Class D-2 Team Previews

OK, so the Blue Devils weren't 2013 state champs. Maybe so but they were as entertaining, and explosive, as any team in the state. After going 11-1 and reaching last year's state semifinals the Blue Devils return three starters on both offense and defense.
"We will have a young team but due to the success we had last year we are excited about the new season," says fourth-year head coach Steve Heimes. "We are not going to be as deep as last year but if we develop some kids, and stay healthy, we have a shot at being pretty competitive. We will be lacking experience at the skill positions but should be fairly solid in the line."
Wynot likes to throw the ball and returns as deep and talented a group of receivers as you will find in eight-man, and then some. Leading the group is junior all-state candidate Cody Stratman (5-8, 160), who last year caught 45 passes for 751 yards and 11 TDs - as a secondary target. Another returning starter is senior tight end Austin Lange (6-0, 225), who last season caught 12 passes for 131 yards and six touchdowns. Also back are senior tight end Tristan Wieseler (6-0, 200), who caught 12 passes for 127 and six touchdowns, and sophomore wide receiver Dawson Sudbeck (5-7, 140), who caught 21 passes for 178 yards and two TDs. Good luck, DBs.
There are big shoes to fill at QB and sophomore letterman Jalen Wieseler (5-7, 150) aims to do just that after last year passing for 142 yards and two TDs as a back-up. When the Blue Devils choose to rush the football junior Keenan Wieseler (5-11, 165) figures to be the man, last year rushing for 216 yards and three TDs in limited touches.
Anchoring the offensive line is senior guard Kyle Boeckman (6-0, 200) with senior Jordan Deblauw (5-11, 210) a letterman who also figures to play in the line.
Boeckman (159 tackles) is an all-state caliber linebacker and Jalen Wieseler (63 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 FR) and Keenan Wieseler (20 tackles) also return at that position. Lange (59 tackles) is a returning starter in the D-line, where Tristan Wieseler (49 tackles) and Deblauw will also contribute while Stratman (25 tackles, 3 INTs) and Sudbeck (31 tackles, 3 INTs) will lead the secondary.
The front line talent at Wynot is mighty impressive and with any added depth they could sweep through the regular season unbeaten and make another extended playoff run.
With seven starters back on defense and six on offense the Panthers appear to be poised to improve upon last year's 4-5 mark. Two-time state champion coach Jon Cerny will share head coaching duties with Kyle Elsasser, a 2008 graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan.
"To reach our potential we need to work a reducing our turnovers as well as cutting down on costly penalties," says Coach Elsasser. "I am confident this group can have a great season if they play up to that potential."
Senior QB Carsten Tietz (6-0, 200) has been one of the best players in eight-man football the past two seasons and returns after last year rushing for 925 yards and 16 TDs and passing for another 393 yards and five TDs. Joining him in the backfield is versatile senior RB Zeb Greve (5-9, 170), who last year rushed for 739 yards and 11 touchdowns and also caught nine passes for 190 yards and a score. Junior Mario Aldrich (5-8, 160) will also be in the mix after last year rushing for 118 yards.
Line play should be a team strength thanks to the return of senior starters McKenzie Lyons (6-2, 200), Chris Snyder (5-10, 190) and Easton Weborg (6-3, 220), as well as junior tight end Dayne Wortman (6-1, 190). Senior Derek Ahlers (5-9, 170) and junior Austin Bruning (5-10, 180) will provide depth in the line.
Lyons (60 tackles) is a returning all-district linebacker who will be joined at that position by senior Damion Otteman (5-10, 180). Tietz (52 tackles) and Greve (22 tackles) will lead the secondary, where Aldrich will have a chance to contribute, and the line should be solid with Snyder, Weborg and Wortman returning starters.
Look for Bancroft-Rosalie to win something like five games this season and compete for the district title.
Dropping from Class D-1, the Pirates return four starters on defense and three on offense from a playoff team which finished 5-4.
"We lost a large senior class to graduation but also return several key players from last year," says fifth-year E-H head coach Ken Swanson. "Six of the eight teams we have on the schedule were playoff teams last season so we are going to have to earn it every week."
Foremost among those key returning players is senior running back Nathan Hogan (6-0, 175), who is sort of a supporting role last season still managed to rush for 564 yards and 11 touchdowns and also caught nine passes for 127 yards and another score. He's going to be the team's go-to back but junior Tyler Haberman (5-10, 155) is another option, with senior Samuel Gubbels and junior fullback Austin Ostrand in the mix for carries.
Senior Tanner Haberman is the team's only letterman at quarterback and gets first shot at the start.
Senior Tyler Pallas (5-8, 190) is the lone returning starter in the interior offensive line while senior Michael Collins (6-0, 165) returns at tight end. Senior DJ Gutzmann and junior Gabriel Diaz are among lettermen who could help in the line. Freshman Blake Eriksen is expected to help on both sides of the ball.
Hogan led Emerson-Hubbard in tackles (112) in 2013 and returns at linebacker where Ostrand and Haberman will also be in the mix. Pallas and Collins are returning starters at defensive end with Gutzmann and Diaz in line to play on the interior, with juniors Brice Morgan and Tyler Emmons to help round out that unit.
Gubbels is the lone letterman in the secondary.
It could take a while for things to jell for the Pirates so let's call for three wins.
If the Eagles can stay healthy, and they didn't in 2013, it could turn out to be a whole different story than last year's 2-6 finish. Head coach Dave Uldrich returns five starters on both sides of the ball.
"If we avoid injuries we believe a district championship is within reach," says Uldrich, who enters his 11th season as Allen head coach. "We have four key players on this team who played only half of last season due to injuries."
A four-year starter, senior fullback Caleb Thomas (5-9,180) powers the Allen backfield and he'll be joined by senior running back Brian Boese (5-11, 170), one of those key players who missed much of last season. Promising sophomore Cody Thomas (5-10, 185) started four games last season and could be a real threat in 2014.
Senior Coleman Kneifl (5-10, 160) could play either wide receiver or quarterback, with sophomore Tayler Kumm (5-9, 145) the starter at QB for four games last season.
Seniors Brad Krakau (6-2, 210) and Wade Connot (5-10, 170) and senior tight end Nick Brahmsteadt (6-1, 175) return as starters in the line with juniors Austin Crom (6-0, 185) and S.T. O'Keefe (5-10, 170) figuring in to also play in the line.
Caleb Thomas is already a three-time all-district pick and returns as the team's leader in tackles (134). Connot (101 tackles) was second on the team in tackles in 2013 and Cody Thomas figures to play one of the other linebacker spots. Krakau and Crom, the latter a nose guard, will man the defensive line.
Boese, Brahmsteadt and Kumm will provide the Eagles with a quality secondary.
Injuries are a hit-and-miss proposition but we like Allen to win about five games and make a run at the district title and a spot in the playoffs.
Lyons-Decatur Northeast
Following the program's most successful stretch in the playoff era - three playoff berths in four years, last year the program's first playoff win since 2002 - Lyons-Decatur Northeast has a rebuild job on its hands, with only three starters back on both sides of the ball.
"Our team's success will depend on how much this group has learned from the hard work and leadership of our previous teams. We will have many new faces in the lineup and they are going to have to establish themselves as leaders," says fifth-year head coach Dan Maresh, a 2005 graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan. "We need to have some linemen step up and our defense will need to work as a unit to get its stops."
The team's primary playmaker, all-district senior Chevy Henneman (5-8, 150), will move from running back to quarterback for the 2014 season. Quick and elusive, last season Henneman rushed for 1,228 yards and scored 18 touchdowns and will be threat on every snap. Junior Marcus Hegy (5-9, 175) was an effective tight end last season - 12 catches, 138 yards, 5 TDs - and will become the team's go-to running back. Senior Dylan Hardeman (5-9, 145), a three-time letterman, will become the team's new starting tight end. Look for sophomore Montana Riecken (5-6, 140) to be a contributor at the skill positions.
Sophomore Tyler Hardeman (5-10, 160) is the team's only returning starter in the offensive line. Sophomore Cole Christofferson (6-1, 230), senior Charles Webb (5-11, 165) and junior Jayden Vetick (5-9, 135) will also compete for time in the line.
