KIMBERLY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Last November, Kimberly ended a five-year championship drought by winning its first state football title since 2018.
For most programs, two championships in five years is a great run. But the Papermakers were long overdue for a return to the top.
"Just being around the atmosphere... it was phenomenal," Kimberly's senior quarterback Carson Pendleton, Kimberly's backup last year, said.
"I think it was definitely very important for the community," senior defensive lineman Sam McGivern added. "It was definitely good to get that win."
It was a first for those players, who were in middle school the last time Kimberly won a state championship.
The feeling was new for head coach Chad Michalkiewicz, as well.
After spending more than a decade coaching at De Pere, Michalkiewicz led the 'Makers to a state title in his first year at the helm.
However, his team will look much different this year than it did in year one.
"Graduating different positions probably makes a lot of coaches nervy," Michalkiewicz said. "It makes me nervy."
Kimberly will have virtually an entirely new offense this season. Fresh faces at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and at four spots on the offensive line.
Running back Blake Berry - who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 32 touchdowns last season - will be especially difficult to replace. But, as usual, there's someone waiting in the wings.
"If you look at Blake's stats as a junior he had about 700 yards," Michalkiewicz said. "Gavin Tyson was our number two last year, he had about 600 and seven touchdowns.
"He's ready to be the bell cow," Michalkiewicz said.
Carson Pendleton will take over under-center, replacing All-FVA quarterback Seth Miron.
Pendleton's older brother, Caden, quarterbacked Kimberly from 2019-21.
"The most important thing is just being able to lead the team," Pendleton said. "Being able to talk to people and just being able to hype people up or keep people up and focus on the next play."
"He's a smart player and he's a really good athlete," Michalkiewicz said of Pendleton. "He's got more moxie than people probably would say that he has just from looking at him."
The point is: There's turnover, but a program like this doesn't rebuild, it reloads.
Coming from De Pere, it's new for Michalkiewicz. But his assistants have assured him this is the norm at Kimberly.
"During the run of five straight state championships, there was one year where they had to replace all 11 on offense," Michalkiewicz said. "That's what this program is designed to do. Next guy up."
"Be great mentors, be great servants and kind of bring the next guy along and try to add the next chapter of Kimberly football," he added.
It's a new-look, but no one would be shocked to see Kimberly back at Camp Randall Stadium come November.
"We had our first day with pads (Wednesday)," McGivern said. "I really liked how it was."
"We may have lost a couple big names," McGivern added. "But if we have guys that are willing to step up and willing to bring the energy and are not scared to play against anybody I feel like we're going to be a in a good spot."
Kimberly begins its season on Thursday, August 17 at home against Milwaukee Marshall.