Eau Claire Memorial quarterback Bryson Johnson looks downfield against Chippewa Falls last season at Carson Park. Johnson tied a state record with eight touchdown passes in the Old Abes’ 67-65 double-overtime loss.

In a postseason exhibition of underclassmen last fall, Eau Claire Memorial took on Wisconsin Rapids in a regulation game.

The Old Abe roster numbered 48 players. The final score was 36-0.

And, yes. They’re back.

“That was a great springboard into the 2019 season,” third-year coach Mike Sinz said. “It showed what they’re capable of. The kids saw that on film and got more serious in the weight room.”

They include nine returning starters on offense, six on defense. And, of course, a large group ready to step in.

“We’re hoping to compete with the top teams in the Big Rivers,” Sinz said. “But you have to bring your A game every week or you’ll get beat.”

Sinz is aware of the bright situation, but says a key, the same as for all teams, is to stay healthy.

“We played a lot of inexperienced kids last year due to injuries and that should help us this year,” he said. “But we’ve got to be more consistent.”

The Abes need to shore up a defense that allowed an average of 38 points and 371 yards per game.

“We have to improve on defense and we should in that we’re more experienced,” Sinz said. “There were times when we had four kids on the field who did not play the year before. And that’s tough against a Big Rivers schedule.”

There is not much question about the offense, which averaged 27 points and 362 yards and Sinz admitted he hopes it to be “explosive” this time around.

The feature is a record-setting quarterback in senior Bryson Johnson and nearly his full contingent of receivers to toss to. And on the ground, there’s Loyal Crawford, coming into the season with a great deal of potential and a commitment to the Wisconsin Badgers as only a junior.

In a case of an accurate thrower tossing to glue-fingered receivers, Johnson passed for 2,043 yards and 25 touchdowns with Calvin Tanner taking 41 for 620 and nine scores; Will Hesse 23 for 443 and four scores and Jack Piper 25 for 280.

“Bryson attended quarterback camps and got out with his receivers to work on their timing,” Sinz said. “He was out at 6:15 in the morning four days a week. And he is stronger.”

Crawford, who runs an 11.1 100, rushed for 685 yards and eight touchdowns at a 5.9 clip last year before going down with a broken collarbone early in his fifth game.

“Like Bryson, he is very dedicated and lived in the weight room,” Sinz said. “I told Loyal that there is zero pressure on him and all he has to do is play up to his ability. He doesn’t have to prove anything.”

There is also Ethan Van Grunsven at running back, Brice Wingad as the backup quarterback who can step into several positions and Grant Gerber at tight end.

Of course nothing would happen if not for the linemen up front. Leading the way are returnees Nick Oberding, Jackson Reinke, Kyle Schultz and Adam Phippen along with Cade and Ethan Vachowiak.

Returning starters bent on improving the defense are linemen Gerber, Cade Vachowiak and Grant Wolfe, Gavin Garlie at linebacker and Van Grunsven and Alex Krajewski in the secondary.

Others in the mix are Zach Crotty in the line, Carson Soukup, Mitch Voller, Nolan Miller, Schultz and Easton Tok at linebacker and Peter Voight and Duncan McKinley, another Badger recruit as a long-snapper, in the secondary.

Sinz said he plans to play kids on both sides of the ball if he needs to in contrast to last year’s two platoon strategy.

The Abes, who have the advantage of playing six games at Carson Park, are hoping to improve on last year’s 3-6 record. There are 103 candidates in four grades in the program.

Eau Claire Memorial

Coach: Mike Sinz, third season (9-10).

Last season: 3-6, 2-5.

Roster: SENIORS — Peter Voight, DB; Will Hesse, WR; Tyler Kent, K; Bryson Johnson, QB; Mitch Voller, LB; Calvin Tanner, WR/DB; Jack Piper, WR; Grant Wolfe, DL; Nolan Miller, LB; Alex Krajewski, DB; Ethan Van Grunsven, RB/DB; Garin Garlie, LB; Carson Soukup, LB; Jackson Reinke, OL/DL; Dan Moseler, OL/DL; Nick Oberding, OL; Kyle Schultz, OL/LB; Adam Phippen, OL; Zach Crotty, DL; Cade Vachowiak, OL/DL; Duncan McKinley, WR/LS; Devin Butler, WR.

JUNIORS — Loyal Crawford, RB; Grant Gerber, TE/DE; Brice Wingad, QB/WR; Trevin Kison, DB; Evon Bjerke, LB; Jaquan Crowder, RB; Harry Chumas, DB; Gavin McKenzie, DB; Keagan Brown, DB; Easton Tok, RB/LB; Sam Tornow, LB; Austin Reed, DB; Camden Trautlein, DB; Tom Shiefer, LB; Kaden Verdegan, OL; Austin Monson, OL; Brock Johnson, OL; Devyn Ross, OL; Caleb Schwab, OL; Hank Boese, OL; Cullen Heath, OL; Phillip Decker, OL; Ethan Vachowiak, OL; Nate Studt, OL.

SOPHOMORES — Reese Woerner, RB; Sebastian Westerberg, QB; Tyson Allen, QB; Thade Breuer, WR; Braden Belden, LB; Brenton Weinstein, WR; Andrew Moseler, LB; Michael Organ, DB; Jack Redwine, DB; Jeremy Schroeder, DB; Ben Frey, K; Aiden Auth, OL; Mitchell Branco, OL; Matt Berger, OL; Briggs Reinke, LB; Hayden Semling, OL; Logan Bee, DL; Logan Govek, DL; Brett Nemitz, WR; Jake Cooper, WR; Matt Olsen, WR; Isaac Holzinger, WR; Tyler McBride, WR.

2019 schedule

Aug. 23 — at La Crosse Logan

Aug. 29 — La Crosse Central

Sept. 6 — Rice Lake

Sept. 13 — Superior

Sept. 20 — at Chippewa Falls

Sept. 27 — River Falls

Oct. 4 — at North

Oct. 11 — Hudson

Oct. 18 — at Menomonie

2018 results

La Crosse Logan (W, 20-14)

La Crosse Central (L, 44-12)

Rice Lake (L, 60-35)

Superior (W, 31-24)

Chippewa Falls (L, 67-65, 2 ot)

River Falls (L, 48-7)

North (W, 33-8)

Hudson (L, 43-21)

Menomonie (L, 35-21)