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Oak Creek football team overcomes adversity this season

Bartholomew proud of how Knights battled in 2013

Oak Creek’s Derrick Stephan was the Knights’ leading rusher this fall. He was one of eight senior starters on offense.

Oak Creek’s Derrick Stephan was the Knights’ leading rusher this fall. He was one of eight senior starters on offense. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Nov. 12, 2013

Oak Creek football coach Mike Bartholomew has worked through several challenges over the years to return the Knights to the place of prominence it had in the late 1990s-early 2000s.

He had done it through character, diligence and teamwork and he is exceptionally proud of this year's team, which succeeded in earning the program back-to-back WIAA state playoff berths for the first time in many seasons despite huge graduation losses from the 2012 Southeast Conference championship squad.

But the Knights' on-field results were only a small part of his pride in what he called "a very successful chapter in Oak Creek football history" because it was a small miracle that this 6-4 team held together at all.

The pink socks worn by the team for much of the season were not Bartholomew's idea — that came from the team itself. They were to honor a player's Mom who died in the summer from cancer. Her passing, however, was only one of two parental deaths that occurred during the season for the varsity team.

"What you find with kids that the football team and program becomes something of a second family to them," Bartholomew said. "On a team of 60 varsity kids, not everyone is going to be your 'brother' but a number do become close to you. It's all about those kids staying and supporting each other. When that works it can make the situation easier to navigate.

"I left it up to those kids (who suffered the loss) as to how much they wanted to share. I wanted to respect their feelings. The others, they were there for them if needed."

"What this showed me is that we had some really strong young men out there with a lot of heart."

The heart the team showed in dealing with those most difficult situations, also manifested itself on the field. A rugged early schedule, including a 14-6 heartbreaker to rival and eventual Southeast Conference champion Franklin left the team with a 2-3 record and a difficult road back to the playoffs.

"At one point, we played the third, sixth and seventh-ranked teams in the state," said Bartholomew, "but the seniors jumped in there. It was a hard thing to do, but they managed to convince the others that we were still in it, that there were other things to play for."

The result was a four-game winning streak to end the regular season. Not even a disappointing, injury-racked loss to Kenosha Indian Trail in the WIAA playoffs could take the edge off that fine run. In that time, the offense came to life and averaged an impressive 40 points per game.

"We just got better as the season went along," Bartholomew said. "It wasn't by accident we won four in a row."

The offense finished with a final average of 28.5 points per game.

The junior varsity finished with a 5-4 record and the freshmen came in at 6-2.

The Knights are going to be in very good shape in 2014. They graduate eight senior starters from both sides of the ball but will return 14 others.

Key senior losses will include quarterback Jordan Strong, top running back Derrick Stephan (941 yards rushing and 12 TDs), tight end Mario Arbanella, center Malik Otallah and defensive lineman Peter Mitchell.

Other seniors include Sergio Ramirez, Nick Ackerman, Matt Hargreaves, Eddie Reader, Jesus Carrillo, Donovan Brown, Nick Baumann, Justin Hibbler, Demetrius Redd, Robbie Knecht, David Brown, Sam Johnson, Tory Purpora, Mitch Olsen, Frank Kafura, Michael Nitecki, Jacob Fakler and Joseph Valla.

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