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2013 Football Preview

Fri, Aug 23rd, 2013
Posted in All Sports

By Paul Trende

The area 2013 high school football season will be forever known for its change, the advent of the Southern Football Alliance. Gone are the 3-Rivers and Hiawatha Valley football conferences. The 25 teams from those two leagues have been re-classified by 7-12 enrollment, and grouped into a new three divisioned setup (Red, White, and Blue). Its purpose is to essentially even out competition (group schools with like enrollments together), as numbers are always key for football.

The change affects Chatfield, Fillmore Central, Kingsland, and Rushford-Peterson. All four are re-classified in the ‘smallest’ school division (Blue division or conference). Joining them are former 3-Rivers South foes Caledonia and Southland (the entire former 3-Rivers South), former 3-Rivers North foe Wabasha-Kellogg, and former HVL squads Hayfield and Goodhue. The Blue division will consist of nine teams. Each team will start the season a week earlier and have a ‘bye’ (zero) week to accommodate the odd number. The middle White division (Cotter, D-E, K-W, L-A, Z-M, Pine Island, St. Charles, and Triton) and largest Red division (K-M, P-E-M, Byron, Cannon Falls, Lake City, La Crescent, Lourdes, and Stewartville) each will have eight teams (for now) and will play a regular eight-week season.

What does that all practically mean, aside from trying to even out the field, the byes, and earlier practice? It means (for one) the end of a number of long-time rivalries (at least for now). Chatfield loses nearest neighbors St. Charles and Dover-Eyota, series’ that date back 20-plus years, to an earlier form of the 3-Rivers conference (pre expansion). Kingsland also loses long-time 3-Rivers foe D-E. Rushford-Peterson will no longer play neighbor Lewiston-Altura, a rivalry also born out of proximity but also familiarity (the schools share Cross-Country and Wrestling programs). Caledonia, the 3-time defending Class AA state champion, loses its biggest gridiron rival as of late, Plainview-Elgin-Millville. Generally speaking, teams will also travel more (to Goodhue, Wabasha, and Hayfield), as the leagues aren’t necessarily based on proximity anymore. Section assignments stay the same though.

As for what the coaches and players can control, a pair of Blue division teams who put together excellent seasons a year ago, seem primed to do the same this season. Jeff Johnson (Chatfield) and Davin Thompson (R-P) shared the 3-Rivers South Coach of the Year designation last season. They boasted clubs that went 9-2 and 6-4 respectively (2nd and 3rd places). Each can certainly shoot for duplicate or better performances in 2013.

The Chatfield Gophers (9-2) were undefeated in 2012 against all teams not nicknamed Warriors. The Chosen Valley crew earned themselves a state ranking, played Caledonia tough in the regular season (6-0), only to fall to the eventual Class AA champions in the Section 1AA title game (29-0). The Goph’s graduated just five seniors. Their roster is thus littered with returning starters. Heading the cast is a trio of All-Conference performers, a trio of third-year starters, Nate Skare (6’2” 195 QB), Jayme LaPlante (6’3” 215 TE/LB), and the 2012 3-Rivers South Co-Offensive Player of the Year Jake Neis (5’10” 185 TB/CB). Neis amassed over 1,200 yards rushing a season ago and 16 total TDs. Alex Haffner (5’9” 160 Sr.) also returns to start out of the Gopher backfield. With Brandon Adler (6’5” 200 Sr. OL/DL), Michael Mabe (6’3” 245 Sr. OL), Sawyer Prinsen (6’1” 200 Sr. DT), Tommy Jech (6’0” 225 Jr. OL/DT), Drew Hurley (6’1” 185 Jr. S), and Dalton Schwier (6’0” 175 Sr. LB) having started a season ago, overall experience is not a problem in the Chosen Valley. The Gophers did have one big loss. All-Conference (3-Rivers South Defensive Player of the Year) Justin Viss (FB/MLB) graduated. That’s a big hole to fill, but with nine seniors, 22 juniors, and a 39-man roster, Coach Johnson definitely has a nice cupboard to choose from. He’ll find out a lot about his entire team very early. Chatfield opens the season at Caledonia.

In Rushford, Davin Thompson also can lay claim to returning multiple All-Conference performers. Juniors Cole Kingsley (6’0” 165 RB/LB) and Alex Vix (5’9 155 RB/CB) weren’t high-volume ball carriers a season ago. They were speedy playmakers nonetheless, combining for 17 TDs (10 for Vix, 7 for Kingsley). Cole led the 3-Rivers with a remarkable nine interceptions. In 2013, the duo will be high-volume ball carriers, which doesn’t bode well for opponents. They aren’t the only returning key players. Fellow junior Jonnie Koenen (5’10 160) will again call signals from under center. Zack Ansell (5’11” 210 Jr. OL/DE), Cale Stensgard (6’0” 225 Sr. OL/DT), and Riley Vitse (5’11” 190 Sr. RB/LB) also were starters in 2012. R-P had four losses last season, all to state ranked opponents. The last was a 14-7 loss at the hands of eventual Class A runner-up Faribault B.A. in the Section 1A semifinals. R-P seems to be what that defeat was, or close. They’re looking to get it ‘cranked up,’ to get back to where they were last year and beyond. With a highly touted 20-man junior class, they got a couple years to do so.

