Burton High School standout. He registered five sacks last year and has played in 27 games the past two seasons.
And a transfer who could see extensive time is offensive lineman Nate Trewyn, a Milton graduate who started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman at Minnesota State-Mankato last fall.
UW-Whitewater kicks off its 123rd season with three nonconference games, including NAIA power Morningside (Iowa) to close out September. Then the Warhawks tackle UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh to start the WIAC slate, foes predicted to finish third and second in the league chase, respectively.
“Our third game is against Morningside, which is an NAIA school that has a boatload of scholarships will be challenging, and that’s good for us because it’s prep for a higher level of play,” Bullis said. “If you play them (Pioneers and Titans) later in the season, the advantage is building toward them. Every game is doing to be a dogfight. Honestly, that’s not in our control, so I don’t worry about it.”
Still, Foster said reclaiming the WIAC crown is important.
“It absolutely means a lot. That’s our goal at the beginning of every season. It hurt last year, especially losing it to Oshkosh. But we’re coming back and I’m confident about this year.”