Hardeman (78 tackles) and Hegy give the Cougars a solid set of linebackers and Hardeman returns to a defensive line that will count upon Christofferson and Vetick to play big roles. Riecken and Hardeman are leading candidates to start in the secondary.
It will be a struggle for the Cougars who we see winning two or three games this season.
An influx of new talent lends hope to the idea Winside will make improvement over last year's 1-7 mark. Veteran head coach Mark Tonniges returns seven starters on defense and six on offense.
"Besides our experienced players we have improved our numbers and will have some new faces in key roles," says Coach Tonniges, who led Columbus Lakeview to the Class B state final in 1990.
Junior Marcos Escalera (6-0, 150) became a dependable dual threat QB last season, passing for 500 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 147 yards and three more scores. Sophomores Zach Morris (5-8, 160) and Isaiah Muhs (5-10, 165) have experience at running back while sophomore Hayden King (5-11, 170) is the team's leading returning receiver, last year catching nine passes for 156 yards and a score. Senior Ben Meis (6-2, 180) is another option in the receiving corps.
Among the returning veterans in the offensive line are seniors Zane Jensen (5-11, 230) and Brock Carlson (5-11, 210) along with sophomores Joe Haase (5-9, 185), Jadon Wagner (5-11, 160) and Caleb Dwinell (6-1, 220).
Meis (34 tackles, 5 TFL), senior Zach Jones (30 tackles, 7 TFL), Carlson (22 tackles), Wolfe (21 tackles) and Morris (3 TFL, 2 FR) will be leaders on the defense. Wagner returns as the team's punter.
It's been a tough stretch for the Wildcats but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Let's say they find a way to win a couple of games this season, maybe three.
Falls City Sacred Heart
Capping off one of the great seasons in a glorious program history, the Irish won the Class D-2 title in 2013, finishing a perfect 13-0. Head coach Doug Goltz returns three starters on both offense and defense.
"We return some nice skill players who had big roles last seasons and we will have a new line but also have some kids in those positions who received some good experience last year," says Coach Goltz, who has won seven state football titles while compiling a brilliant 258-43 career coaching record. "We did lose a lot of speed and experience to graduation."
Averaging right at 10 yards per carry in 2013, senior Sawyer Kean (5-10, 175) was named to the all-state team after rushing for 1,532 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns; he is clearly one of the elite players in eight-man football. Look for a huge contribution from senior Austin Malone (6-0, 175), an exciting athlete who moves to quarterback. Last year he played a supporting role - catching 21 passes for 387 yards and 8 TDs, rushing for 277 yards - but should be sensational at the controls of the Irish spread attack.
Junior letterman Henry Arnold (6-0,155) is another athletic back who will help at the skill positions.
A big, powerful blocker, senior Logan Scheitel (6-2, 225) also has great hands at tight end, last year catching passes for 321 yards. Lettermen who are expected to press for starting jobs in the interior offensive line include senior Ben Mullins (6-2, 200), junior Reggie Johnsen (6-1, 260) and sophomore Bryant Jorn (6-4, 270).
Senior Zavan Kirkendall (6-0, 155) is a returning second-team all-district linebacker and the team's leading returning tackler - 169, to go with a couple of fumble recoveries - and will be joined at that position by Malone (112 tackles, 4 INTs).Dean and Arnold will play in the back end of the defense while Scheitel (91 tackles) is another all-district pick who will lead a defensive line that will also include Jorn, Johansen and Mullins.
No denying the Irish took a hit at graduation but they will be big winners again, something along the line of seven or eight in the regular season, and advance in the playoffs.
Last season's was a senior dominated team - and a good team, finishing 6-4 with a playoff win - so it's time to start over at Sterling, as only one starter returns on both sides of the ball.
"This season we need to replace seven starters on both offense and defense so there will be opportunities for playing time," says Arlo Wusk, for the past 30 years the head coach at Sterling, leading the Jets to consecutive Class D-1 state titles in 1991 and 1992.
The team's lone returning starter on offense is junior QB Josh Masur (6-0, 170), who had a good season in 2013, passing for 432 yards and eight TDs and rushing for 289 yards and five scores. Though not returning starters both senior Rhet Dirks (5-8, 145) and junior Jon Cox (5-11, 150) have good experience at running back. Last season Dirks rushed for 290 yards and three touchdowns, Cox for 210 yards and five TDs.
Senior Paxton Donovan (6-3, 220), junior Thomas Tucker (5-11, 160) and sophomore Micah Erickson (6-4, 180) are lettermen who will bid for starting positions in the line while senior Dennis Logston (6-0, 155) and junior Jordan Wenzl (6-0, 160) will play at end.
Tucker (72 tackles) is a returning starter in the defensive line where Donovan and Erickson will also play while Dirks (35 tackles) and Cox (20 tackles) lead the back end of the defense, where Masur and Wenzl will also be factors.
Having two state champs - Exeter-Milligan and Falls City Sacred Heart - on your schedule is no bargain but Sterling usually finds a way to win so we are calling for something like four victories.
Parkview Christian
Time for a rebuild at Parkview, where the Patriots have qualified for the playoffs each of the past three seasons but return just one starter from last year's 6-3 team.
"We are going to be a young team with a lot to work on," says Parkview head coach Larry Frost, who has won 183 games in his career.
The lone returning is a good one, senior all-state candidate Trevor Polivka (5-11, 170), an outstanding dual threat QB who last season rushed for 805 yards and 19 touchdowns and passed for 670 yards and seven scores.
Seniors Ruben Ngoyi (5-11, 180) and Nick Sotnikov (5-9, 175) and junior Isaac Branding (5-10, 170) will battle for carries with promising sophomore Henry Tanksley (6-2, 175) set to be the team's go-to receiver.
Junior center Sean McVeigh (6-0, 210) and senior guard Marcus Reeves (5-10, 250) are expected to led the offensive line.
Polivka (4 INTs) will also lead the defense where senior Josiah Hastings (5-11, 160) and juniors Jordan Case (5-10, 180) and Ben Force (5-9, 150) will be among the added contributors.
Parkview's been a winner lately and that will help but expect something like two or three wins in 2014.
With only two starters back from last year's 3-5 team, first-year head coach Scott Kraus will bank on younger players to fill in the blanks.
"With so little returning experience we will really need some of our young guys step into key roles this year in order for us to have a successful season," says Coach Kraus, a graduate of UN-Kearney.
Lewiston's only two returning starters are senior linemen Trevor Husa (6-0, 170) and Tyler Keyes (5-9, 190). Junior Ryan Husa (5-10, 150) and sophomore Emilio Gonzalez (5-9, 160) are expected to start at tight end to round out the offensive front.
The quarterback position is up in the air but senior Richard Kendall (5-10, 170) and junior Dalton Anderson (5-10, 160) are front runners to grab the running back positions.
Husa and Keyes will lead the defensive line while Kendall and Anderson will play in the secondary and Husa and Gonzalez will chip in somewhere in the back end of the defense.
Lots of untested players coupled with a stout schedule means the Tigers will need to scratch and claw to win a couple of games.
Coming off an 0-8 season the Eagles will count on a group of younger players in an effort to turn things around.
"We will work to improve upon last year's record and we should be better in many areas but we still lack size and overall depth," says head coach Brett Davis, a 1997 graduate of Peru State College, who has won 81 games in his coaching career. "We should be more competitive this season with underclassmen forming the nucleus of our team."
Returning from a knee injury, senior running back Brody Clark (5-8, 175) will be the team's go-to back with senior Tanner Ebeler returning at quarterback. Junior William Speckmann (6-0, 160) returns at receiver where last year he caught 15 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
There will be some coming and going in the offensive line, where both sophomore Devon Clark (6-1, 190) and junior Austin Griggs (5-11, 175) are expected to be starters but both also have backfield experience. If things break right Clark could wind up at fullback and Griggs last year rushed for 176 yards and he could well play both positions in 2014. Sophomore Troy Stutheit (6-0, 165) "improved a lot last season," says Coach Davis, and will play in the O-line, as will incoming freshman Ben Bohling (6-0, 170).
