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Prep football: Trojans hope to make their own breaks this year

WORTHINGTON -- First-year Worthington Trojans head football coach Gene Lais is not big on applying past seasons to measure future success. That's why he showed little interest in using the team's 2-7 2015 season to extrapolate numbers onto the 20...

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Returning starters for the Worthington Trojans football team are (back row, from left) Jordan Jensen, Logan Huisman, Tyler Linder, Dillon Nelson, Nic Putnam, Marcos Herrera, Mason Byrne, Vince Riley, (front row) Brandon Kempema, Tucker Sorenson, Shawn Hurley, Easton Sauerbrei and Eli Gaul. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- First-year Worthington Trojans head football coach Gene Lais is not big on applying past seasons to measure future success. That’s why he showed little interest in using the team’s 2-7 2015 season to extrapolate numbers onto the 2016 campaign.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the breaks, of winning the breaks. These guys, I think they’re pretty close to being good,” Lais said this week prior to practice at the Trojan Field fieldhouse. Lais said he and his staff have been schooling the fall recruits “to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Everybody does what they’re supposed to do, control what they’re able to control.”

In recent years -- most of them losing years -- the Trojans have not always been adept at making and taking advantage of their own breaks. This year marks another chance.

If the players are any indication, lack of confidence is not an issue. Senior fullback/defensive end Easton Sauerbrei and linebacker Vince Riley are rarin’ to go.

“No one ever gives up,” Sauerbrei promised, recalling pre-season practice sessions. “Every play, we’re running back to the huddle. We’re always right in the play, going hard. We don’t take any play off.”

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“We got a lot of speed. We got a lot of good guys up front,” added Riley.

On Friday, the Trojans will host the Luverne Cardinals, a team that defeated Worthington 34-0 in last year’s season opener in Luverne. The Trojans would like nothing better than to turn that score around.

“We want to get that one back,” Riley said.

There a few signs pointing in the right direction. Worthington has several fine athletes in camp, and 19 of them are seniors.

“I’m pretty excited about the kids, and how important it is to them,” said Lais, a former WHS player who has spent the last 25 years as an assistant coach with the Minnesota West Community and Technical College Bluejays -- primarily working with the offensive line. “And they care about each other. It is really exciting to be back here where I played in high school.

“Even in playing college games, it always gave you a special feel to be on the field. And the pride.”

Lais recalled that when he was a junior in high school, the Trojans had an exceptional team. He’d love to see what that feels like as the team’s head coach.

Quarterbacking the team this fall will be junior Logan Huisman, who enjoyed a good competition with Riley during pre-season practice. While Riley now sets his mind to becoming the best linebacker he can be, Huisman will direct the offense. Lais describes him as smart, trustworthy, and a signal caller who makes good decisions.

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Sauerbrei, a quiet leader, will take what both he and Lais describes as a “straight-ahead” running style to the ground game.

Tucker Sorenson, a senior who has enjoyed varsity playing time both at quarterback and wide receiver, is settling in as a tailback this season. He can also play safety and cornerback. His quickness should pay some dividends.

Lais is spending a lot of time in practice working directly with the offensive line. There are promising pieces there, including junior Nathan Boneschans (6-4, 190 pounds) who the coach hopes can be a “rock.” Nick Putnam (6-2, 230) is another solid player and quiet leader. Senior Dillon Nelson (6-0, 230) is described by Lais as a “scrapper” who spent a lot of time in the weight room getting ready for the 2016 campaign. Senior Brandon Kempema (5-10, 190) is a tough hitter who will also be used at linebacker. Tyler Linder, a 6-3, 210-pound junior, is looking very good at defensive end. With good height, and quick for his size, he can also be a threat on offense at an end spot.

Other Trojans looking to be leaders include senior wide receiver/defensive back Shawn Hurley, senior defensive lineman Eli Gaul, junior running back/cornerback Obang Ojulu and senior wide receiver/cornerback Jordan Jensen.

“They are a great bunch of kids. It really is great to come out here and watch them get better, and watch them work hard,” said Lais.

But how good can they be?

“I think we’re pretty quick. Actually, our offensive line is pretty good sized,” said the coach, who explained that he hopes opposing coaches will come off the field after Worthington games and say the Trojans played a physical game.

Lais wants the Trojans to share the mentality that “it’s OK to be physical” and that it’s not good enough just to accept being average.

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Offensively, the Trojans will strive to be balanced. Sauerbrei should be a primary ball carrier, and Sorenson and Obang pair up as “a nice combination.” With several talented pass catchers in camp and with a quarterback who throws well, the hope is that WHS can move the sticks through the air, too. But more than anything, Lais -- who replaces longtime coach Brad Grimmius, who announced his retirement after the 2015 season -- wants to take advantage of what works best.

“Like in college (balance) is always our goal. We end up playing to our strengths,” he said.

Lais said the team tackles well in practice.

But that, of course, is just practice. It remains to be seen what the Trojans will do in games. Lais certainly understands the need to translate good practices into good games, and the players seem to understand, as well.

Sauerbrei recalls last season as he looks ahead to this one. “We have to put more points on the board,” he said.


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Trojan Shawn Hurley (left) intercepts a pass intended for Frank Rogers (right) in a practice scrimmage at Trojan Field. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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