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July 4, 2012
1. Has there been a better run of Class A quarterback play? It was the same last year, too, but the 2012 season will again feature some outstanding Class A quarterback play. You can start with record-setters like Zach Cook of Omaha Burke, who threw 29 TDs last fall, or junior Alec Ditoro, who took center stage last fall and immediately became a sensation, throwing for over 2,600 yards. Keep an eye on Omaha North's Zach Martin, who has had a great summer and threw for nearly 2,000 yards last year and Kearney's Luke McNitt, who is probably the best pure dual-threat in the class. Oh, and Lincoln Southeast's Najee Jackson will try to lead his team to a second straight state title.
And that's just the guys who throw most of the time. Maybe the best high school player in the bunch is Millard North's Isaac Aakre - 183 yards rushing per game will help make that claim stick. Millard South's Anthony Cloyd is a proven winner and Millard North's Ross Dwral will put up some fancy numbers this fall.
Other than that there's not much to talk about here.
2. Which team will emerge from the evenness that is Class B football? I mean, really, take a good look. You start every Class B conversation with Crete but the Cardinals are rebuilding this year...as much as they do that sort of thing in Crete. No other team, to me at least, stands out above the rest.
You can make a case for a lot of other of the usual suspects - McCook will dominate in the west but has to establish a new quarterback, Aurora has the same need, defending champion Elkhorn returns one starter - while new kid on the block Elkhorn South has a lot of talent back, including two quarterbacks (incumbent starter Ben Green; Zach Reeg, who is returning from injury).
Maybe I answered my own question.
3. Can anybody dethrone Norfolk Catholic? Well, sure. But it won't be easy. Winners of 38 of their last 39 games, including three trips to the state finals and back-to-back state titles, the Knights return a solid group of talented players, led by Huskerland's C-1 player of the year, senior QB Jordan Bellar.
The default answer when challenging Norfolk Catholic is Pierce, and the Bluejays will again be plenty good, maybe the second-best team in the state. But guy substantial gut says go with Wahoo, which over the past two years has developed into an outstanding team, one worthy of state title talk. And it don't hurt to have a great running back like Tyler Kavan.
Did I mention Adams Central is back in C-1? The Patriots will be right there, too.
4. What will keep Aquinas from repeating as C-2 state champs? There seems little doubt, to me at least, the Monarchs are the favorite to win it all in 2012, making it back-to-back state titles. The "what" keeping Aquinas from repeating might actually be a "who," as Lutheran High Northeast leads another deep field of northeast Nebraska (ironic, huh) teams in pursuit of the title.
There have been few teams who have combined great defense with great special teams play the way Aquinas did last season. If the Monarchs can match that sort of effort it won't matter.
5. Is there any doubt D-1 is the deepest class in 2012 Nebraska high school football? Let me make this quick - no.
Not even close and it's for a couple of reasons. Of course you start with the 2011 champions Elgin/Pope John, which will be far from helpless in defending its state championship. Add some other traditional D-1 powers like Creighton (say it with me...Jacob Morrill needs to stay healthy for Creighton to win it all), BDS and Guardian Angels Central Catholic. That's enough to make you take a gulp right there.
But then you add a rising program like High Plains Community, which appears set for the greatest season in the program's history, before or since consolidation. Yikes.
However, the biggest factor in D-1's depth is the addition of some great Class D-2 programs, including the co-ops at Howells/Dodge and Twin Loup, which includes Loup County and last year's unbeaten D-2 state champions, Sargent. Did I mention Bloomfield, Exeter-Milligan and Pawnee City also move up from D-2?
D-1's Final Four will be incredible and even those quarterfinal games will have a state final feel.
6. Can anybody beat Giltner in Class D-2? The smaller of the eight-man classes will feature some very good teams - Kenesaw is back after reaching last year's D-1 semifinals, St. Francis is always in the state championship conversation, and this should be tradition-rich Falls City Sacred Heart's best team in decade - but the state championship talk starts, and probably ends, with Giltner.
Since about four years ago Giltner has enjoyed incredible success under the leadership of head coach Jeff Ashby, who took over a struggling program and has reshaped it into a powerhouse. That Ott kid is gone - what's the name again? - and he was pretty good but it also could be argued the Hornets still have three or four of the top 15 players in the class, including Gothenburg transfer Dillon Gartner, who is this year's Division I college prospect.
Can one of those teams, or maybe somebody else, beat Giltner? Sure, sure they can. As long as there are such things as turnovers, overconfidence and flu outbreaks there is a chance for such an upset but it would seem it will take a lot of one or more of them to strike the Hornets for that upset to become reality.