Brody Clark and Griggs return at linebacker where sophomore Wyatt Nickels (5-6, 125) could also help. Devon Clark returns to anchor the defensive line with Stutheit and Bohling also expected to play. Speckmann returns as starter in the secondary where Ebeler and sophomore Jaxson Balm (5-5, 110) are expected to contribute.
It's been a tough stretch for the Eagles and 2014 won't yield much in the way of wins but look for the program to make steps in the right direction.
After a painful last-second exit in last year's playoff quarterfinals the Hornets seem to have all the pieces for a state championship run, returning six starters on offense and defense from last year's 9-2 team.
"We should have a solid team but we need to keep working to make ourselves into better players," says head coach Jeff Ashby, who has compiled a 169-58 career coaching record, leading to Giltner to state finals in 2009 and 2012, winning a state title in 2012.
One of the most explosive athletes in eight-man football is senior quarterback Ben Hinrichs (5-9, 165), a returning all-stater who put up some great fantasy numbers last season, including 1,537 yards passing and 27 touchdowns and another 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Junior Christian Leichty (6-0, 180) was an awfully productive running back last season, rushing for 487 yards and six touchdowns and catching 10 passes for 136 yards and two scores, and those numbers will rise dramatically as he becomes the featured back this fall.
Hinrichs returns the best set of eight-man receivers for 2014 to make the Giltner spread offense purr. Senior Nick Preissler (5-10, 160) last year caught 39 passes for 599 yards and 11 touchdowns and senior Jared Hastings caught 26 passes for 573 yards and 12 touchdowns; both are super quick and blessed with good hands, both of them all-state candidates.
A couple of all-district players return to lead the offensive line, including senior Justin Joyce (5-11, 190) and junior Corey Hoelck (6-3, 245), and both of them will make a push for all-state recognition this fall. Senior Dusty Whisenand (6-1, 240) is another talented returning starter and sophomores Grant Wilson (6-4, 205) and Tucker Gartner (6-0, 230) are among lettermen who are going to make an impact.
Hinrichs (80 tackles, 2 FR) and Leichty (59 tackles, 2 FR) return at linebacker, where Leichty was all-district last fall, while Hastings (67 tackles, 3 INTs) and Preissler (53 tackles) will lead the secondary. Hoelck (77 tackles), Joyce (59 tackles) and Whisenand (49 tackles) return to form an outstanding defensive line, with Gartner, Wilson, senior Noah Mitchell (5-11, 195) and junior Cole Eastman (5-6, 205) adding some quality depth.
Senior Trevor Phillips (5-10, 160), junior Brett Good (5-11, 170) and sophomore Trevor Sok (5-11, 175) will get playing time on both sides of scrimmage.
Giltner hardly ever punts but when it does Hinrichs is good at that, too, averaging 38 yards per kick.
Great speed, great depth, winning tradition, add it up and there is every reason to believe Giltner wins at least eight in the regular season with another trip to the quarterfinals or better a reasonable expectation.
Well, that was fun. Coming off the program's first-ever state football championship the Timberwolves return four starters on offense and three on defense from last year's unbeaten Class D-1 state championship team.
"We will be counting on some of our younger players to step up and fill holes left by graduation and counting on our seniors for leadership," says Dean Filipi, who enters his 32nd year as head coach.
While having to deal with the loss of a great senior class, one which included three all-staters, the Timberwolves still return what many believe to be the best player in eight-man football, senior Kyle Jensen (5-9, 205), who is also a returning all-stater and will move to quarterback. Last season he rushed for 978 yards and 23 touchdowns and can expect another heavy workload in 2014. Look for sophomore letterman Trevor Luzum (5-9, 145) to also get some carries.
A returning all-district pick last fall and a 2014 all-state candidate, senior Derek Luzum (6-3, 185) is the team's leading receiver, last year catching 22 passes for 374 yards and six touchdowns, while senior Dustin Axline (5-11, 180) returns at the other end.
Senior Brody Kresak (6-0, 260) is the only returning starter in the line but senior Zac Kroll (5-11, 210) will lead a deep group of experienced lettermen who can fill in. Other candidates in the line include senior Broc Mueller (6-7, 315), juniors Johnathon Mounce (5-9, 205) and Kirby Soukup (5-7, 165) and promising sophomore Cameron White (6-3, 190).
Jensen (108 tackles, 4 INTs) might be even better on defense and will lead a secondary that will include Trevor Luzum and junior Sam Zelany (5-8, 160) among others. Axline is an all-state caliber linebacker and will be joined at that position by junior letterman Sean Maxson (5-9, 160).
Derek Luzum, Kroll and Kresak give the Timberwolves a solid foundation in the defensive line with White also figuring to play at either linebacker or in the line.
Dropping a class is countered by the loss of such an accomplished group of seniors but figure the Timberwolves to win something like six games in the regular season and compete for the district title.
If you're looking for a darkhorse in Class D-2 you might want to consider the Mustangs. Returning seven starters on defense and six on offense from last year's 5-4 playoff team it just feels like they could be in line to win a playoff game for just the second time in program history.
"We expect to field a tough, competitive team this season with a solid senior class and lots of returning experience," says ninth-year head coach Clint Jones, a graduate of Peru State College. "We will have a very tough schedule, with both the defending D-1 and D-2 state champs on it, but we expect our team to be competitive with any team on our schedule."
A primary reason for the excitement around the program is the return of all-state candidate Brandon Jackson (6-0, 180), a four-year starter and a two-time thousand-yard rusher who last year gained 1,257 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. A two-year starter and second-team all-district pick in 2013, senior Ty Brakhage (6-1, 170) returns at quarterback after last year passing for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Also back in the backfield is senior fullback Ricky Nunez (5-11, 185), and junior letterman Corey Taylor (5-10, 170) could also be a factor in the running game.
Seniors Lupe Dimas (5-5, 135) and Tyler Nolte (5-11, 160) return as the team's starting end with senior letterman Michael Groves (6-2, 160) providing depth at that position.
Senior Brandon Lundhom (6-0, 200) is the lone returning starter in the offensive line where seniors Cody Lundholm (6-0,180) and Dylan Brown (6-1, 170) and junior Jake Van Westen (6-3, 175) will be in the mix for playing time.
Jackson (96 tackles) and Nunez are returning starters at linebacker, where Taylor and junior letterman Cesar Nunez (5-8, 150) could help, while Dimas, another second-team all-district pick, and Nolte return as starters in the secondary. There is good experience in the D-line as Brandon Lundholm, Cody Lundholm and Brown are returning starters and Groves and Van Westen in the mix to provide depth.
Coach is right, the schedule is pretty unforgiving, but we see Meridian winning five or six and scoring that elusive playoff win.
Graduating a big senior class leaves the Raiders with a youthful projected starting lineup in the wake of last year's 6-3 playoff season. Head coach Brian Blevins returns three starters on both offense and defense.
"We will be young but the three starters we return are all four-year starters, including the program's all-time leading scorer in (senior running back) Dillon Menke," says Coach Blevins, who enters his fifth year in the program. "We will be bigger in the line, but raw. It will be that across the board as our season will hinge on the development of our young talent.
"We will put quality players on the field who always give us a chance to win."
Menke has grown into a powerful back, going 6-foot-tall, 200 pounds, and last year rushed for 1,030 yards and scored 16 touchdowns; he also caught 14 passes for 79 yards and a score. He is generally regarded as one of the premier players in eight-man football.
Also returning in the backfield will be senior fullback Wyatt Thayer (5-10, 160), who last season rushed for 292 yards and seven touchdowns, and sophomore Colton Biltoft (6-0, 140) will take over at quarterback. "Colton's a great young talent and will continue to improve as the season goes along," says Coach Blevins.
Sophomore Gavyn Buschkoetter (5-9, 155) could help in the running game and junior Jimmy Mazour (5-10, 155) should step in at one of the end positions.
