Plethora of Port football players earn honors


Ozaukee Press staff

Losing 21 seniors to graduation didn’t bode well for the Port Washington High School football team this season. Then when three-year starting quarterback Nate Uselding went down with a noncontact knee injury in the fourth game and was lost for the year, a successful season hung in the balance.

Junior Ben Fritsch and a host of teammates tipped the scales in the Pirates’ favor, leading the team to its deepest playoff run in recent memory, reaching Level 3, and racking up 16 East Central all-conference selections.

Fritsch finished the fourth game that ended in a 27-26 overtime loss at Kewaskum, then started the next eight games, going 6-2 and becoming a highlight waiting to happen.

Fritsch’s starts, stops and acceleration, along with his jukes, vision and game-breaking speed, made him an electrifying threat.

He rushed 156 times for 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns in his eight games as a starter. For the 12-game season, he ran 169 times for 1,147 yards and 19 scores.

Fritsch went 70-for-106 passing for 1,061 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

He caught 11 balls for 163 yards and two scores.

Those added up to being named the ECC co-Offensive Player of the Year, ­ along with Berlin’s Wyatt Hamersma, and Back of the Year, and Fritsch was named to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Region team.

In addition, Fritsch was a deadly weapon on special teams. He returned 12 punts for 283 yards (23.6 average) and two scores, and 16 kicks for 540 yards (33.8 average) and two touchdowns.

“He is just a different kind of quarterback with his legs, explosiveness and his speed,” coach John Bunyan said.

“With our play-action stuff, he’s just truly dynamic.”

If it wasn’t Fritsch, Bunyan said, Uselding may have been in line for the same honors. He was chosen to the second team last season and earned honorable mention in 2020.

In three-plus games this year, Uselding went 50-for 75 for 663 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

“To me, he was the caliber of an all-state quarterback and one of best pure passers I’ve had,” Bunyan said.

Bunyan had an all-state player in Casey Arendt. The junior right tackle was named ECC Offensive Lineman of the Year and earned all-state honorable mention.

“It’s really a credit to Casey because we changed his body in the offseason. He was a bigger kid. We worked on his footwork and he lifted weights and he dropped down to the 280-pound mark,” Bunyan said.

“We pulled with him. He was in our screen game. We trapped with him sometimes, too. He had a phenomenal year.”

Senior Matt Esslemann was the top target for Uselding and Fritsch. He caught 50 balls (fourth in Division 3) for 787 yards (sixth in Division 3)  with 13 touchdowns (second in Division 3) and was named to the ECC first team.

“Offensively, he was an incredibly dynamic player who could go up and get the ball. He had breakaway speed. He could catch a hitch or slant and he’d be gone,” Bunyan said.

Esselmann was also named to the first team as a defensive back and was an All-Region selection at both positions. He led Division 3 with seven interceptions and 16 pass deflections, and he made 42 tackles playing cornerback and free safety.

“He came up and made great plays tackling on crucial plays,” Bunyan said.

Esselmann also served as Port’s kicker and punter and was voted the team’s most valuable player.

“He’s just a really pure athlete and a special kid,” Bunyan said.

Senior Nick Bensen was named to the ECC first team as a defensive lineman and the second team as an offensive lineman. He made 69 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered one.

“He did a great job on both sides of the ball. He was our pulling guard, the guy who was trapping and being explosive,” Bunyan said.

Junior inside linebacker Brady Krueger led Division 3 in tackles with 144. He forced two fumbles and recovered one and was chosen to the ECC first team and the All-Region team.

“He’s not the biggest player, but man, he’s tough, fast and explosive,” Bunyan said.

Senior Ryan Burmesch was named to the ECC second team as a tight end and is a scholar athlete with a 4.2 grade-point average. He caught 19 balls for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

“He really had a great year catching the ball over the middle for us. He made crucial plays with his size,” Bunyan said.

Senior Brody Niehoff was named to the second team as offensive lineman. Bunyan said Niehoff wanted to play inside linebacker, but the Pirates needed a center. He became a team captain.

“He just embraced the role and stepped up for us. He had no bad snaps. He showed great leadership and pass blocked well,” Bunyan said.

Six Pirates earned seven ECC honorable mention.

Sophomore Josh Arnold was chosen as a wide receiver and defensive back. He caught 21 passes for 319 yards and five scores. On defense, he made 34 tackles, two interceptions, recovered one fumble and scored two touchdowns.

“He was a huge complement to Matt. He  really stepped up the last three games,” Bunyan said. “He just started coming into his own. He’s going to grow.”

Sophomore Hewitt Decker was chosen for his work at left tackle.

“He’s raw and young. He might work himself into a tight end spot. He’s super athletic,” Bunyan said.

Senior Lleyton Allen was selected for his versatility at running back. He ran 136 times for 563 yards and three scores and caught 13 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown.

“He stepped up and had a good year. He did a great job on screens and pass blocking,” Bunyan said.

Sophomore Sam Pasten was chosen for his work at outside linebacker. He made 71 tackles, had two interceptions and one touchdown.

“He’s just a good athlete who worked himself onto the field,” Bunyan said.

Freshman Garett Kawczynski was selected on the defensive line. He made 62 tackles, recovered three fumbles and forced four as a nose guard.

“We normally don’t play freshmen on varsity. He was strong and explosive and caused a lot of chaos in the middle,” Bunyan said.

“I think we’ll see him develop, and it might not just be on the defensive line.”

Senior outside linebacker Kaiden Schumacher earned recognition despite only playing in seven games. He had 66 tackles, led the team with nine tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles, picked off one pass and scored the winning touchdown on an 85-yard fumble return to beat Grafton.

Schumacher broke his ankle and worked his way back to the lineup for Port’s final game.

“He would have been first-team all-conference and the leading tackler,” Bunyan said. “He just kept working. Even after the injury, he was relentless coming in and contributing.”

Port tied for second in the ECC at 5-2 and went 9-3 overall.

“I was super proud of guys stepping up all year filling in roles, accepting the adversity and moving forward,” Bunyan said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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