By MARK STEWART and MIKE SHERRY Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Appleton Post Crescent

Hunter Wohler accepted the challenge of leadership this season.

“I’m not a super-outspoken guy so for me it was stepping into that leader role being a senior this year,” he said. “I feel like I had to grow into a new part of me.”

The senior safety from Muskego continued to lead by example but made a point of becoming more vocal and providing positive energy during a high school football season played under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those intangibles helped produce another banner season for Warriors football team.

Muskego finished 9-0 for its third straight undefeated season. Wohler earned first-team all-state distinction from the Associated Press for the third straight year and for the second season in a row was the unanimous pick as the state player of the year by a vote of statewide media.

As a USA Today preseason All-American, the future Wisconsin Badger was the Muskego’s star player, but he noted that he was one of many leaders in a program that boosts of 188 players.

“I do think there were 40 leaders on this team,” he said. “That is what made the team so special.”

Due to the pandemic the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is offering an alternate football season that will be played in the spring. The Associated Press plans to also name an all-state team for players who compete in that season.

Six other players were nominated for state player of the year: Homestead defensive end Ayo Adebogun, Muskego running back Alex Current, Edgar linebacker Austin Dahlke, Cumberland receiver Jack Martens, Lake Mills quarterback Adam Moen and Appleton Xavier linebacker Mac Strand.

Wohler ranked second on Muskego with 78 tackles, 45 solo, and intercepted two passes. His ability to diagnose plays and cover a lot of territory were huge factors in the Warriors allowing 7.3 points and 188 yards per game. Those are the best numbers of Muskego’s three-year run.

Wohler also dabbled on offense. He got his first carries at running back since middle school and finished with eight carries for 126 yards, a 15.8-yard average, and scored twice.

In his final game, a 31-7 win over Menomonee Falls in the second round of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s shortened postseason, he returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and finished with 11 tackles, five solo.

“The group was tight this year. We had a whole lot of seniors, so we were very senior-led,” he said. “It was the perfect group to go out with.”

Now it’s on to Wisconsin. Wohler plans to make his commitment official on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. At that point, he’ll officially join a recruiting class that ranks 15th in the nation, according to Rivals.com.

“I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I’m ready for it. I think I have the right group of support to help me work through it and to keep me on my feet, keep me going every day.

“The group of guys who are committed there that are going to be in my class and my teammates every day, it’s a special group.”

COACH OF THE YEAR

It was a high school football season unlike any other even for Jerry Sinz, who thought he had seen it all in 46 years as head coach at Edgar High School.

While quite a few teams shifted their seasons to next spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic and others were forced to pull the plug after a few games, Edgar did what it has always done under Sinz – win big and win often.

The Wildcats rolled to a 9-0 record, outscoring opponents 398-41, with a team Sinz called one of the top four or five he has ever coached. That’s saying a lot, since Sinz has guided Edgar to 13 state championship games and seven titles.

For leading Edgar through a roller-coaster season, Sinz has been voted Associated Press coach of the year in a vote by statewide media. Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christina’s Ryan Eigenberg, Muskego’s Ken Krause, Blair-Taylor’s Andy Nehring, Racine Lutheran’s Scott Smith and Whitefish Bay’s Jake Wolter were also considered.

“It was kind of fun,” Sinz said. “Our coaching staff took it as a challenge. Sometimes we’d practice on a Tuesday and Wednesday against a certain opponent and go through all of our offensive and defensive game plan and then find out on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, ‘Oh, we’re not playing them guys now. We’re going to play somebody else.’

“So you’d just have to completely switch your mindset on what you were going to see and maybe even where the game was going to be, now with only one day to try to prepare. We could have never, ever accomplished that unless we had a team that was very experienced, very intelligent.”

When several Marawood Conference opponents weren’t able to play, Edgar picked up games against larger schools Onalaska, Portage and Shawano. All three of those teams played in Division 2 in the WIAA’s two-week postseason, while Edgar was a Division 6 school.

“They would have been willing to play anybody,” Sinz said of his team. “It didn’t make any difference if a team was Division 1, 2, 3, 4, they didn’t care. They weren’t overly concerned if we might lose one. They just wanted to play.”

During a normal season, Edgar would have been favored to make it back to Camp Randall Stadium to play for another state championship. Despite that, Sinz said there’s no regrets.

“It was fun. It was rewarding. Nobody ever held any grudges or felt bad that we didn’t get a chance,” he said. “But I’m sure secretly they probably felt bad they didn’t get a chance to play for a gold ball.”

Sinz, a 2003 Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, has a 440-85 career record and is second behind only Bob Hyland of St. Mary’s Springs in victories in state history.

Before the season, Sinz said he was “seriously considering” retiring after this season but now plans to return next year when he hopes things are back to normal.

“I don’t want the final year to be this year,” he said.