Big and strong, a returning all-district player, senior center Dakota Thayer (6-0, 220) will return to anchor the offensive line with junior Bryce Buescher (5-10, 210) also expected to start in the line.
Menke is also an exceptional linebacker and he, Wyatt Thayer and Buschkoetter will set the tone for the defense from their linebacker positions. Dakota Thayer will lead the D-line where Mazour and Buescher will be in the mix while Biltoft will be among the candidates in the secondary.
Having defending D-1 runner-up Exeter-Milligan, Giltner and improving Meridian in their district does the Raiders no good but we expect them to win something like five games and be in the mix for a playoff berth.
Red Cloud
Dropping from Class D-1, the Chieftains return a veteran squad - seven starters on offense, six on defense - after going 1-7 in 2013.
"We have a good-sized senior class, nine total, and all of them have played a significant amount of time on both sides of the ball. They have put in a lot of time in the weight room and it shows," says 12th year head coach Jason Heldt. "Our underclassmen are going to give us some depth and we expect to play at a higher level than we have the past two seasons."
Senior QB Wyatt Bell (6-1, 170) will run the show after last year throwing for over 900 yards and making the all-district team, with seniors Brady Schmitz (5-10, 170) and Jared Bostock (5-7, 185) returning at running back and junior Andrew Mai (5-6, 160) adding depth to the running game. Senior Dillon Burgess (6-1, 160) is a returning all-district player at end with seniors Austin Tuckwood (5-8, 150) and Skylar Bumbaugh (6-2, 175) other veteran receivers.
Senior Miles McDole (6-2, 250) leads an offensive line that will also include senior Matt Morris (5-11, 185) and junior Justin Shipman (5-10, 170).
Burgess will lead the deensive line with Morris and McDole other returning starters, Shipman is back as the team's leading tackler at linebacker, with Bostock returning at linebacker and Schmitz and Mai veterans in the secondary.
Dropping a class doesn't automatically mean wins will follow - especially with Exeter-Milligan and Giltner on your schedule - but the Chieftains will be better and five wins isn't out of the question.
Humphrey St. Francis
One of the traditional winners in eight-man football, St. Francis will return just three starters on both sides of scrimmage after finishing last season 9-2, losing in the playoff quarterfinals to eventual champion Sacred Heart.
"If we continue to put in the work and stay injury free we have a chance to be very competitive again this year," says head coach Eric Kessler, who has compiled an outstanding 107-18 record in his 11 seasons at St. Francis, including three trips to the state finals, a 2009 state title among them.
Tough and talented, senior running back J.J. Oltmer (5-11, 195) is a two-time returning all-stater who last year churned out 1,926 yards and 29 touchdowns, once again proving to be almost impossible to tackle on-on-one. St. Francis will look to junior Damien Baumgart (5-10, 170) to win the quarterback starting position while senior Austin Classen (5-10, 175) gives the Flyers another quality running back.
Athletic and strong, senior Chayse Wemhoff (6-3, 220) returns at center and will lead an offensive line that has junior Noah McPhillips (5-11, 190) and sophomore Cole Wemhoff (6-2, 185) as leading candidates to play. Juniors Jon Korth (5-11, 180) and Dillon Poppe (5-11, 185) are returning lettermen at the tight end positions.
Chayse Wemhoff is a returning all-stater in the defensive line, last year leading the team with 152 tackles while playing nose guard, and McPhillips and Korth are leading contenders to grab the other starting spots in the D-line. Oltmer (143 tackles) is also an outstanding linebacker as is Classen, a second-team all-district pick in 2013, with Cole Wemhoff and Poppe also expected to play at linebacker.
Baumgart, senior Pete Zach (5-10, 170), junior Kyle Wemhoff (5-10, 160) and sophomore Colton Engel (5-8, 145) are expected to round out the secondary.
Expect the Flyers to win seven or eight in the regular season, make the playoffs and advance.
Returning five starters on defense and four on offense from a second consecutive playoff team, Osceola head coach TJ Nielsen is hoping to have his team show steady improvement during the course of the season.
"We should start the year with several young players in our lineup but if we have some players step up we should be pretty good by the end of the season and have a chance for a third straight playoff berth," says Coach Nielsen, a 2008 graduate of Peru State College whose team was 4-5 in 2013. "We have an exciting and large number of freshmen and sophomores who are going to provide depth and if we are able to blend into a team we can reach our potential."
Third-year starting quarterback Luke Ericson (6-3, 215), comes off another all-district performance during which he rushed for 931 yards and 18 touchdowns and passed 878 yards and 15 touchdowns. At his side will be speedy senior running back Trevor Carlson (5-8, 150), who last year rushed for 393 yards and four touchdowns and also caught 10 passes for 204 yards and two scores. Junior Riley Girard (5-9, 175) will also get some carries at running back.
Junior Bennett Nelson (6-6, 210) returns as a starter in the interior of the offensive line. That's where the sophomores come into play - look for Garrett Davidson (5-8, 190) and John Surber (6-2, 240) to have something to say about who else starts in the offensive line.
Carlson is a dynamic defensive back - he had 33 tackles and seven interceptions in 2013 - and leads a secondary that will be looking for some help, maybe from sophomore Peyton Watts (5-8, 140). Cliffords (56 tackles, 8 sacks) is a returning all-district defensive end and Nelson is also a returning starter in the D-line. Look for Davidson and Surber to also play as part of that unit, as well as junior letterman Dahlton Gabel (6-3, 165).
Erickson (34 tackles, 2 INTs) and Girard are returning starters at linebacker with sophomores Kraton Gabel (5-10, 185) and Tyler Johnson (5-11, 160) battling for playing time at that position.
Look for another four or five wins from the Bulldogs, who should be in the mix for another playoff berth.
With little varsity experience returning the Tigers will lean on youngsters, especially the sophomores, returning just two starters on both offense and defense from last season's 7-3 team which won a playoff game.
"We will be very inexperienced and will have many holes to fill on both sides of the ball," says head coach Nathan Glause, who enters his 10th season at Palmer.
The only returning starter in the line will be senior tight end Maverick Helgoth (185) with senior Sam Davis, who has lost 40 pounds of weight to get to 225 and is stronger than ever, counted upon to start in the interior. Senior Anthony Grossi (155) and sophomore Armando Ruvalcaba (180) will also play in the line.
Senior Colton Wells (170) is the probable starter at quarterback with sophomore Hunter Reimers (150), who rushed for 479 yards and three touchdowns, and sophomore Kaden Reimers (155), who rushed for 203 yards and caught 16 passes for 203 yards and three TDs, also return in the backfield.
Hunter Reimers (73 tackles, 2 INTs) and Kaden Reimers (50 tackles, 3 INTs) were both outstanding freshmen on defense, with Helgoth a returning starter in the defensive line, HunTer Reimers at linebacker and Kaden Reimers in the secondary. Davis, Wells, junior Nahan Robertson (155) and sophomore Chandler Donscheski (140) will also help out on defense.
A new look schedule will prove challenging, especially for the bus driver, as Palmer opens at Emerson-Hubbard than plays at Pleasanton two weeks later. Look for the Tigers to win about three games this season.
Elkhorn Valley
Making the jump back into eight-man football from six-man the Falcons will return several key starters among the five they return on both offense and defense from a 4-4 team.
"We return a lot of experience on both sides of the ball that should help with the transition back to eight-man but it will also take some time," says head coach Rusty Rautenberg, who has a 108-71 career coaching record. "We return a lot of skill players but need to further develop our line."
Junior Tyler Rautenberg (5-7, 155) returns as the team's starting quarterback after last year passing for 553 yards and five TDs and rushing for another 191 yards and four touchdowns. His leading receiver also returns, junior Chris Peterson (6-0, 175), who last year caught 16 passes for 300 yards and six touchdowns.
Another youthful and talented skill player, junior Noah Rutjens (5-10, 160) is the team's leading rushing, last year gaining 604 yards and scoring a total of 10 touchdowns. Senior Michael Knievel (6-0, 185) will also add a boost to the running game after missing most of last year due to injury.
Junior Emilio Sierra (6-2, 230) is the lone returning starter in the line with a number of sophomores among the candidates to round out that unit.
