KIMBERLY (WLUK) -- Twelves months ago Cody Staerkel was unknown outside of the Kimberly football program.
He just finished his junior season as quarterback of the Papermakers' JV football team. Meanwhile, senior quarterback Alec Rosner was leading the Papermakers to their fifth straight state title.
Fast-forward those 12 months and incredibly Staerkel is trying to lead Kimberly to a sixth straight state title. Kimberly is two wins shy as it plays rival Fond du Lac on Friday in a Level 4 playoff game, but it's likely nobody saw this coming, at least not at this level, including coach Steve Jones.
Before the season kicked off Jones admitted he wasn't sure what level Staerkel could contribute at, but maybe even the Week 1 31-28 loss to Fond du Lac -- which ended Kimberly's state record winning streak at 70 games -- provided a sign.
Staerkel was 12 for 17 for 215 yards and one TD. Not bad in his first varsity start against one of the state's best teams in what felt like a Level 4 playoff game, not a season opener.
Staerkel has developed through the season and last week his Level 3 performance at Bay Port was arguably his best. Staerkel completed a season-high 20 passes out out 28 attempts for a season-high 332 yards and two TDs. He also completed all 11 of his passes in the second half.
He was so impressive in a big-game setting and in the week leading up to the game Staerkel admitted he has impressed himself.
"Definitely more of a surprise," Staerkel said when asked about his play this season. "I didn't know what I was capable of coming in, but I just knew I could rely on Jones and his coaching and he made me the player I am."
Staerkel said after his junior season he put in a lot of work to get ready for his senior year. Yet, you never know until you know.
Kimberly now knows it has a weapon it can rely on when the running game gets handcuffed.
In each of Kimberly's previous five state championship seasons it had more TD runs than TD passes, but this year Staerkel has 27 TD tosses and the team has 24 TD runs. Furthermore, his 2,512 yards are more than previous quarterbacks Scott Schreiber, Austin Weyenberg, Danny Vanden Boom or Rosner ever threw for in their championship seasons.
By the numbers Kimberly's offense isn't as explosive this season as its has 51 pass/run TDs. Its previous low between 2013-18 was 73 last season.
Nonetheless, Kimberly is one win away from its sixth straight state championship appearance and Staerkel is a huge reason.
"Extremely proud of Cody in how he's grown as a player, as a person, as a leader," Jones said. "How much he has improved is unbelievable. The biggest way we gauge success in our program is constant and continual improvement and I think he's the poster boy for that of a kid I would say was an average JV quarterback as a junior and this year is the offensive player of the year in our conference."
Cody Staerkel has come a long way in a short time.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay