Muskego - The fact that the football team returned no starters in the 2012 season has been well documented.
The Warriors, though, while lacking in varsity experience, were never short of talent or heart.
They showed that by posting a winning record in the Classic 8 Conference, which ultimately produced two WIAA state champions in Hartland Arrowhead and Catholic Memorial.
They also displayed that by reaching the WIAA playoffs and nearly knocking off Lake Geneva Badger, which then went on a run that finally ended in the state semifinals.
Among their key players were three seniors - David Kucharski, Tyler Thomka and Gerard Barr - who not only shone on the field but provided valuable leadership.
Kucharski stepped into the shoes of the graduated Jordan Gruettner, serving in a variety of areas, such as running back, linebacker, placekicker, kick returner and punter, where he averaged over 40 yards per kick and continually gave the Warriors good field position.
Thomka was a defensive standout in the backfield, coming up with eight interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.
Barr keyed a powerful offensive line that helped the Warriors lead the Classic 8 in rushing at 270 yards per contest.
For their efforts, Kucharski, Thomka and Barr all earned spots on the 2012 NOW Newspapers All-Suburban Team, with Kucharski at punter, Thomka at defensive back and Barr at offensive guard.
Kucharski experienced the most diverse year of any of the three, playing five positions and doing well at all of them.
He had a good teacher in Gruettner, who was the NOW Newspapers Player of the Year in 2011.
"I watched what he had done last year," Kucharski said. "It really helped me to work alongside Jordan. He was the guy I was looking to be like."
Head coach Ken Krause said Kucharski learned his lessons well.
"As punter, he was a weapon for our field position, and he was voted our special teams MVP by our team," Krause said. "Jordan was first-team all-state last year, and David is almost as good as Jordan."
Kucharski enjoyed his punting contributions.
"We would be around (our own) 30-yard line, and I could get the ball past the opponent's 30, or further," he said. "This was my best year as a punter. I have been punting since seventh grade, but not the last few years, because I was behind a guy named Gruettner."
Kucharski also plays rugby, and he said the kicking action in that game helps him with his punting. He is a standout in rugby as well, as he will try out for the United States team in late December in Arizona.
Thomka also has plenty of experience at defensive back, having played the position since the Junior Warriors program.
He played running back as well, and had some big games there - notably in the playoff loss to Badger - but he really likes being in the defensive backfield.
"I can use my footspeed, and I am naturally a go-for-the-ball type of person," he said. "Also, there is no better feeling than scoring off an interception."
"He is one of the best defensive backs I have coached in my 16 years," Krause said. "He seemed to make his best plays when the pressure was at its highest. Our players voted him team MVP on defense and our overall MVP."
Like Kucharski and Thomka, Barr is a football veteran.
"I've been playing since fifth grade on the Junior Warriors," he said, "although I made my first varsity start this season."
Barr knew the Warriors' offensive line would be strong.
"(Tackle Bryce) Butenhof has always been good," Barr said. "(Guard) Adam Boniface really stepped up and (tackle Kurt) Olson made his first start ever this season - he had not started on freshman, junior varsity or varsity - but really came through."
Krause said Barr was his best lineman.
"In my 16 years, he is one of the top guards I have ever coached," Krause said. "He is a perfect wing-T guard, the way he pulls."
All three players helped Muskego post a winning record despite the team's drawbacks heading into the campaign.
"People told us (before the season) that we would be bad this year," Kucharski said, "but no one wanted that. (After the Warriors started 1-3) coach got the seniors together and said it was up to us as to how we would finish the season."
Thomka said the team wanted to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"It was just a matter of believing," he said.
That, and the talent and drive supplied by Kucharski, Thomka and Barr this season.
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