Rautenberg (88 tackles, 2 INTs) was a six-man all-stater in 2013 and along with Rutjens (70 tackles, 4 FR), senior Jayson Larson (6-0, 150) and junior Quin Smith (6-0, 160) gives the Falcons an excellent set of linebackers. Peterson (50 tackles) and Sierra will anchor the defensive line while senior Kendall Albin (6-0, 140), who last year intercepted two passes, and Knievel will man the secondary.
Albin is also a returning all-state punter, a key addition to the equation.
Gotta have the line come together but there is enough skill on the roster to pull off three or four wins, even with the upgrade in competition.
Heartland Lutheran
In an effort to get off the dime the Red Hornets played an extremely young lineup last year and the benefit is having all eight starters back on both sides of the ball.
The best player on the team, a returning all-district pick and one of the real exciting players in D-2, is senior receiver Johnny Simonson (5-9, 170), who last year had 725 yards in kick returns, including five touchdowns. Junior Devin Hueftle (6-4, 175) returns at the other receiver position, last year having caught 350 yards worth of passes.
Senior Jake Saunders (5-9, 190), another returning all-district player, returns as the team's starting quarterback with junior Isiah Zapata (6-1, 200) and sophomore letterman Gavin Olson (6-0, 170) options in the running game.
Junior Andrew Chandler (5-10, 240) is the team's only returning starter in the offensive line, with senior Dylan Espinoza (5-9, 150) and sophomore Jeremy Doese (6-1, 190) lettermen who will compete for starting positions.
Simonson (3 INTs), junior Chris Wernek (6-0, 170) and Hueftle return as starters in the secondary, where sophomore letterman Jacob Simonson (6-0, 170) should help, while Chandler is the only starter back in the D-line. Senior Caleb Staehr (5-10, 185), who totaled 111 tackles and two fumble recoveries, sophomore Zach Staehr (6-0, 175), who rang up 15 tackles for loss, and Saunders give the team an outstanding set of linebackers.
Here's a program that needs a reboot and we feel like the Red Hornets will get one in 2014, winning a couple of games.
It was a dream season in 2013 for Stuart, a program which had never advanced beyond the playoff quarterfinals, as the Broncos won 11 games and reached the Class D-2 state final. It's a good bet they aren't done yet, not with seven starters back on both sides of the ball.
"This is a team with high expectations after what we accomplished last year but we also have to replace an all-state caliber player in the middle of our offense and defense, so that's crucial," says head coach Lance Howitt, who enters his 12th year at the school. "With the new realignment Class D-2 is going to have a lot of teams capable of winning a state championship and we hope to be in that group."
Making that sort of thinking a reality is the return of an explosive set of skill players, led by senior all-stater Alex Kunz (175). Listen to this - last year Kunz rushed for 1,746 yards and 35 touchdowns and also passed for 1,382 yards and another 17 scores. Running backs Mitchell Dvorak (160) and Mason Dexter (165) are also the team's leading receivers; last year Dvorak, a senior in 2014, caught 34 passes for 599 yards and seven touchdowns while Dexter, a junior, caught 33 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns.
Juniors Micah Dexter (150) and Tate Schmaderer (155) return at the end positions while Connor Paxton, a 190-pound junior, returns as the team's leading interior lineman, with senior Chase Broders (170) - "our team's most improved player," says Coach Howitt - also returning in the line.
There is depth on this team, too, with 10 other lettermen back with promising sophomore Austin Moore (210) among them.
Kunz is also a sensational defender - 106 tackles, 6 INTs - and will be joined in the secondary by junior turnover machine Schmaderer (8 INTs) and Dvorak to form one of D-2's top units. Mason Dexter (167 tackles) is the team's leading returning tackler and Micah Dexter, Paxton and Broders round out the defensive line.
Mason Dexter is also a solid punter, last season averaging 31.9 per attempt.
No doubt this team is the best in the west and maybe the best in Class D-2. Another 11 wins and a state final - sure, it's possible, even probable.
They're gonna keep it pretty simple at CWC this season, and why not, with both lines back and one of the better quarterbacks in Class D-2 football. In all head coach Tom Thramer returns six starters on both sides of the ball from last season's 6-4 team which won a playoff game.
"We return our entire offensive and defensive lines and our best playmaker. We should be a very strong running team and will work to become better in the passing game," says Thramer, who enters his fourth season at CWC. "We should be solid against the run but we need better secondary play. We will have some young kids step up but our overall goal is to get better every week."
Only a junior, QB Brenden Pelster (5-11, 180) is a superb dual threat, last year rushing for 1,285 yards and 13 touchdowns and passing for 843 yards and 16 touchdowns. Senior Levi Koenig (5-10, 165) is the team's most veteran running back while senior Tanner Tracy (6-0, 165) returns at end, with sophomore letterman Chase Hoffschneider (6-3, 180) another option.
Senior all-state candidate Jayle Hinkle (6-1, 250) is an overpowering presence up front and will be joined by seniors Zach Haburchak (5-11, 200) and Cody Ramsey (6-3, 285) to give the Renegades the makings of a great offensive line. Senior Brant Pavel (6-1, 230) is another experienced hand in the offensive line.
Pelster (team-best 110 tackles)and Koenig return at linebacker while Tracy will lead the secondary. Hinkle (86 tackles, 10 TFL, 8 sacks) is basically unblockable and leads a deep D-line that will include Haburchak, Ramsey, Pavel and Hoffschneider.
Pelster is also an outstanding punter, averaging 36.9 yards per attempt in 2013.
We look for CWC to win six in the regular season and another one or two in the playoffs.
Last season the Cardinals capped a 9-2 season with a couple of playoff wins and a spot in the Class D-1 top ten. This season the Cardinals drop to D-2, returning four starters on both sides of the ball.
"We return both of our running backs and several underclassmen who contributed a lot on offense but defense should be a strength of this team, as we return the core of our defense," says eighth-year head coach Mark Lech, a 1994 graduate of UN-Lincoln. "We will have to replace most of our line and a four-year starter at quarterback but we also played a lot of kids last season and that experience needs to carry over into their roles as starters."
There is no better running back in eight-man football than senior all-stater Dylan Loberg (5-11, 200), who last season put up some video game numbers, including 1,607 yards rushing, 11 catches for 197 yards, 28 touchdowns and 206 total points. A fullback by trade, bruising senior Seth Lackas (6-3, 215) last year rushed for 402 yards and 11 touchdowns but you could see him in the line this year.
Junior Connor Bloomquist (6-0, 155) returns as a starter at end and junior Landyn Anderson (6-4, 165) figures to nail down the start at the other end.
Both starting guards return for the Cardinals, including junior Denton Kuhl (6-0, 170) and sophomore Logan Nordhues (6-3, 180), while senior Colten Korth (5-11, 170) will also contribute on offense.
Lackas (108 tackles) and Loberg will lead the defense, with Kuhl and Logan Nordhues returning at the defensive end spots and Bloomquist, Anderson and Drew Loberg playing in the secondary.
It's been five years since Randolph had to start a different QB. Get that figured out and the Cardinals win six or so and make the playoffs.
The good news is, it couldn't get much worse for the Tigers, who remarkably young (17 of 23 players either freshmen or sophomores) and riddled by injury in 2013. After an 0-8 season Osmond returns eight starters on defense and seven on offense.
"We will be markedly better this fall with 16 returning lettermen from a team that was really set back by injury last season," says veteran head coach Rod Brummels, a 1978 graduate of Wayne State College. "We lost a starter to season-ending injury in five of our first six games and started four quarterbacks -two of which had never taken a snap before in a game. We have virtually all of our leaders back and, if we can stay healthy, it should be a fun year."
Junior Caleb Krohn (6-0, 170) returns after having his season end after six games, last season passing for 329 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for another 376 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Brock Johnson (5-10, 165) also has experience at quarterback and will help the team on both sides of scrimmage, as will sophomore Cole Moes (6-3, 165), who also started a couple of games at QB.
