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Over the past two seasons, Brookfield Central has been the gold standard in the Greater Metro Conference. 

But it is Brookfield East that has the gold ball, knocking out the Lancers in Level 3 of the playoffs en route to winning the WIAA Division 2 state championship.

Expect the rivalry to continue to flourish.

"It shows the level of football that is being played in Brookfield," Brookfield Central coach Jed Kennedy said. "In a community of two high schools of 1,200 kids just two miles away from each other, the fact both teams were top five in the state was impressive.

"How many times are there two high schools in one town that both are pretty good? Right now, both are pretty good football programs." 

With top skill position players returning on both sides of the ball, Brookfield Central begins the season as one of the top teams in Division 2 and a favorite to claim a third straight Greater Metro title. 

Brookfield East graduates significant contributors from its state title team, but the Spartans have the pieces to reload and challenge for a league title and a potential playoff run.

"Growing up in this community, it was always Brookfield Central," Brookfield East coach Ben Farley said. "To think we’ve made our name for ourselves the last few years is awesome. The challenge is to continue to compete. It is fun for the community and the city we are in."

Also factoring into the conference title race will be Marquette, as the Hilltoppers look to reload after graduating 17 All-Conference players from a year ago. Conference newcomer Germantown, Menomonee Falls and Sussex Hamilton are darkhorses.

Loaded Lancers ready for their turn

Watching its rival hoist the championship trophy only added fuel to the fire of an already talented and motivated Brookfield Central team.

"Our coaching staff and our players take pride in playing our best football at the end of the year," Kennedy said. "That wasn't the case for us last year. We were probably playing our best football in weeks six or seven. 

"That set us up for a great offseason. Our kids are hungry, our staff is hungry to get out there and compete."

Senior running back Zach Heckman returns to lead the offense after rushing for 1,753 yards and 24 touchdowns in an All-State junior season.

Drew Leszczynski established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the area by flashing a complete game as a sophomore.

In his first season leading the Lancers offense, Leszczynski completed 62.1 percent of his passes and threw for 1,406 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to running for 539 yards and three scores. 

Brookfield Central will have to replace three offensive linemen and a tight end, including a pair of All-Conference offensive linemen in Sam Ockwood and Cody Moua. The Lancers do bring back first-team selection CJ Heaney to anchor the line. 

A major hole the Lancers must plug is the loss of Greater Metro Offensive Back of the Year Thomas Gibson, who caught 50 passes for 883 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"(You feel good) any time you have back an All-State running back and an All-Region quarterback that is only a sophomore," Kennedy said. "Last year, Drew was out there just calling plays. Now he's starting to understand what our reads and what we expect out of that position."

Banda and Heckman are Brookfield Central's top returning pass catchers with just eight receptions each last season. 

The Lancers also have experienced talent returning on the defensive side of the ball, as they bring back nine starters from a unit that allowed just 15.8 points per game.

Greater Metro Defensive Back of the Year Reggie Jennings and first-team All-Greater Metro selection Nick Leszczynski will anchor the linebacking unit and first-team All-Greater Metro defensive lineman Blake Fehrmann also returns. 

"Expectations are high on that side of the ball," Kennedy said. "They know we have to replace some guys on offense, so we are going to rely on our defense early in the season."

Spartans looking to reload

A rule has been implemented at Brookfield East: No discussing last year.

The Spartans have turned the page on their state championship season and are focused on the here and now.

"We’ve put last year to bed," Farley said. "We know if we keep dwelling on the past, we have no opportunity for success this year.

"There’s turnover. Guys graduate. Guys that did not get the playing time they wanted on last year’s team, this is their opportunity for playing time. The same goes for some younger players that are talented. They want to fight for that opportunity."

No other team in the conference endured a more significant loss as Brookfield East did with the graduation of Associated Press state Player of the Year Sam Santiago-Lloyd.

Santiago-Lloyd accumulated 1,861 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior, including running for 1,433 yards and 21 scores over Brookfield East's last seven games and 868 yards and 14 touchdowns in four playoff games.

Also gone are quarterback Jake Graf and All-State offensive lineman Max Aslin. Graf ran for 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns in his lone season as the Spartans signal caller. 

"The elephant in the room is Sam Santiago-Lloyd," Farley said. "He was the state player of the year. We hear it. Our kids hear it. Sam is gone, and what is going to happen now?

"Well, we’ve got guys that are itching for that opportunity that want to run the ball and guys that want to be the quarterback."

Sophomores Sam McGath and Michael Poker are competing to replace Graf at quarterback. Farley expects a committee to handle the running back position for the time being, with sophomore Nick Pluemer and senior Justin Christiansen at the top of the list.

While Santiago-Lloyd and Graf teamed to lead Brookfield East on its improbable run to a state title, the Spartans defense pitched four shutouts and allowed just 16 points in their first three playoff games.

The defense will need to carry a heavy load while the Spartans plug holes offensively. 

Leading the way will be senior linebacker Brad Dati, an honorable-mention All-State selection as a junior after recording 128 tackles and four sacks. 

Brookfield East also returns a pair of talented defensive ends in Northern Illinois commit Caleb Wright (8 sacks in 2016) and Ron Edwards (7.5 sacks). 

The Spartans bring back all of their starting linebackers, multiple players from their defensive line rotation and a pair of safeties.