1, Clinton; 2 (tie), Jefferson, Evansville/Albany; 4, Walworth Big Foot.
THINGS TO WATCH
Looking for a four-peat: The Blue Devils have won outright or shared three straight conference titles and are hoping to add another under the direction of coach Ron Grovesteen and experienced quarterback Zach Mielke. Last season Evansville/Albany and Clinton each finished 8-1 in conference with the Blue Devils defeating the Cougars 21-12 to open the season.
Search and replace: The Rock Valley has lost 31 of the 41 positions that made first team-all conference last year (on offense and defense) to graduation. So, there is plenty of room for newcomers to step up. Junior offensive lineman John Marschke of East Troy and junior place-kicker Emiliano Reyes of Beloit Turner were the only underclassman to make the first or second team in 2016.
Second time around: This will be the second year of the 10-team Rock Valley conference setup, after the North and South divisions merged when Palmyra-Eagle and Orfordville Parkview left to play football in the Trailways Large. Last year, the former divisions were represented with three playoff teams apiece. Evansville/Albany, Jefferson and East Troy of the old North Division made the postseason, and Clinton, Brodhead/Juda and Walworth Big Foot of the former South also qualified.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zach Mielke, 6-3, 185, sr., QB, Evansville/Albany: Entering his fourth season as the Blue Devils’ starter, Mielke earned first-team All-Rock Valley honors after throwing for 1,426 yards and 16 touchdowns to go with only three interceptions.
Jackson Enz, 6-1, 180, sr., QB, Walworth Big Foot: Last season Enz threw for 2,167 yards and 15 touchdowns. He led the Chiefs with 770 rushing yards and 15 scores on the ground. Enz also was the co-offensive player of the year in the Rock Valley and was first team all-conference as a quarterback and punter.
Evan Anfang, 5-10, 175, sr., RB/DB, Jefferson: The Eagles bring back their second leading rusher Evan Anfang who racked-up 830 yards and nine scores as a second team all-conference running back in 2016. He also made second team All-Rock Valley as a defensive back providing 47 tackles and one interception.
Jimmy DuVal, 6-1, 185, sr., WR/LB, Whitewater: Last season DuVal earned first team all-conference honors as a wide receiver and made the second team as a linebacker. He caught 11 touchdowns and tallied 1,006 yards receiving while making 78 tackles with 14 behind the line of scrimmage on defense.
Zach Krause, 6-2, 205, sr., RB/DB, Clinton: He returns as the Cougars third leading rusher from 2016 with 737 yards and nine touchdowns as a second team all-conference running back. Krause was also a first team all-conference defensive back with 50 tackles and an interception.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Coach: Mike Gregory, 19th year (72-81).
Last year: 1-8 conference (ninth), 1-8 overall.
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 9/10.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/4.
The lowdown: The Crimson Tide look to rebuild with a very young core, returning only four seniors, but hope to use athleticism to their advantage while running a spread offense. Quarterback Jaden Johnson returns to command the huddle after throwing for 1,179 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore. Junior wide receiver Mason Simmons looks to step up after leading the team with 26 catches for 248 yards a season ago. Linebackers B.K. Sanders and Cesar Ochoa anchor the 4-4 defense. Many sophomores will be counted on to contribute immediately.
Coach: Ron Grovesteen, 36th year (265-107).
Last year: 8-1 conference (first), 8-2 overall; lost 49-21 to Fort Atkinson in Division 3, Level 1 playoffs.
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 21/14.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/4.
The lowdown: The Blue Devils will have many positions up for grabs after graduating nine players from the All-Rock Valley Conference first team including offensive player of the year Brennen Banks and defensive player of the year Lucius Rinehart. After winning the conference in 2016, first team All-Rock Valley quarterback Zach Mielke (6-3, 185, sr.) and starting right tackle Jeb Beck (6-3, 340, sr.) will try and improve on the Blue Devils first round playoff loss.
Coach: Steve Gee, 12th year (74-39); 15th overall (91-52).
Last year: 7-2 conference (third), 7-3 overall; lost, 50-16, to Pewaukee in the first round of the Division 3 playoffs.
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 24/11.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 6/6.
The lowdown: The Eagles enjoy a bevy of experienced players, including six starters on each side of the ball. Running back Evan Anfang looks to carry Jefferson’s double-wing offense after Jefferson lost leading rusher Hunter Milbrath to graduation. Senior quarterback Zack Peterson hopes to build on his eight passing touchdowns from a season ago. The Eagles' 4-4 defense should be stout up front, anchored by 2016 first-team all-conference linebacker Paul Hollenberger (6-1, 175, sr.) and second team all-conference defensive end Nick Hauser (5-9, 190, sr.).
Coach: Paul Ackley, 13th year (59-59).
Last year: 3-6 conference (seventh), 3-6 overall.
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 15/17.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 2/3.
The lowdown: The Spartans will have a new look this year, running the spread offense behind quarterback Derek Schwarting (5-11, 145, jr.) as well as a new base 3-4 defense led by senior linebacker Michael Marfori. Returning only a smattering of starters, players such as 2016 honorable mention running back Tysen White and defensive end Hans Schwoerer (6-2, 185, sr.) will be expected to pick up the slack.