Osmond will feature a deep set of running backs to work with, led by senior Cody Koehler (6-0, 165), who last season rushed for 419 yards, caught eight passes for 215 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns. Other defendable runners will include senior Noah Koehler (6-1, 165), who rushed for 310 yards and two TDs, and sophomore Tyler Reikofski (6-0, 195), who gained 229 yards.
An outstanding talent, senior Cole Kralicek (6-2, 265) was lost for the season in 2013, but he's back and will lead an offensive line that also includes senior Michael Simmons (6-3, 210) and junior Max Frank (5-11, 265), who moves to center, as well as sophomore Bryan Manzer (6-0, 170). Seniors Zach Kumm (6-3, 230) and Dominic Schmit (5-10, 225) and junior Dante Schmit (5-9, 210) will add depth in the line.
Reikofski (67 tackles) and Manzer (59 tackles) are returning starters at linebacker with sophomore Curtis Kralicek (6-0, 165) another linebacker with starting experience. Johnson leads the secondary.
Brett Simmons (62 tackles), Noah Koehler (58 tackles), Cody Koehler (49 tackles) and Michael Simmons all have starting experience in the defensive line; they should combine to make up a really good unit.
Kumm gives the team a veteran kicker and punter, which is another plus for 2014.
Wow, this will be a new-look Osmond team this season. Keeping them healthy the Tigers could win six and make the playoffs.
First-year head coach Brandon Kirby takes over a program that returns two starters on both sides of the ball from a team which last year qualified for the playoffs, finishing 4-5.
"We graduated a large senior class so we will build around a group of young players, with our juniors and seniors having the potential to be good players," says Coach Kirby, a 2008 graduate of Peru State College. "Our JV program has been successful the past couple of years as we have focused on teaching our kids how to play the game, and not just focusing on wins. Our goal is to build our boys into good young men in the community, which we believe will translate into wins on the field."
The team's most veteran running back is senior Jordan Burns, who last year rushed for 190 yards and caught passes for another 196 yards, while junior Aidan Kleinschmit looks to step in at quarterback and speedy senior Austin Hegge will play a key role at receiver.
Senior Nick Story is the lone returning starter in the offensive line where senior Christian Wilken will lead a group of contenders for playing time
Story (46 tackles, 2 FR) will lead a defensive line that will include Wilken while Burns (56 tackles) will be the team's best linebacker and Hegge and Kleinschmit will play in the secondary.
It's a season of transition at Wausa and we expect the Vikings to win a couple of games.
St. Mary's
For the most part injuries devastated the Cardinals in 2013. That's the bad news. The good news is St. Mary's will field a team with good experience, including four starters on both sides of the ball, after finishing last season 1-7.
"We will be young but experienced because a lot of those kids played last year because of injuries to our starters. We have a handful of seniors who played last year and we will count on them, especially early, while our younger players mature," says 16th year head coach Tony Allen, who led the Cardinals to the 2002 Class D-2 state championship.
Senior Zach Novak (5-11, 170), a second-team all-district player in 2013, is the hub of the St. Mary's offense, last season rushing for 569 yards and seven touchdowns and catching 21 passes for 274 yards and two TDs. Senior Mike Wecker (5-10, 160) has experience at running back and senior Brant Shoemaker (5-11, 140), who last year caught nine passes for 163 yards, gives the team a veteran presence on the edge. Keep on eye on rising sophomore Tyler Regan (6-5, 190), an outstanding athlete who will make a bigger offensive impact in 2014 after last year catching 15 passes for 183 yards.
Senior Adam Soukup (5-11, 230), a second-team all-district player at center, leads an offensive line that will count on lettermen like junior Marcus Schneider (6-1, 220) and sophomores Jacob Crumly (5-11, 170) and Will Atkeson (5-10, 190) to play important roles.
Novak (111 tackles, 2 FR) is an outstanding linebacker with Regan (42 tackles) and Soukup anchoring the defensive front. Wecker (60 tackles) and Shoemaker return in the secondary.
There are some pieces but the schedule the Cardinals face is balanced with few holes. We say they win something like three games.
For a third straight season the Coyotes won a playoff game, finishing 7-3, and will return a bundle of returning talent, seven starters on both sides of scrimmage.
"We are looking forward to a good football season even though there will be challenges ahead of us," says fourth-year head coach Matt McGinn. "We will be playing in a new district with a lot of quality teams and we will need to be in peak condition to compete week in and week out. Having some good experience returning will give our younger kids a chance to develop."
The Coyotes will feature one of the most the most explosive backfield combinations in eight-man football, including senior running back Trent Geiser (5-6, 160) and junior quarterback Troy Gilligan (5-8, 140). Geiser went into last season generally regarded as one of the best underclassmen in eight-man, only to have his season cut short by injury; he'll be back and ready to go this season. Gilligan took over the majority of the offensive load, rushing for 1,329 yards and 22 touchdowns and passing for another 1,281 yards and 13 TDs, truly amazing numbers.
Sophomore Keenan Stupka (5-6, 160) stepped in and gained 333 yards on the ground and scored three TDs as a rookie, and he'll be even better this time around. Also returning is junior end Shaun Christen (6-0, 160), who last year caught 13 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior center Kylen Thompsen (5-10, 160) will lead a veteran offensive line that will include senior Justin Wells (5-9, 180) and junior Tyler Chandler (6-0, 200). That has a chance to be one of D-2's better offensive lines in 2014.
Gilligan (67 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 FR), Stupka (39 tackles, 3 INTs) and Geiser will combine to give the Coyotes a dynamite secondary while Chandler, a returning all-district player who had 69 tackles and two fumble recoveries, and Thompsen (95 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FR) are outstanding linebackers.
Wells (41 tackles, 2 FR) is a returning all-district player and leads a defensive line that will include Christen (27 tackles, 2 INTs).
Don't be surprised to see the Coyotes run the regular season table, win the district and advance in the playoffs. I won't be.
A strong finish to the 2013 season and the return of starters at 11 positions, six on offense, has the Knights thinking big thoughts after last year's 4-5 finish.
"I feel like if we pick up where we left off last season we have the ability to compete for a district title. We played a ton of young kids last year and still finished tied for first in our district, which was a huge step forward for our program," says third-year head coach Josh Deines, a 2012 graduate of Midland University.
One of the better all-around players in Class D-2, senior Justin Lee (6-5, 195) returns at tight end after last season catching 35 passes for 575 yards and eight touchdowns. Getting him the ball is outstanding sophomore quarterback Jacey Nutter (6-1, 175), a returning all-district player who as a rookie passed for 1,009 yards and 15 touchdowns and also rushed for 176 yards and three more touchdowns.
Two veteran seniors return at running back, including Caden Jameson (5-9, 170), who rushed for 418 yards and six touchdowns, and Alex Coffman (5-9, 150), who gained 211 yard and scored five times. Look for sophomore Colby Collier (5-9,175) to add some pop to the running game after last year gaining 181 yards and scoring five TDs in limited touches.
Three starters return in the line, including juniors Cole Hewett (6-0, 185) and Dylan Andersen (5-10, 180) and senior Shane Lewis (5-9, 200). Incoming freshman Tyler Swisher (6-0, 200) is expected to make an immediate impact in the line.
Nutter (83 tackles, 4 INTs), Jameson (46 tackles, 2 INTs) and Coffman (45 tackles) will give the Knights one of the better secondaries in Class D-2 football. Lee (61 tackles, 3 FR) and Collier (58 tackles, 4 FR) are an excellent set of linebackers and Andersen (57 tackles, 10 TFL, 4 sacks) leads a defensive line that will include Hewett and Swisher. Additional help on the defensive side of the ball will come from junior Greg Schukei (5-7, 150), who had 28 tackles last season, and sophomore Austin Coffman (6-0,150), who had 20 tackles.
That's a lot of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball...
Defending D-2 runner-up Stuart, Overton and Anselmo-Merna are on the schedule but we see Sandhills/Thedford winning five or six, including a surprise along the way. Just sayin'...
After reeling off 11 straight wins to open last season, a run which led the Eagles to the Class D-1 semifinals, Overton drops to Class D-2, returning just two players with starting experience from an 11-1 team.
