Madison West senior Jaden Stephens didn’t wish to detail individual goals for the upcoming football season.
Talking about personal expectations for the season was something he just doesn’t like to do. He believed his focus and that of his teammates should be on working hard and giving their best, and the appropriate results would follow.
“We had an all right year (in 2016),” Stephens said during a break at a recent practice. “This year, we have to give outstanding effort and try to stay together as a team. The commitment level was off and on last year. The senior class has to be fully committed to the season and working hard.”
The Regents went 5-5 overall last season, tying for fourth in the Big Eight Conference at 5-4 before falling in the first round of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs.
“The expectations are higher,” second-year coach Brad Murphy said. “We’re working to take another step.”
This year, the Regents hope to build on that foundation and the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Stephens is expected to play a large role as a running back on offense and as a strong safety on a defense that returns seven starters and, in Murphy’s opinion, should be a strong point in the season’s early stages.
“Definitely, we are expecting a lot from him,” Regents senior inside linebacker David Maravilla said about Stephens. “He’s our workhorse (on offense). He doesn’t talk a lot. He shows what he can do on the field. He’s a great guy and a great player.”
Madison East first-year coach Jeremy Thornton, who was a football assistant coach at West for several years and served as the Regents’ interim athletic director in 2016-2017, said he believes Stephens will be a dominant player in the Big Eight this season.
Murphy agreed, saying: “He has that potential — if he buckles up and works as hard as he can.”
Murphy said the possibility exists for Stephens to increase the college interest he has already received.
Since he was in fourth or fifth grade, Stephens said he’s thought about attending college and earning a football scholarship. He said he has tried to become a student of the game, because one day he would like to coach football.
“I’m very excited for him,” Murphy said. “He should have a breakout year. We’ve sent out a lot of tape and he understands his opportunities depend on how his senior year goes. Your game tape has to show you can do it at that level. I know he can do it.”
The Regents certainly relied on standout athlete Terrell Carey last year. Carey — who averaged 21.7 yards per catch on 51 receptions and had 12 receiving touchdowns — was a Wisconsin Football Coaches Association first-team all-state choice as a wide receiver and also was a standout defensive back and return specialist who’s now a freshman on the Northern Iowa football team.
“This is my 14th or 15th year in coaching, and I’ve never coached a player like Terrell Carey,” Murphy said. “You don’t get those type of players often. He was a once-in-a-decade kid. This year, we will do it by committee.”
On offense that means Murphy wants his quarterbacks — senior Keishawn Shanklin and sophomore Ezra Thompson — to spread passes to multiple receivers. Shanklin — who worked at quarterback, receiver and defensive back at the recent practice — figures significantly into West’s plans after throwing for 1,664 yards in 2016.
Murphy also hopes to feed the ball more to Stephens, possibly giving him 15 to 20 carries a game, and to senior Armoni Warfield.
Stephens was Madison West’s fifth-leading rusher last year (118 yards), but showed promise with 59 yards on 11 attempts in the Regents’ first-round playoff loss to Lake Geneva Badger. He also was second on the team in receptions (12 catches for 216 yards with three receiving touchdowns) last season.
“We weren’t a very good running team (in 2016),” said Murphy, who also is the offensive coordinator. “That has to change. You have to be able to run the football. You have to be able to impose your will. We have to get better.”
The 5-9, 175-pound Maravilla and Stephens are two of Murphy’s team leaders — as captains and players.
“David is a tremendous kid,” Murphy said. “Nobody worked harder than him in the offseason.”
Maravilla anchors the defense from his inside linebacker spot. Stephens plays the strong side as an outside linebacker when the Regents are in a 4-4 scheme and is a deep safety in a 4-3.
“We are setting an example (for the younger players),” Maravilla said. “We are showing what every day should be — the blueprint to follow.”