Whitefish Bay football coach Jim Tietjen is busy tamping down brushfires of excitement as the Blue Dukes go into the 2012 season with anticipation of glory not seen since the early 1990s.
"We're dropping passes, putting the ball on the ground (fumbles), we're just not as far as I would like us to be," he said.
But that kind of pessimism is just smoke and mirrors to other area coaches and teams, who know that the Blue Dukes have more than 20 returners from a 2011 team that advanced to the third round of the WIAA state playoffs for the first time in school history, including NOW All-Suburban selections Rashadeem Gray (running back) and Jackson Weber (defensive back).
Then Tietjen lightens up and talks about what he sees in front of him.
"I like this team, I like these kids," he said. "The intensity is never high enough for me, but a lot of that's me. … No one questions the fact that expectations are high, everyone is talking about us, but I've seen teams that have been picked to be very, very good, but because they couldn't replace the few key people they did lose, it didn't work out as well as they had expected.
"But the people we have back are playmakers so we know that we need to be that good (as people have projected Bay to be)."
Bay opens up at Slinger at 7 p.m. Friday after going 7-5 last season.
That will be the first serious opportunity for the tough, speedy Gray and the combination defensive end/tight end Weber to show off their wares. Further, the thing that has Tietjen excited enough to think his team can finally end the decade-long North Shore dominance of Homestead, is the muscle that he returns up front.
Powerful returnees include Quentin Dismukes, Bobby Linneman, Graydon Peterson, Jacob Carlson, Will Shanley and Kelly Jackson, some of whom will go two ways, others who will have the luxury of focusing on just one side of the ball.
They will lead an offense that should be much more explosive this season. Aside from Gray, who ran for 1,200 yards last season, quarterback Grant Menard is back for his senior season having gone to camps, improving his accuracy in the process.
Further, the carries in the running game will be shared as veterans Julian Posey, Turner DeMuth and Jordan Johnson all have looked good in camp.
On the defensive side of the ball, getting Jackson back to man a defensive line spot will be huge. He missed much of 2011 with an injury and Tietjen said the defense went downhill after he was lost. Other key players back on defense are three-year starting strong safety Jacob Pandl, Weber and linebackers Tyler Terveer, Posey, Ben Lehrmann, Jacob Carlson and Jeremiah Holt.
The Blue Dukes even have key returnees at the kicking (Colin Downing) and long snapper (Peterson) positions.
In short, there's reason to be optimistic.
"We're hoping to start where we left off," Tietjen said. "Expectations can be a little unrealistic, but there are reasons that they are high."
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