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PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: E/E's Menning looking to continue record-breaking career

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Edgerton/Ellsworth's Johnny Menning (bottom) and DC Claar wrap up Hills-Beaver Creek quarterback Jordan Larson (11) during last week's section playoff game in Edgerton.

EDGERTON -- Johnny Menning is relentless.

And there hasn't been many offensive linemen who have been able to slow down the pass rush of the senior on Edgerton/Ellsworth's football team.

"I think what makes him so good is he is relentless," E/E head coach Andrew Fleischman said. "Whether it be practice or games, he's a very, very hard worker. He goes hard every single play. If Johnny makes a mistake, it's never because he's not going hard. I think that's what makes him a good pass rusher. Obviously, he has a lot of speed and he's very strong for his size and he has a couple really good moves. He comes hard every play, he's relentless and he has the speed to run with about any quarterback we go against. It's just the work ethic and the fact that he gets after it every single play."

That work ethic has etched Menning's name into the record books for most career sacks.

"That's a pretty neat thing and it's a credit to Johnny," Fleischman said. "His sacks have never come at the expense of what we wanted to do on defense. He's very, very good against the run and he does a lot of good things. It's an exciting accomplishment for him, but it's an exciting accomplishment for our team as well."

So far, Menning has 44 career sacks, eclipsing the state record of 33, which was held by Winona's Chase Bratland.

"It's hard work," Menning said. "You have to come hard every time. If you don't come hard every time, then when they give you stuff, you won't be able to take it."

A year ago, he recorded 22 sacks in his first full season on varsity.

"Being the defensive player of the year in the conference last year, that's definitely a guy that coaches are going to know and scheme against," Fleischman said. "I think what makes him so difficult to block is he doesn't quit. If you send one at him or two at him, he's going to keep fighting and keep striving, trying to get at the quarterback or to make a play. He's a great player and we're sure glad he's on our team."

Even with the extra attention from the opposition, Menning has recorded 22 more sacks this season.

"It's been a pretty good year," he said. "It's had its ups and downs. I've had my bad games, but I hope I keep having some good games."

After playing junior varsity his freshman year, Menning was slated to be a starter his sophomore season.

"He would have been a starter all year as a sophomore and probably would have gotten some more chances to have some sacks and do some things," Fleischman said. "He's a tremendously versatile player and extremely athletic, but he's a very, very hard worker. That was too bad he got hurt as a sophomore, but he's definitely made the most out of the last two years."

Following a season-opening loss to Westbrook-Walnut Grove, Menning was hurt and missed the rest of the season.

"My second year, I played one game and the first game of the season, we played Westbrook and we lost that game," Menning explained. "After that, I broke my collar bone in a motorcycle accident, so I was out for the rest of the year, so I didn't play that year."

Since then, he's worked hard to become even better.

"We didn't ride motorcycles during football season or before football season," Menning said. "We started lifting weights in May and June this year and last year, so I was lifting weights right away. When basketball was over, we started lifting and Fleischman was with us after school sometimes and on Wednesday nights during the summer making sure we were getting there."

Being out of the lineup didn't sit well with Menning.

"It sucked," he said. "I hate watching."

He hasn't done much since.

As soon as his junior year started, he was back on the field.

"It was great, I loved it," Menning said. "I didn't want to stay off. I started on everything, I started on special teams, defense and offense. I don't like watching."

After enjoying success last year, Menning had to work even harder this season.

"It's tough. You have to keep coming hard," he said. "You have to try new stuff all the time. We're working on putting me on different sides of the field and switching it up. So if they are looking for me on the one side, and I'm the other side, they'll have to adjust."

That work has paid off.

"I think I'm definitely better," he said. "We were watching film of a game last year, and I think I'm definitely better. I'm a little bit stronger."

Today, the top-ranked Flying Dutchmen (10-0) face second-ranked Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley (9-0) in the Section 3 9-man final.

"I know they like to pound it up the middle a lot," Menning said. "I think we're going to be good on the run game. They don't have very many plays, so I think we can handle it. But we'll find out.

"They are obviously good and so are we. It's going to be a great game."

The game kicks off at noon today at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

"They are a big, physical team," Fleischman said. "They like to run the ball and they have two great running backs. We're really going to have to do a great job on defense in terms of plugging up the gaps and doing a good job of tackling. Their backs run extremely hard. Our ability to fly around the football and wrap up and tackle is going to be very key for us having success."

While the Wolverines aren't a passing team, Fleischman hopes Menning has some opportunities to pressure the quarterback.

"We're going to need Johnny to be tough against the run and hopefully put them in some situations where they have to pass," the coach said. "It's a game where we're really going to have to do well against the run."

E/E likes to run as well, but can go to the air when necessary.

"We're going to have to really maintain balance," Fleischman said. "One thing we'll have to do is take what they give us. If they're up playing tight on the run, we're going to try to stretch them out a little bit. It's going to be very important -- just like every game -- that our linemen stay on their blocks and our backs run hard. If we can get some plays in the passing game, that will kind of help offset some of the things they want to do."

E/E qualified for state a year ago, only to lose by one point in the state quarterfinals.

Now in his senior season, Menning wants to make one last run at state.

"I think we have the team to do it," he said. "Losing last year, we kind of know how it feels to get down. I think this year, if we get down or when we get down, I think we'll be ready to come right back."