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August 13, 2014
Class A No. 6: Papillion-LaVista South
After qualifying for the playoffs a second time in three seasons and the third time in the program's brief history the Titans return six starters on offense and nine on defense from a 5-5 team.
"We hope to be much improved on defense with our entire secondary and three of our four linebackers back. We will try to put together a lineup with as few two-way starters as possible," says veteran head coach Walt Olsen, a two-time Nebraska champion who enters his fourth season at Papio South. "We have some experience returning at quarterback and some good young kids competing for time at running back. We also have three starters returning in our offensive line, as well as our fullback and tight end. We do need to replace some key players, including a punter and kicker."
Papillion-LaVista South will compete in the A-1 district along with Lincoln High, Lincoln North Star, Lincoln Southwest, Millard North, Omaha Northwest and Papillion-LaVista.
All-state candidate and highly sought after college recruit Jeremy Kowalski will anchor the Papio South line.
At the start of last season senior Noah Thornton (6-0, 175) was the starter at QB but tore his ACL early in the season, opening the door for fellow senior Gage Smallwood (6-1, 175) to take over the position. Smallwood finished the season with 452 yards passing and two TDs and 176 yards rushing and seven touchdowns; Thornton is expected back and it could make for an entertaining competition for playing time.
Gone is 2,300-yard rusher Drew Klein, an all-Huskerland pick in 2013, so junior lettermen Triston Fairchild (5-10, 190) and Malique Hovalt (5-10, 180) will be leading candidates to assume the running back position. They'll run behind an excellent fullback in senior Luke Sellers (6-1, 225), an outstanding blocker who last year rushed for 389 yards and four touchdowns.
Leading the offensive line is three-year starter and returning all-Metro selection Jeremy Kowalski (6-2, 280), one of the premier blockers in the state. Another three-year starter, senior Steve Zagurski (6-3, 240) returns at the other tackle and junior guard Taveras Linear (6-3, 260) is also back, with junior letterman Dash Hinkle (6-4, 325) in the mix for playing time. Another veteran, senior tight end Ryan Earith (6-4, 245) rounds out what should be one of Class A's best offensive lines.
Senior Kyle Kasun (6-0, 170) is the team's most veteran receiver - remember, Papio South doesn't throw it much - last year catching nine passes for 152 yards and a TD.
Sellers (74 tackles, 3 TFL) is outstanding in the middle and leads an excellent set of linebackers which also includes senior Christian Schneider (6-2, 195), who had 60 tackles last season, and junior Brian Lapke (5-10, 180). Kowalski (45 tackles, 3 blocked passes, 2 FR, 2 INT) and senior Joey Mueller (6-1, 250), who had 33 tackles, return in the middle of the defensive line with Eairth (27 tackles) back at one end. Hinkle and junior letterman Cole Jones (5-10, 265) will be factors in the D-line.
The secondary is in great shape thanks to the return of Kasun (64 tackles, 3 TFL), Smallwood, senior Ben Lapke (6-0, 180) and junior Josh Manchigiah (6-0, 180), who last year registered 51 tackles.
Junior Josh Weinand (5-8, 155) figures to be the team's punter and kicker.
Shoes to Fill
Biggest shoes to fill are those of 2,000-yard rusher Drew Klein but losing outstanding defensive players like leading tackler Kieron Keffer and Jake Schram didn't help matters any.
Must Step Up
Establishing a new leading running back, or running backs, will be critical in the team's run-first offense.