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High school football: JCC, MLA re-tool after key grad losses

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

JACKSON — With several games on tap Thursday evening and a full slate on Friday night, another high school football season gets underway this week as the thud of pads and the chants of the cheerleaders are among the sounds that bring excitement to area towns — big and small.

Both Jackson County Central and Mountain Lake Area won conference and sectional championships last fall before being defeated in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

JCC, which won the final Southwest Conference title in 2013 and now joins the 13-team Big South — a merger of the Southwest and South Central leagues, graduated nearly its entire starting offensive line from that team which was undefeated in conference games (6-0) and finished 10-2 overall.

“We lost a lot of ponies,” summed up veteran head coach Tom Schuller, who returns to lead the Huskies this season. “We had a lots of size, strength and experience in that line, but six of the seven starters graduated.”

Michael Miller, a 6-2, 240-pound junior, returns to anchor this year’s JCC line as he moves to the left tackle position. Senior Brandon Schmit (6-4, 265) contributed often last season and will start at right tackle.

“We are going to have to get a lot of new guys ready to line up with those two,” stressed Schuller. “We have three top-notch backs returning, so if we can block we hope we can run the football.”

Senior Paden Moore (5-10, 180) and his younger (but, bigger) brother Keegan Moore (5-11, 204) earned all-conference honors last year as punishing running backs on offense and hard-hitting linebackers on defense.

Fleet-footed junior Ryan Salzwedel (5-10, 150) was an honorable mention all-conference selection last fall as a wide receiver / defensive back. Coming off a fine spring track season, Salzwedel has the speed to break big plays for the Huskies.

A total of 18 seniors grace JCC’s roster as the Huskies open at home Thursday against long-time rival Fairmont, which is coming off an 8-3 campaign and always seems to be well-prepared for its season-opener.

Mountain Lake Area, a combination of Mountain Lake Public and Mountain Lake Christian, capped three straight outstanding seasons with an 11-1 overall record in 2013 after rolling through its 9-Man Southern Confederacy schedule undefeated (8-0).

The Wolverines graduated 15 key players from that high-scoring squad, which averaged 57 points per game, but have 13 seniors listed on this year’s 40-man roster.

Among the top returning experienced players along MLA’s offensive line are guard Jacob Junker (6-0, 195) and tight end Eric Wenner (6-2, 200), a pair of seniors who will also lead the Wolverine defense from their linebacker positions.

MLA also opens its season Thursday, traveling west to Edgerton to tangle with perennial powerhouse Edgerton/Ellsworth (8-2 overall last year), which claimed an undefeated state championship (14-0) in 2011.

The Flying Dutchmen, whose only two losses in 2013 were to MLA, have eight seniors and several skilled sophomores that will see lots of action both ways this fall.

Those versatile E/E seniors include Tyler Kurrasch, Jonathan Beekman, Jake Post, Ashton Roskamp, Madison Lewis, Tyus Janssen, Andy Menning and Rylie Van Klei.

Kurrasch, a 205-pound fullback and linebacker has enjoyed a stellar career for the Dutchmen and will likely share carries with Post and sophomore quarterback Bailey Fey, who both tip the scale at 175.

Hills-Beaver Creek is a third strong returning team in the Southern Confederacy West, bringing back several experienced players from a team which won six of 10 games last season.

Ten lettermen (five seniors, four juniors and a tall sophomore quarterback) are back to lead this year’s Patriots, including a pair of seniors — wide receiver/defensive safety Braden Ellingson (6-1, 185) and wide receiver/defensive end Carey Taubert (6-5, 185) — who received all-conference recognition last season.

Seniors Dalton Klarenbeek (210), Noah Holthaus (200) and Isaiah Wagenaar (170) return to the H-BC offensive and defensive lines, while sophomore Zach Scholten (6-6, 166), a fine basketball player and high jumper, gives the Patriots a tall quarterback. Wagenaar plays linebacker on defense.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove (5-4 overall last year) will be led by senior linemen Lane Anderson (260), Logan Weis (240), Tyler Schonberg (210) and Brandon Balsalvage (220), along with the senior trio of wide receiver Walker Christians (180), fullback Mitchell Jarmer (200) and quarterback Tristan Joel (160).

Senior linemen Tom Salentiny (302) and Rylan Baumhoefner (240) provide Fulda with size and experience up front, while senior wide receiver Bennett Appel (175), senior running back Jordan White (160) and junior quarterback Brian Fenske (175) will also contribute for the Raiders, who finished 2-7 overall in 2013.

Heron Lake-Okabena did not win a game as Southwestern United last season (0-8) and did not make the playoffs. But the Wildcats have lots of returning experience, including senior guards Austin Milbrath (190) and Jon Hussong (230) who will be starting for a third consecutive year on the offensive line. Fellow seniors Dakotah Schmid (175), Branden O’Connor (145), Jordan Hall (170) and Jake Getzel (195) will likely see plenty of action of both sides of the ball. A hard-hitting linebacker, Schmid emerged as the team’s quarterback by the end of last season.

