Coach Max Hodgen, longtime Madison High School football coach, expects that the key to a winning team this year is the development of inexperienced players.

Just seven starters are back for the Bulldogs this fall.

Starters returning to the gridiron include four seniors: wide receiver Carter Bergheim, who had 49 receptions for 795 yards and 10 touchdowns last season; running back Chris Reece, who gained 420 yards rushing on 112 carries and five touchdowns; fullback Caleb Scott; and offensive lineman Riley Reurink. Others back this year are junior wide receiver Mickale Dohrer, who had 33 receptions for 268 yards and one touchdown; junior running back Trey Smith, who rushed for 536 yards on 135 attempts and scored nine touchdowns; and junior offensive lineman Colby Vostad.

"We need to develop our inexperienced players, and we must be patient as coaches," Hodgen said. "We must stick to our game plan with the expectation that we will see tremendous growth as the season progresses."

The Madison Bulldogs have seven returnees on offense and five on defense this season. On defense are five seniors: defensive backs Bergheim, who had 51 tackles and two interceptions; DB Blaine Tucek, 22 tackles and two interceptions; linebacker Zach Whitlock, 88 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions; DB Logan Allbee, 59 tackles, seven tackles for loss and one interception; and defensive end Connor Hively, 24 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

Madison will have two special teams players returning: place kicker/punter Smith, who was 17 of 23 on extra point kicks and booted 2-of-5 five field goals and averaged 33.1 yards per punt; and kickoff returner Bergheim, who averaged 16.5 yards a return.

Junior newcomers this season for the Bulldogs are quarterback Nathan Ricke, running back Kadin Hanscom, defensive end Gabe Olson and defensive backs Peyton Wolf and Mike Peters. Other newcomers are offensive linemen Jackson Lembcke and Lucas Johnson, both sophomores.

Last year, the Bulldogs finished with a 5-5 overall record and lost to Lennox in the first round of the playoffs.

"We had a lot of young talent who are hungry to get back to playing sports," he said. "I also see great potential in those players to become great leaders."

Hodgen enters the season with a 95-38 overall record and 78-27 record at MHS.

Assisting Hodgen this year are Joe Bundy, Tom Nielsen, Michael Ricke, Darren Swenson and Zach Johnson.

According to Hodgen, Madison will face several tough opponents this season, including Tea Area, Brookings, Dell Rapids, Lennox and Canton.

"I think it is like last year, when at least half of our class had a shot at winning the State 11A title," Hodgen said.

Madison will open the season on Friday when the Bulldogs go to North Sioux City to face the Dakota Valley Panthers at 7 p.m.

Madison's first home game is Sept. 4 when the Bulldogs host defending State 11A champion Canton.