"I think we can have a good season as long as we have some of our underclassmen step up and take on some roles they haven't played at the varsity level," says head coach Paul Heusinkvelt, who has compiled a 23-8 record in his three seasons at Overton. "We will ride the backs of our offensive and defensive lines and want to be a tough, hard-nosed team."
A returning all-stater, senior Zach Zeleski (6-0, 270) is one of the premier linemen in eight-man football and he and senior Dillon Margritz (6-0, 185) represent the foundation of the team's offensive front. Senior Taylor Dedrick (6-1, 195) and junior Bricen Margritz (5-10, 220) figure to step into key roles in the line, as will senior tight end Kris Seberger (5-10, 175).
Senior Creighton Ryan (6-4, 180), who saw time at running back and wide receiver last season, will become the team's new starting quarterback with senior Justin Hodgson (6-0, 180), who last year rushed for 143 yards, bringing some experience to the running game. Sophomores Josh Thompson (5-7, 150) and Tony Vollmer (5-7, 150) will add depth in the running game.
Zeleski (50 tackles, 15.5 TFL) is a monster at the line of scrimmage and will be joined in the D-line by Dillon and Bricen Margritz and Dedrick. Hodgson (48 tackles) is a quality linebacker who will be joined at that position by Seberger, Thompson and Vollmer.
Ryan will play safety on defense.
Opening with Med Valley, Kenesaw and Giltner is no piece of cake and with all the new faces we expect Overton to finish somewhere around .500.
A roster filled with veteran players, including seven starters on offense and five on offense, gives hope to the idea Pleasanton will improve upon last year's 4-4 mark.
"We have several returning starters returning and if they can help us establish a solid foundation, beginning with great leadership and hard work, we will have a chance to be a very good team," says head coach Ricci Westland, a 1995 graduate who has won 107 games in his 18 years at PHS.
An outstanding athlete, senior Brendan Axmann (5-9, 145) will become a four-year starter, a returning all-district player who last season rushed for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns and passed for another 443 yards and four TDs. The Bulldogs also return an outstanding running back in all-district senior Colton Lammers (5-8, 160), who last year rushed for 851 yards and 10 touchdowns, with incoming freshman Hunter Paitz (6-1, 160) likely to help at the skill positions.
Senior Blake Eckhout (6-2, 140) is a talented receiver, last year catching nine passes for 226 yards (25 yards per) and two touchdowns. Returning at the other tight end position is senior Kale Miller (5-9, 145) with sophomore Ryan Busch (6-2, 185) a talented athlete who will contribute.
Three starters return in the offensive line, including seniors Nicho Tapia (5-8, 220) and Mike Winberg (6-0, 210) and promising junior Trey Keaschall (5-10, 260) another returning starter who wrestled in last year's state semifinals.
Eckhout (53 tackles), Axmann (52 tackles, 3 INTs) and Miller (33 tackles, 4 TFL), who was another all-district pick, lead a secondary that will probably include Paitz; it should be an outstanding secondary. Lammers (86 tackles, 7.5 TFL) is an all-district linebacker while Tapia (36 tackles, 5.5 TFL), Keaschall, Winberg and Busch will man the defensive front.
These seniors have helped slowly rebuild the program and we see the payoff this year, when the Bulldogs win six or seven in the regular season and compete for the district title and playoff berth.
There's a new head coach at S-E-M, where former Bertrand mentor Brent Streeter steps into the leadership role, taking over a team that returns seven starters on defense and six on offense. The Mustangs were winless in 2013.
"There is a good among of experience on the team and we will play a lot of sophomores and juniors," says Coach Streeter, who has won 86 games in his career.
Sophomore Jason Line (5-10, 150) returns as the team's quarterback after last year passing for 318 yards and one touchdown with junior Dalton Nichols (5-10, 200) and sophomore Nathan Schroeder (5-10, 170) expected to play the running back positions. Junior Stetson Dittmar (5-8, 150) returns as a starter at wide receiver.
A defending state champion wrestler and a starter since he was a freshman, junior Grant Clausen (5-10, 260) returns to lead an offensive line that will also include senior Chantz Klein (5-9, 185) and junior Francisco Orozco (6-1, 260).
Dittmar (27 tackles) and Line will lead the secondary while Schroeder (22 tackles) and Nichols will play linebacker for the Mustangs. Clausen (31 tackles), Klein (33 tackles) and Orozco will anchor the team's defensive line.
Especially if the offense can find a way to develop some consistency the Mustangs can win a couple of games this season.
Inexperienced and battered by injury, the 2013 Kenesaw team fell short of its usual lofty standards, making the playoffs but finishing 2-7. Head coach Craig Schnitzler returns six starters on defense and five on offense.
"With a year's experience that alone should make us a better team plus we have a good talent base in our junior and senior classes and a good group of freshmen entering the program," says Coach Schnitzler, who has an 84-45 career coaching record. "We must become more physical and control the line of scrimmage, especially on defense, and we must stay healthy. We feel really good about this team going into the 2014 season."
The return of running backs Austin Schnitzler (5-11, 195) and Preston Schnitzler (5-8, 175) will help the Blue Devils immensely. Austin, the senior, played into the third game of the season before having his 2013 season end due to a leg injury; in that brief amount of time he rushed for 612 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Preston, a junior, missed all of last year due to a torn ACL but as a freshman he was good for 965 yards rushing, 26 catches for 404 yards and 24 touchdowns. Having them around for the entire season will make the offense as dynamic as any in Class D-2.
In the Schnitzler's absence junior Isaiah McChesney (5-10, 170) was a quality replacement, last season rushing for 676 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Keaton Harpham (5-9, 175) returns as the team's starting quarterback, last season passing for 404 yards and rushing for another 254 yards.
Expect senior Wyatt Woodman (6-1, 185) to be a big-play factor at tight end, last year turning just nine catches into 301 yards (33.2 yards per catch!) and six touchdowns. Not sure what happened on the other three catches.
A two-time all-district pick, senior Zach Edwards (5-11, 260) is an all-state type player in the line and will be joined in the line by junior Carson Woodman (6-2, 225), a fellow returning starter, and senior Tyler Long (5-10, 185) and junior Red Johnson (5-8, 190), who will battle for the starting center position.
Austin Schnitzler leads a group of linebackers which also includes juniors Jake Brunk (5-9, 185), who last year had 36 tackles, Chris Bures (6-3, 195), who had 33 tackles, and Dylan Shurigar (5-9, 175), who totaled 33 tackles. Edward (71 tackles) anchors the defensive line with Carson Woodman (43 tackles) and another returning starter in the D-line and Wyatt Woodman and Johnson other candidates in that unit.
Preston Schnitzler and McChesney (67 tackles) and Harpham (34 tackles) will give the Blue Devils an athletically gifted secondary.
Real easy to see Kenesaw flipping their record from 2013, winning seven or more, and advancing in the playoffs.
After reaching the playoffs for a second straight season the Pirates return six starters on both offense and defense from last year's 5-4 team.
"We return a lot of starters who are quality athletes but our schedule is tough with several teams which are top ten caliber," says Kevin Mahlberg, who enters his 35th season as EHS head coach. Last season Mahlberg won his 200th career game. "Our strengths will be on defense and our offensive backfield but the development of our offensive line will be key for us. Making the playoffs the past two years should give this group some confidence."
Senior QB Zach Hackbart (6-2, 195) is an outstanding dual threat who last year rushed for 875 yards and passed for 488 yards and 12 touchdowns, all in just eight games. Joining him in the backfield is a pair of senior scatbacks, Billie Smith (5-9, 150), who rushed for 423 yards in six games, and Blake Tiede (6-1, 180), who last season gained 432 yards.
The Pirates will be able to feature one of the better receivers in Class D-2, senior Skyler Werger (5-10, 170), a returning all-district pick who last season caught 17 passes for 394 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior Cole Remmenga (5-10, 165) will play the other end.
Senior Caleb Wilson (5-10, 175), a two-year starter, and Sean Clouse (6-0, 245), a second-team all-district pick in 2013, return to lead the offensive line, which could also include senior Matt Rahles (210), who started two games last season.
