Chris Balster is back for third season as Sheldon’s quarterback to lead the OrabsSHELDON, Iowa — Returning nine starters from a fine 2011 season, the tradition-rich Sheldon Orabs are looking forward to again playing competitive high school football in Iowa’s Class 2A, District 1.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
SHELDON, Iowa — Returning nine starters from a fine 2011 season, the tradition-rich Sheldon Orabs are looking forward to again playing competitive high school football in Iowa’s Class 2A, District 1.
In what looked like — on paper — to be a rebuilding campaign last season after an outstanding class of football players graduated from SHS in May 2011, the Orabs fashioned a 6-4 record and qualified for the playoffs.
Sheldon exited early, however, last fall in the postseason opener (27-21 to Carroll Kuemper) after having tasted victory in a trio of playoff games in 2010, when the Orabs were 11-2 and played in the 2A state semifinals at the Uni-Dome in Cedar Falls.
Five years earlier, Sheldon was the 2005 2A state runner-up, completing a 12-1 season.
Veteran head coach Matt Meendering, a former Orab player himself, has guided SHS to 55 wins in 83 games (.663) over an eight-year span, including 25-9 (.735) over the past three seasons.
With the return of fleet-footed senior quarterback Chris Balster (5-11, 166) and seven other offensive starters, Meendering is expecting big things from Sheldon’s offense in 2012.
“Chris is really quick behind center and has had two great seasons as our quarterback,” declared Meendering. “His speed (4.5 electronic timing in the 40-yard dash) and experience running our wishbone offense makes him a threat to break off some long runs, which is exciting.”
Balster scored 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in the extended 2010 campaign and crossed the goal line 11 times last season, giving him 25 rushing touchdowns in his career — tied for the all-time best in SHS football history — prior to the start of this season.
After scoring two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Sheldon’s season-opening, 42-32, victory over Sioux Rapids Aug. 24, Balster is now alone at the top of the record board with 27 rushing touchdowns.
After this year’s opener, he has passed for 1,917 yards and rushed for 1,944 — which puts him only 227 yards behind running back Nick Pulscher, Sheldon’s all-time leading ground gainer, who finished his Orabs’ career in the fall of 2007 and now plays for Wayne State in Nebraska.
“Barring injury, Chris will move to the top of that list, too,” Meendering said about Balster’s climb to the top of the individual career rushing chart. “He’s stronger and faster than last year and is really excited about this season, as he will be surrounded by lots of talented players with plenty of varsity experience.”
Most of Sheldon’s offensive line is back for another season in the trenches, and most of them are big and move well.
Among the most experienced is senior right tackle Graden Nordahl (5-10, 286) who will likely miss the first two games following an appendectomy in early August.
Three other senior starting offensive linemen returning for the Orabs are right guard Will De Kok (6-5, 192), center Clayton Scheibler (6-1, 210) and left guard Toby Maggert (5-11, 173).
Challenging for the starting nod at left tackle are junior Dalton McQueen (6-0, 254) and sophomore Andy Coooper (6-3, 318).
Both tackles will start in the early games, with one of them playing on the right side until Nordahl returns.
“We like our size, mobility and experience in our offensive line,” praised Meendering about the players who are so important to a team’s success. “We think the play of those guys up front will dictate how well we run the ball and get an offensive flow.”
Sophomore Jacob Andringa (5-9, 145) and junior Brian Vander Berg (5-10, 243) have each looked sharp in Sheldon’s practices and may garner game experience on the line as the season progresses.
Returning at the dual split end postions for the Orabs are seniors Nathan Oostra (6-2, 176) and Tom Brown (6-3, 180), giving Balster a pair of capable receivers.
In the backfield, senior Grant Weaver (5-10, 165) and junior Tanner Whitsell (6-0, 198) are contending for the fullback position, which involves a lot of blocking in Sheldon’s offensive scheme.
In the dual tailback positions are veterans Hunter McDonald (5-9, 189, junior) and Matt Dykstra (6-1, 178, senior), both of whom rushed for lots of yardage in 2011.
“We have experience returning on the line and in the backfield, which gives us reasons to believe our wishbone offense is going to be able to move the ball,” summed up Meendering about Sheldon’s 2012 offensive potential.
When the opponents have the ball, the Orabs will play their usual 4-4 defensive scheme — with many of the same players going both ways.
De Kok and Scheibler will be the defensive ends, while the two interior — down linemen — positions may be “handled by committee.”
According to Meendring, Maggert, McQueen, Cooper, Nordahl and Whitsell will all see action on Sheldon’s defensive line.
Three of the four projected starting linebackers started on the Orabs’ defense last fall, as Brown and McDonald return on the outside while Dykstra is back on the inside — joined by sophomore Darin Greenfield (6-0, 184).
Oostra and senior Josh Gorter (5-7, 130) are the Orabs’ top two cornerbacks, while Balster returns as Sheldon’s defensive safety.
Gorter, however, injured a shoulder in the Orabs’ intra-squad scrimmage (Aug. 17) and will likely not play until after Labor Day. Replacing him will be junior Logan Otis (6-0, 156).
The versatile McDonald will join Oostra and Balster as kick and punt returners for the Orabs and is also the team’s top punter and kicker.
McDonald or Balster may kick extra points, but Meendering thought the Orabs may “go for two” more often this season, as kicking specialist Zach Kleinwolterink — who was nearly automatic last season — has graduated.
Sophomore Matt Buenger (5-9, 146) is Balster’s backup on offense and is capable of playing anywhere in the offensive or defensive backfields.
“Overall, we are not real deep,” concluded Meendering. “We’re going to need to be in great shape, because we’re going to keep the best guys on the field as much as possible. We’re going to let the horses run.”
The running started for the Orabs — who began practice —with its 10-point win over Sioux Rapids, which included a 22-point fourth quarter.
After hosting Spencer (Aug. 31), Sheldon opens its six-game district schedule by traveling to Orange City (Sept. 7) for a clash with Unity Christian.
The Orabs end September with back-to-back home games against traditional power houses (Central Lyon/George-Little Rock, Sept. 21) and Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (Sept. 28).
B-H/RV is ranked No. 1 in some pre-season polls and No. 2 in others.
Based on its tradition and its number of returning starters — including the multi-talented Balster — Sheldon is ranked No. 6 in the Des Moines Register’s pre-season Class 2A poll.