Adrian seeks to contend

again in the Little Sioux

Adrian has been successful year after year under the guidance of long-time head coach Randy Strand (216-90) and his valued assistants Kevin Nowotny and Randy Schettler. The Dragons were 7-3 overall last season and finished third in the Little Sioux Conference behind perennial powers Minneota and Dawson-Boyd.

A total of 14 lettermen return for AHS, including five offensive starters and six players who started most games on defense for the Dragons.

“We need to fill a lot of holes,” Strand said. “We graduated 10 seniors.”

Among the experienced players back for the Dragons are junior quarterback Logan Rogers (165) and senior wide receiver Brady Lonneman (175) who were an effective passing combination last season. But, Strand generally prefers running to passing, so the play of Adrian’s line and the development of a go-to running back will be key to the team’s quest for success this season.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton fashioned an 8-4 overall record last year, coming on strong at season’s end and winning the Section 3A championship.

Senior Austin Gleis (150) and junior Josh Kirk (180) return as experienced receivers for junior quarterback Brett Swenhaugen (165) who had a fine season for the Panthers last year as a sophomore. There are 12 seniors on the T-M-B roster.

Murray County Central has plenty of athleticism in a talented junior class and will look to its 13 seniors for solid leadership. Patrick Freeman, who student taught and coached junior high track at MCC last spring, is the new Rebels’ head football coach.

Senior running backs Mitchell Woldt (175) and Logan Kluis (180) carried the ball often for MCC last fall and are also experienced defensive backs. The Rebels finished 2-7 overall in 2013 and were 2-6 in the Little Sioux.

A young Red Rock Central squad was 2-6 in the Southern Minnesota Conference last season before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

There are nine seniors on RRC’s roster, but the squad has an abundance of talented sophomores who played significant roles in 2013 as freshmen, including quarterback Taylor Bunting (150) and tackles Trevor Pederson (290) and Corey Maras (215).

Tailback Jordan Schroepfer (185) and wide receiver Thomas Blomgren (175) are a pair of senior veterans who were involved in lots of big plays for the Falcons last season.

Luverne, Pipestone,

Windom join the Big

South for one season

Luverne, Pipestone Area and Windom Area are all part of the new 13-team Big South Conference — for this season. In 2015, all of Minnesota high school football will be realigned into districts.

Luverne was 3-3 in the Southwest Conference last season and 6-4 overall. The Cardinals were hit hard by graduation, especially in the line. LHS does return an assortment of experienced running backs, including seniors Andrew Verhey (175), Jackson Winter (190) and Peyton Stemper (155). Junior Erik Tofteland (175) also gained lots of yardage on the ground last season.

Senior Connor Hoffman (155), who played well as a defensive back in 2013, and junior Nick Overgaard (170) give the Cardinals a pair of capable quarterbacks, while senior linemen Jonathan Gacke (235) and Nolan Sawtelle (185) return with experience on the line.

PA brings back senior quarterback Boyer Bouman (160) and a bunch of talented receivers, including senior Brayden Baartman (165), senior Collin Moeller (6-7, 200) and junior Justin Rops (190).

The Arrows were 3-6 overall last season after going 2-4 in the Southwest.

Windom was 1-5 in the league and 2-7 overall, but the Eagles made some definite strides forward and could be much improved this year and even better in 2015.

Only three seniors — running back/linebacker Kyle Antes (180), Tyler Morgan (215) and Gavin Mutz (185) — are on the Eagles’ roster. Both Mutz and Morgan, a sprinter (and thrower) in track, are offensive linemen and defensive linebackers.

A trio of juniors — quarterback Sam Huska (170) and running backs Ryley Espensen (165) and Devin Nielsen (170) — will contribute from the backfield, while juniors Zach Steen (225) and Hunter Hayenga (215) bolster the Eagles’ line.

After eight regular season games, concluding on Oct. 15, the playoffs begin in Minnesota Oct. 21.

NW Iowa power CL-G-LR

still aiming high

A young Central Lyon/George-Little Rock team posted a 7-4 record in 2013, but head coach Toby Lorenzen and the Lions are aiming higher this fall. A total of 65 players are on the roster, including 11 seniors and four juniors who started last year.

Three experienced offensive linemen are back, along with quarterback Pete Menage, who passed for 1,174 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.

Also back is C.J. Roths, who rushed for 862 yards last year, defensive lineman Grant Metzger, who had five sacks, and Nic Lutmer, the top returning tackler.

Sibley-Ocheyedan hopes to improve from last year’s 2-7 mark with Josh Wagenaar returning from a 100-tackle season at linebacker. Quarterback Ethan Mino returns, too.

Sheldon returns a small junior class, but with quarterback Matt Buenger back on offense and Darin Greenfield (122 tackles in 2013) returning, the Orabs will try to better last fall’s 4-5 mark.

Harris-Lake Park is always a threat to win with quarterback Brady Van Iperen at the helm. Now a senior, Van Iperen passed for 880 yards last year with 16 touchdowns and rushed for 997 yards and 17 touchdowns.

He also caught 19 passes and returned kicks and punts.