After stumbling out of the gate this season with a 1-4 record, the Cedarburg football team made a brave recovery to secure a WIAA playoff berth.
The Bulldogs won three straight, highlighted by a 20-17 narrow escape at Grafton and a crucial 35-28 victory over Germantown, en route to finishing 4-3 in the North Shore Conference and qualifying for the playoffs for the 20th time in 21 seasons.
Joel Durham and Alex Kluck were right in the middle of the comeback, with both putting together fine seasons.
Durham, a senior defensive end, tallied 46 total tackles, with eight tackles for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles.
"He played his best as our team made a push for the playoffs following our early struggles," coach Brian Leair said.
Kluck, a senior tight end, made 30 catches for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
"He helped keep our team focused and driven to overcome a tough start to the season and qualify for the playoffs," Leair said.
For their achievements on the field and their leadership to guide the Bulldogs through a tough situation, Durham and Kluck are on the 2016 Now Newspapers All-Suburban team.
Both also received all-North Shore honors, with Kluck being named the co-offensive end of the year and Durham leading all vote-getters at defensive end, and both also were given honorable-mention all-state.
Kluck played tight end on the Cedarburg varsity for three seasons.
"I like to view (tight end) as an extra line position," he said. "Sometimes, I get to run some routes and catch passes, but since we ran about 80 percent of the time, it was mostly blocking."
Leair thought Kluck did a fine job at the position.
"He is the best tight end we have ever had at Cedarburg," Leair said. "He could do it all. He is an exceptional blocker, route runner and receiver. I believe he is one of the very top tight ends in the area and one of the very best kids I have ever coached."
Kluck said he knew something had to change after the slow start this season.
"We had to change our mind-set," he said. "I think we looked at our past success at Cedarburg and thought it would just happen again. After the third game (all losses), we knew it wouldn't be that way. We all had to step up and make plays."
Kluck found a good reason for the sustained success at the school.
"The coaching is great," he said. "In all my three years (on varsity), I had great experiences with the coaches, and there has been consistency, starting with coach Leair. We have a good culture; the kids are pushed to perform their best. Because of our depth, every kid has to compete for his job or someone else will take it."
Kluck plans to play college football but is still sifting through the possibilities.
Durham, Kluck on Colts
Durham, like Kluck, is a product of the Cedarburg Colts youth program. Both started playing in fifth grade, so they and many of their teammates have worked together for years.
"He is a big physical player who moves extremely well," Leair said of Durham. "He was effective putting pressure on the quarterback and made it difficult to pass over him. He is also a pleasure to coach and was voted by his teammates as a captain. He shone in that role as a quality leader."
Of Cedarburg's comeback this season, Durham said, "Our young guys stepped up, which was nice to see, and we caught our stride and jelled later in the season.
"We went into the Germantown game (which clinched the playoff berth) knowing what we needed to do.That was our homecoming game, and it is always nice to win that."
Durham also plans to play football in college but has no set plans at this point.
Leair said after the season that he was as proud of the 2016 teams as any he has coached, and Kluck and Durham were big parts of that feeling.