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High school football: Season comes fast for some Southwest Conference teams

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

As the sun continues to set a bit earlier each day, another high school football season is rapidly approaching.

For a trio of Southwest Conference teams, that season begins with non-conference games Friday.

Jackson County Central, Luverne and Pipestone Area all open this week, while the other four — Marshall, Redwood Valley, Windom and Worthington — kick off their schedules Aug. 30.

Defending league champion Marshall graduated 26 seniors, but the Tigers (27-4 over the past three seasons) are still considered to be the conference favorite.

Terry Bahlmann, in his 10th season as Marshall’s head coach, has just 10 seniors this year and only two returning starters — two-way tackle Tyus DeBoer and defensive safety Brad Bahlmann (his son), who will also be the Tigers’ quarterback this season.

Redwood Valley has just seven seniors on its roster, along with 13 juniors, so depth may be an issue for the Cardinals.

Worthington’s pre-season preview will be detailed next week — prior to the Trojans’ season-opener at Fairmont.

Here’s a look at the other four teams in the Daily Globe coverage area:

Jackson County Central

With just 12 seniors on this year’s roster, the perennially powerful Jackson County Central Huskies may not be as dominant as they have been in the past several seasons.

The Huskies, who finished a sparkling 10-3 campaign last fall with a trip to the Metrodome and a chance to play in the Class AA state semifinals, won a classic battle with rival Luverne (35-28) to win the Section 3AA championship.

Several key players graduated off that outstanding team, but veteran head coach Tom Schuller is anxiously awaiting another season of competition with a nice blend of experience, size and football talent spread among this year’s group.

“We are down a bit in overall numbers, which makes for some difficult practice situations,” said Schuller. “But we are really looking forward to playing games and finding out what we can do.”

The Huskies open Friday with a non-conference game at St. Louis Park and then will host Foley in another non-conference clash Aug. 30 before beginning Southwest Conference action by hosting Redwood Valley Sept. 6.

JCC has been among the top three finishers in the league standings — along with Marshall and Luverne — for most of the last decade and Schuller would like to be in the hunt again this fall.

“We have several experienced guys back on the line and we have good competition for some of our defensive positions,” he said. “Our overall depth may not be as good as in the recent past, but we have lots of guys who love to play football.”

Schuller’s left side of the offensive line is back from last year as guard Nolan Hohenstein (6-4, 275) and tackle Matt Schmit (6-5, 235) — both seniors — return from a stellar 2012 campaign.

Christopher Baker (6-0, 210) is back at center and Ryan Brighton (5-9, 190) will play as a tight end on offense and a tackle on defense.

Austin Bell-Pixler (6-0, 210) and Zach Paulson (5-11, 220) are two more versatile senior linemen with experience, while Wyatt Livingston (5-10, 185) will also contribute this year.

Mitchell Macek (5-8, 170) will start at defensive safety, with Jordan Biehn (5-6, 140), Brady Place (5-11, 160) and Darnell Taylor-Breck (6-2, 170) among the contenders to join him in the JCC defensive secondary.

Breck, a fine all-around athlete who placed third in the Class A triple jump last spring, was a top receiver in JCC’s offense in 2012.

Shadrach Wacker (5-11, 160) will likely not see too much defensive action this year, as he takes over the reins of quarterback for the Huskies, after playing as a slot receiver last year.

“We are counting on those 12 seniors to be solid leaders and contributors,” summed up Schuller, who noted that he also has a good foreign exchange student from Germany — Marek Bingel — who has a strong foot and will handle the extra-point, field goal and kickoff duties for the Huskies.

A trio of wrestlers — juniors Paden Moore (5-9, 173) and Luke Norland (5-10, 185), along with sophomore Keegan Moore (5-10, 195) — look to be JCC’s leading running backs and will also taste contact as linebackers on defense.

Luverne Cardinals

Luverne —which has been a consistent frontrunner in the conference and has enjoyed much playoff success, including five consecutive Section 3AA championships (2006-2010) and three straight Prep Bowl appearances (’06, ’07, ’08) — graduated an exceptionally experienced and talented class in 2013.

“Even though we did graduate a very good class, we are optimistic for the upcoming season,” declared LHS head coach Todd Oye. “This group of juniors and seniors has been successful in previous years. We are hoping to have an improved defense, and I like our depth on our offensive and defensive lines, which is our team strength.”

Senior tackle Cody Rofshus (6-4, 270) is Luverne’s only returning two-way starter, coming off an All-Conference campaign in 2012. A three-way starter for the Cardinals on both lines, Rofshus — who is also a top-notch shot putter and discus thrower — earned All-Area football honors last season.