In Harmony, the Fillmore Central Falcons struggled through a 2-7 season a year ago. Their campaign ended at the hands of R-P 21-7 in the first round of the 1A play-offs. Coach Chris Mensink heads into the 2013 season with a bountiful crop of 16 seniors. Twelve return, while four ‘newbies’ are gifts to Mensink’s roster. The Falcons also will start this season healthy, something that wasn’t the case a year ago. Nonetheless, FC is a little inexperienced at the skill positions. Among other losses (including QB), All-Conference TB Dan Gatzke graduated. They thus don’t have a big statistical returnee. Seniors McKinnen Stone (5’10” 185 QB/RB/LB), Logan Masters (5’7” 140 WR/CB), and Tom Henry (5’11” 181 RB/LB) are backs/receivers who played a year ago who’ll look to pick up the slack. The Falcons lines will be anchored by returning senior starters Andy Love (5’11” 156 OG/DL) and Dylan Birch (5’10” 275 C/DT). Its wouldn’t be unwise to expect, with a handful of tough wrestlers, another group of solid athletes, and the preponderance of seniors, that FC should finish somewhere between 2011 (7-3) and a season ago (2-7).

In Spring Valley, John Fenske’s Kingsland Knights entered last season a little short-handed (27-man roster, 9 thru 12). Then some injuries hit, making them more short-handed. The same will be true in 2013 of the former (25-man roster, 9 thru 12), and for Kingsland to improve upon a 1-8 showing a season ago (lost 46-6 to Faribault B.A. in Section 1A’s quarterfinals), they can’t have the later. The Knights have just four seniors this season, Jordan Meskill (5’10” 175 RB/DB), Lenny Moore (5’10” 165 RB/DB), Ethan Cronk (5’9” 200 OG/LB), and Broc Fiegel (6’1” 215 OL/DL). They have 11 juniors and seniors combined. They do have a good number of kids who got experience last year, including Jacob Rindels (5’11” 160 Jr. RB/DB), Quinn Larson (6’0” 170 So. QB/DB), Marcus Plaehn (6’2” 170 Jr. WR/DB), Julius Wolf (6’3” 210 OL/DL), and J.J. Fenske (5’11” 180 So. RB/DB). They also get some scheduling help. They won’t play Caledonia or Chatfield until October, after their bye week. They’ll get the ‘manageable’ part of the conference first, then the big dogs. The Knights will ‘play hard’ and ‘show up every night to play.’

On the 9-man scene, the Houston Hurricanes join the Fillmore County Sports coverage fray. Head Coach Ryan Gatzlaff is the envy of every SEC school. He has 17 seniors on his roster and 36 kids out total. The ‘Canes were middle of the road a season ago, going 5-5 overall, losing to Spring Grove 41-12 in the 1A 9-man semifinals. Naturally with a large number of seniors back, many have played a lot. Christian Sires (6’0” 198 Sr. QB/DL) and Tyler Hoskins (5’10” 165 Sr. RB/WR/LB) head the cast. Sires tossed for over 1,700 yards a season ago and accounted for 25 total TDs’ (20 passing, 5 rushing). Hoskins racked up over 900 total yards offense with 10 total TD’s. Peter Jergenson (5’10” 209 FB/DL/LB), Dylan Lee (5’4” 139 RB/WR/LB), and Mason Drake (6’2” 179 Sr. WR/DL) also return at skill positions. Throw in a line roster that returns seven kids in excess of 230 pounds, and you have a formula: depth plus experience plus size. Whether that leads to ultimate success, is yet to be determined. Houston is definitely on the radar of area coaches. It appears they could be a big factor in the SEC race.

In Lanesboro, Head Coach James Semmen’s formula is going to be Niko Anderson to the infinite power (at least in part). The standout (1,900 yards, 33 TD’s a year ago) 5’8” 195-pound tailback/defensive end has been a staple of the Burros offense the past three years. He’s on every SEC coach’s radar after putting together an illustrious three-year career thus far. Niko’s goal is 100 TD’s. He’s at 76. His team’s goals, to contend for a conference title and advance deep into the play-offs, definitely ride a lot on Anderson’s shoulder. But they ride on the collective efforts of his teammates too. Garret Boggs (5’10” 165 Sr. QB/CB) and a speedy Gabe Decker (5’7” 150 Sr. RB/LB) aided Anderson last year in the backfield. Clay Olson (6’1” 235 OL/DL) and Kole Ruud (6’0” 170 TE/LB) are another pair of seniors who have, and will be, helping the Burro cause greatly. The orange and black have gone 6 and 4 the past two seasons. They are three seasons removed from a 9-man Section title and state appearance. To make a run at that type of thing again, Anderson will need to top 100 TD’s, get help, and probably then some. The SEC and Section 1 9-man races look to be highly competitive, though the Burros should be in the mix.

It’s probably not the best sign, when you’re a 9-man team, and you’re using coaches in practice to ensure a 9-on-9 drill. Some of that is kids missing practice (and coaches having fun), but Mabel-Canton is in the same boat as Kingsland, or short-handed (17-man roster). The Cougars started last season slow, picked it up mid-season, before finishing with a 3-6 overall record. Houston bounced them 67-28 in the first round of the Section 1 9-man play-offs. They had three wins for every senior. Everyone Mabel and Canton wishes they could somehow replicate that feat in 2013. They have six seniors this season. Hunter Johnson (6’0” 175 TB/LB) and Noah Manning (5’11” 160 TB/LB) are a nice one-two punch out of the backfield. Johnson racked up over 1,500 yards rushing last year and over 20 TD’s. Collin O’Bieglo (6’0” 190), the starting QB, adds to the offensive backfield continuity. Mac Nelson (5’10” 180 OL/DL), Mason Henry (6’0” 200 OL/DL), and Jordan Magnuson (5’10” 250 OL/DL) are the other three seniors, and they’ll do a lot of the blocking up front. In the SEC, where squads like Houston boast 36 total players and Lanesboro 18 juniors and seniors combined, it’ll be a bit of a short-handed uphill climb for the Cougars. But Coach Karl Urbaniak and his M-C boys are excited to start another season no matter their numbers.

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