Young Panthers may be faster, more athletic in 2012TRACY — With pretty much seven starters returning on both offense and defense, the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers are optimistic about an improved season in the always-challenging Little Sioux Conference.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
TRACY — With pretty much seven starters returning on both offense and defense, the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers are optimistic about an improved season in the always-challenging Little Sioux Conference.
After several highly successful seasons as conference contenders — including a league title and an 8-2 overall record in 2010 — the Panthers felt the duel sting of a bundle of graduation losses and multiple injuries to key players in 2011. T-M-B was 2-5 in the Little Sioux last year and 2-7 overall.
“We graduated a lot of experience and talent off our 2010 squad, and so we had many new faces in our lineup last year,” summed up T-M-B co-head coach Derek Flann. “Then, as last season unfolded, we were hit with more injuries than usual, and a lot of players spent several games on the sidelines. We were seldom at full strength.”
But with a rotating lineup in 2011, lots of players — ready or not — saw varsity action for the Panthers last fall.
“We had a lot of guys gain experience last season,” noted Flann. “That helps this year, as our quarterback returns and so does much of our offensive line.
“We are more all-around athletic this year and we will be faster — both on the line and in the backfield. I think we will move better on both sides of the ball.”
Senior Parker Lanoue (165) returns as T-M-B’s starting quarterback and will be joined in the Panther backfield by three-year starting tailback Alec Swan, a 180-pound senior with speed and strength.
Swan gained over 1,000 yards rushing last season and earned all-conference honors, also starting as an outside linebacker on defense.
“Parker and Alec give us good experience at a couple of the skill positions and we have several linemen back, plus a couple of backs who we have converted to the line,” summed up Flann about T-M-B’s offensive outlook. “We also return two wide receivers who started most of the time last season.”
Senior Brian Fultz (155) and Austin Gleis (150) are those veteran receivers who will be targets for Lanoue.
Senior Tommy Nelson (215) returns as the starting right tackle on the offensive line, while senior Austin Peterson (185) has moved to a guard slot and junior Rickie Jorgenson (215) is playing left tackle.
Both Peterson and Jorgenson have played fullback in the past.
Looking to fill out the starting T-M-B offense are junior center Gavin Van Moer (185), sophomore left guard Tristan Varpness (175), junior wide receiver Zach Seaton (145) and sophomore fullback Scott Lanoue (175).
Seaton, a newcomer to the T-M-B district, has good speed —he’s about as fast as Swan — and Van Moer had an outstanding offseason in the weight room, putting on 20 pounds of muscle.
Providing offensive depth for the Panthers will be senior Mike Nilius (235) and sophomore Asa Nelson (170) on the interior line, freshman Josh Kirk (180) at tight end (when that formation is used), junior wide receiver Eric Donner (165), sophomore running back Elijah Koenig (145) and freshman Beau Priegnitz (160), who will be utilized as both a receiver and as a tailback.
Nelson and Jorgenson will play the defensive ends for T-M-B, while Varpness — who started as a freshman — returns at defensive tackle.
Jorgenson played as a middle linebacker last fall, but is moving to the line this year.
Peterson returns as a MLB, and Swan is back on the outside.
Fultz and Parker Lanoue both return with experience as the defensive safety, while Gleis started the second half of last season at cornerback.
Leading contenders to join the veterans on this year’s T-M-B defensive unit include Nilius and sophomore Kenny Her (210) at the tackles, Asa Nelson at an outside linebacker and Van Moer at an inside linebacker.
Priegnitz and Donner will also rotate through the defensive backfield, while Scott Lanoue and sophomore Elijah Koenig (145) will see action as outside linebackers and Kirk likely to play some defensive end in passing situations.
“We have some young kids who will be playing, but both our freshman and sophomore classes have lots of good athletes,” summed up Flann, who predicted the team’s depth to improve as the season progresses.
Scott Lanoue will be T-M-B’s placekicker after having a good year booting the ball on the Panther B-squad last fall.
Donner will do the punting and Swan, Seaton and Gleis may do the bulk of the return running for the Panthers, who opened the season by hosting Murray County Central Thursday.
T-M-B plays MACCRAY at Maynard Sept. 7.