A trio of seniors join Rofshus as returning defensive starters, as Ryan Gonzales (6-1, 215) mans an end position and both Josh Slieter (6-2, 195) and Kendall Meyer (6-0, 175) returns as linebackers.

Junior guard D.J. Reker (6-1, 230), senior wide receiver Logan Norman (6-0, 160) and junior fullback Andrew Verhey (5-10, 175) started on offense for the Cardinals last season.

Trenton Rops (6-1, 155), Connor Hoffman (5-11, 155) and Jackson Winter (5-10, 190) — all juniors — will see action out of the backfield, while senior Brent Thompson (6-0, 185) and junior Jonathan Gacke (6-1, 250) return with experience along the line.

Luverne kicks off the season by hosting New Ulm Friday night and — after a bye week — opens Southwest Conference play by hosting Worthington Sept. 6.

Pipestone Area Arrows

The Arrows were hard-hit by graduation, losing a bundle of quality two-way performers off a competitive 2012 squad, which finished 5-5 overall, including a playoff victory over Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.

Senior tailback Brady Bos (5-8, 170) returns as PA’s featured runner and junior Boyer Bouman (6-1, 150) will take the reins at quarterback for the Arrows, who appear to have plenty of depth for him to throw to with an abundance of wide receivers.

There are 11 seniors on the Arrows’ roster, including Bos (who plays linebacker on defense), running back/linebacker Walker Kor (6-0, 170), wide receiver/safety Jaymes Zollner (6-0, 150), wide receiver/defensive end Cody Ploeger (6-3, 175), wide receiver/safety Dylan Armstrong (6-2, 175), running back/linebacker Josh Allen (6-2, 210), running back/defensive end Mitchell Ryan (5-9, 170), running back/defensive tackle Trav Thomssen (6-0, 255), offensive tackle/defensive tackle Michael Giangrande (5-10, 255), center/defensive tackle Derik Evans (6-3, 250) and offensive guard/defensive tackle Jordan Johnson (6-3, 240).

The Arrows, coached by Troy Bouman, have 11 juniors and a strong class of 16 sophomores who are also competing well in practices, providing depth on both sides of the ball.

“The kids are practicing hard and challenging each other for positions, which has created a good practice atmosphere,” sums up Coach Bouman. “We’re pleased with how the players prepared in the off season and we’re looking forward to playing games.”

PA opens with a trip to St. James Friday and then hosts South Dakota rival Madison on Aug. 30 before starting its conference schedule with a game at Windom Sept. 6.

Windom Eagles

For the fourth time in the past five seasons, the Eagles have a new head coach, as Bobby Elwell — a Nebraska native and recent graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter — takes charge of Windom’s program.

Windom’s only victory in the past two seasons was an early-season forfeit win in 2011 and the Eagles have just 23 players in grades 10-12 on their 35-man roster.

But with 11 seniors — most of them with lots of varsity experience — Elwell is optimistic about his team’s approach to the new season.

“The dynamics are really good, things are coming together well,” he exclaimed. “Our senior leadership has been super.”

Among those senior veterans are lineman Max Sykora, who returns as a third-year two-way starter for the Eagles, and Brett Bever, who will be a two-way end this year after playing some as a running back and defensive tackle last fall.

Jacob Gotto, a top-notch wide receiver, will be Windom’s defensive safety and Zach Bartosh, who was the Eagles’ backup quarterback in 2012, will call the signals for the Blue and Gold this year.

“Zach is well-respected by his teammates,” noted Elwell. “Max, Brett and Jacob all were key players last year and are working hard in practice, setting a good example.”

David Tran (offensive line, linebacker) and Andrew Larson (running back, linebacker) are two other hard-hitting seniors who contributed last year and have prepared well for this season.

Seniors Luis Rameriz, Tanner Diemer, Cody Pitts and Victor Ogeka are all working as wide receivers on offense and as cornerbacks on defense, giving the Eagles good depth at those positions.

Justin Halas, who moved to Windom from Illinois, is another senior lineman that Elwell will be able to use.

Junior Tyler Morgan will likely be a two-way starter on the line for the Eagles and junior Kyle Antes (running back, linebacker) will also be on the field for most plays.

Sophomore linemen Hunter Hayenga and Zach Steen will contribute, as will sophomores Jeff Pfeffer and Devin Nielsen, a pair of versatile all-around athletes, who are offensive wide receivers and defensive backs, with the capability of playing other positions, as well.

The Eagles open at St. James Aug. 30 and begin their Southwest Conference schedule by hosting Pipestone Area at Island Park on Sept. 6.