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Les Knutson: Area is well-represented in all-state football


The Globe sports reporter

WORTHINGTON -- In my last column, I mentioned that Joel Rippel’s Sports Almanac (2006) listed all of the Minneapolis Tribune’s All-State high school football players from 1940-2004.

There are 44 players on those lists who I am considering to be from an expanded area.  A total of 26 of them are from four Southwest Conference schools -- Jackson, Worthington, Pipestone and Luverne.

Before you read on, put your thinking caps on and see if you can come up with 10 or 15 guys (or more) that may have made those teams selected by the Tribune. I did not include either Marshall or Redwood Falls on my list.

The vast majority of these players made the Tribune’s All-State ranks prior to 1979 and only two of them (one in 1985 and another in 1999), I believe, are from the 9-Man ranks.

OK, here they are by school:

Jackson (8): Godfrey Vacura, 1945, offensive left guard; Richard Hugunin, 1949, offensive end;  Jerry Benda, 1953, offensive center; Dennis Hale, 1964, offensive back; Glenn Leimbach, 1965, offensive halfback; Rolf Grudem, 1968, offensive tackle, Rick Vacura, 1969, defensive linebacker; Scott Bargfrede, 1973, defensive back.

Worthington (7):  John Fauskee, 1947, offensive left tackle; Norman Beckman, 1955, offensive guard; John Willemsen, 1956, offensive tackle; Lyle Gerdes, 1959, defensive tackle; Tomm Smail, 1967, offensive back; Mark Gramstad, 1975, offensive tackle; Dave Peterson, 1984, defensive back.

Pipestone (6): Jack Sturdevant, 1946, offensive back; Larry Converse, 1952, offensive back; Dan Cunningham, 1956, defensive end; Joe Kotval, 1968, offensive tackle; Craig Everett, 1971, offensive center; Steve Meyer, 1978, defensive tackle.

Luverne (5): Dan Fritz, 1949, offensive guard; Duane Kropuensko, 1960, offensive tackle; Brian Mann, 1973, offensive tackle; Tom Menage, 1987, returner; Jim Remme, 1988, defensive lineman.

Tracy and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton each had three players selected. Tracy: David Carey, 1959, defensive safety; Gary Sanbo, 1963, defensive back; Calvin Ludeman, 1968, offensive guard. R-T-R: Todd Bouman, 1990, punter; Wes Ahschlager, 1996, defensive linebacker; Kyle Minett, 2004, offensive running back.

Walnut Grove and Fulda each had a pair of selected players. From Walnut Grove were Bill Schilling, 1955, offensive tackle and Leo Baxter, 1963, defensive tackle. From Fulda were the Bunkers brothers: Bill, 1971, defensive linebacker and Brian, 1976, punter.

Adrian had back-to-back All-State selections in 1997 (Matt Weineke, offensive line) and 1998 (Matt Konz, punter).

Mountain Lake’s Maynard Meyer (1951, offensive center), Norm Anderson from St. James (1953, offensive back), Lamberton’s Gary Schaar (1957, offensive back), Slayton’s Allen Woitaszewski (1961, defensive end), Chandler-Lake Wilson’s Jason Brouwer (1985, defensive linebacker) and Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Darren Tietz (1999, defensive back) were the other area players to make the Tribune’s elite team.

Only Tietz and Brouwer played 9-Man football, all the others were chosen from 11-Man teams.

The list certainly missed a lot of exceptional area players, including Windom’s Jim Anderson (1975, two-way lineman) who played briefly with the Seattle Seahawks after excelling for two seasons with Worthington Community College and two years at Huron College in South Dakota. as he played his entire collegiate career for Coach Tyrone Wacker.

Wacker’s son, Wade, quarterbacked the Jackson Bluejays to a state championship as a junior in 1985 and followed that up with a stellar senior season in ’86, but never made the Tribune’s team.

Worthington’s Dave Peterson was a terrific rusher in 1984 and was awesome on defense as a linebacker, but he made the team as a defensive back. All-around Trojan great Tomm Smail was spelled as Tom Small in the book.

Tom Wolff enjoyed an amazing HLHS career

Heron Lake High School, which enjoyed back-to-back undefeated seasons in both 1958-1959 and 1969-1970, had a couple of 8-Man all-state backs in Kenny Freking (1959) and Tom Pribyl (1969). Later, both Don Wolff (1983) and Tyler Leopold (2002) made All-State 9-man teams.

But the school’s most prolific running back was Tom Wolff, who just recently passed away at  age 66 after enduring illness for several years.

A fine first baseman in high school baseball and, later, for the Heron Lake Lakers, Wolff was spectacular on the football field for the Falcons for three seasons (’68-70). Amazingly, he rushed for 3,039 yards (724, 857 and 1,458) during his career and scored 333 points (65, 114 and 154).

An elusive runner with speed, deception and power, the undersized Wolff (5-7, 140) ran for a total of 51 touchdowns as a Falcon, including returning four punts all the way (a fifth one was called back) in a game against Sioux Valley when he was a junior.

Heron Lake was 15-0-1 during Wolff’s final two seasons, outscoring 16 opponents by a combined score of 703-169, while winning back-to-back Southern Star Conference championships.

Wolff was nominated by the Southern Star for the 1970 9-man All-Atate team.

“Tom saved me a lot of errors with his play at first base,” recalls Dan Schafer, a 1970 Okabena High School graduate who later played several seasons with Wolff in the Lakers’ infield. “In football, he had the slickest moves. Tom was nearly impossible to tackle in the open field.”

Apparently, that was certainly true.

Wearing No. 32, Tom Wolff frequently carried the ball for big gains and lots of exciting touchdowns (24 as a senior) during a sparkling career as a Falcon running back in the same autumns that the Minnesota Twins won back-to-back American League West championships, back when Harmon Killebrew was slugging home runs.