Senior Delton Ulmer (5-10, 145), a returning all-district player who totaled 52 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries, joins with Werger (77 tackles, 9 PBU) and Hackbart (49 tackles, 3 INTs) to form one of the best secondaries in Class D-2 football. Remmenga (103 tackles, 3 FR), Tiede (54 tackles) and Smith (53 tackles) form what should be an outstanding linebacker corps and Clouse, Wilson and Rahles will lead the defensive line.
Seems like Elwood has a winning hand this year, one good enough to win six or seven regular season games and another one or two in the playoffs.
In one of the more shocking developments of the eight-man offseason, respected and longtime Butte/Boyd County coach Steve Colfack has taken the reigns at Bertrand, replacing another longtime coach in Brent Streeter, who has taken the job at Sumner-Eddyville-Miller.
Colfack, who won a title at Butte in 1998 and coached that program to three other state finals, takes over a program which returns five starters on defense and four on offense from a 5-4 playoff team.
One of the most dynamic underclassmen in eight-man football, junior running back Tyrell Younger has all-stater written all over him after last year breaking out with 1,090 yards and 16 touchdown rushing and 12 receptions for 227 yards and two more scores. Senior QB Jake Samuelson is another outstanding athlete, a dual threat who last season passed for 960 yards and 14 TDs and rushed for another 491 yards and seven scores. Having them in the backfield is a good place for any eight-man team to start.
Junior Dakota Fitzgerald is a returning veteran at receiver and sophomore tight end Jared Kugler snagged a pair of TD passes last season while sophomores Cooper Grabenstein and Grant Dahlgren will also help at the skill positions.
The Vikings return a pair of solid linemen in senior Connor Liljestrand and junior Dillen Mumm with junior Jared Denny and sophomore Creighton Peterson also in the offensive line mix.
Younger (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 INTs) is a playmaker at linebacker and joins with Liljestrand (71 tackles) to give the Vikings an outstanding set of starters at that position with Denny (46 tackles), Grabenstein and Dahlgren next in line. Mumm (53 tackles) is a returning starter in the D-line with Peterson (22 tackles) and Kugler also expected to play.
Samuelson (49 tackles, 5 INTs) is a ball hawk in the defensive backfield with Gregg (27 tackles) and Fitzgerald also expected to play.
It's a new day at Bertrand and we see the Vikings coming up with another five win season.
After an outstanding 7-3 that included a playoff win the Wolves return just three starters on both offense and defense.
"We have some good players but our depth is questionable at this point. As we develop players we will improve," says veteran head coach Denis Reese, who has won 164 games in his coaching career.
The Loomis backfield will have some snap, crackle and pop thanks to the return of senior quarterback Zach Clark (6-0, 175) and senior running back Jack Otting-Crandell (6-2, 190). Clark last season proved to be an outstanding dual threat, rushing for 741 yards and 15 TDs and passing for another 697 yards and five scores while Otting-Crandell, a first-team all-district back, rushed for 726 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 110 yards and a score. That's a great start for any eight-man team.
Two juniors with starting experience returning in the line, including Collin Rodenbaugh (6-4, 220), who was second-team all-district in 2013, and AJ Matejka (6-2, 225). Sophomore Trevor Maaske (6-3, 245) and junior Seth Beisner (6-2, 190) are among the prospects to step into regular roles in the line.
Senior Braden Blincow (5-9,145) and junior AJ Carlson (6-1, 175) are lettermen who will play the end positions on offense.
Otting-Crandell (87 tackles, 3 INTs) and Clark (24 tackles) will man the linebacker positions with Rodenbaugh (79 tackles, 2 FR) and Matejka (41 tackles) leaders in the defensive line, where Maaske and Beisner will be among other candidates for playing time. Senior Jesse Thompson (5-9, 145), who recorded 25 tackles in 2013, will lead the secondary.
We say the Wolves bring along some of those untested players and find a way to win four or five games.
After qualifying for the playoffs a fourth time in five seasons the Cardinals drop from D-1 to D-2, returning three starters on both sides of the ball from last year's 4-5 team.
"We will be a very young team this year and will need a lot of underclassmen to step up at many different positions," says ninth-year head coach Isaac Frecks, a 2005 graduate of Hastings College. "We will also need our upperclassmen to be good leaders and we will need to stay healthy in order to compete in what will be a very difficult district."
Three solid players return in the offensive line, including senior Artyom Zhilin (5-11, 190) and sophomore Wyatt Gibson (5-8, 195), along with senior tight end Ryan Soderholm (6-0, 150). Sophomore letterman Gunner Prickett (6-0, 180) is a tough kid who figures to earn time in the line.
Veteran junior Ashton Hammond (5-8, 150) will lead the group of running backs with sophomores Parker Janicek (5-10, 145) and Eric Kovarik (5-10, 130) also in line to get some carries. Sophomore Chase Konert (6-0, 145), "who has a good arm," says Coach Frecks, will step in at quarterback.
Hammond (64 tackles, 2 FR) is a feisty tackler and will lead a secondary that will also include Soderholm, Janicek, Konert and Kovarik, a unit which could develop into a team strength. Zhilin (60 tackles) and Gibson give the Cardinals a set of veteran linebackers but Prickett is the only defensive lineman with any real varsity experience.
Look for Alma to win something like three or four games this season.
Medicine Valley
After qualifying for the playoffs a fifth time in six years the Raiders return five starters on offense and four on defense from an 8-3 team that finished ranked in the Class D-2 top ten. It was the third straight season Med Valley had reached the playoff quarterfinals.
"We return a good group of skill players but we have some important holes in the lineup to fill due to graduation," says head coach Scott Johnsen, who has won 98 games in his career. "There will be some great competition in fall camp and our first game (Overton) will be a great test to see where our program is at compared with other good ones across the state."
Somebody who comes out pretty good in any comparison is senior QB Chase Barthel (5-8, 160), an exciting dual-threat who last season rushed for 1,327 yards and 18 touchdowns and also passed for 847 yards and 15 TDs. His leading returning receiver is senior Zane Michelsen (5-11, 170), who last season pulled in 18 passes for 179 yards and four touchdowns.
Med Valley also has a versatile running back in senior Cody Aspenleiter (6-0, 175), who last year rushed for 592 yards and 14 TDs and was also all-district as a kick returner and punter (33.7 per).
Leading the offensive line will be all-district senior TJ Aanenson (5-11, 180), with senior Brett Jones (5-10, 190) another returning starter and senior Keaton Lenz (5-10, 175) and junior John Klintworth (6-1, 180) figuring to play in the line.
Lenz (110 tackles) led the team in tackles in 2013 and is a returning all-district player, with Aspenleiter also back at linebacker. Barthel and Michelsen give the Raiders an excellent set of DBs while Aanenson and Jones are returning starters in the D-line and Klintworth likely to start at end.
This is a program on a roll and we expect the Raiders will win about seven in the regular season and advance again come playoff time.
Following a season in which the Wildcats won nine of 11 games, reaching the Class D-2 state quarterfinals before suffering an narrow loss, head coach Gary Hager returns five starters on both offense and defense.
"Coming off one of the best seasons in our history we return most of our line but we will need some players to step up on the offensive side of the ball since we lost most of our production," says Coach Hager, who enters his fourth year as head coach. "Our defense should still be solid."
Leading the offensive line is one of the better small school athletes in the state, senior Jeffrey Harms (6-0, 195), with second-team all-district lineman Bi Gatobu (5-10, 230) also returning as well as first-team all-district tight end Andrew Gardner (6-2, 195), who last year caught 331 yards of passes, including seven touchdowns. Could be Gardner winds up at running back, playing behind junior fullback Josh May (5-10, 215).
Senior tight end Dillon Koop (6-4, 170) and junior Tanner Clough (5-11, 140) will also be contributors at end.
Holding the keys to the offense will be sophomore Jacob Melton (6-1, 160), who played a great deal on defense last season as a freshman and will now get the start at QB.
Harms (180 tackles) is as dynamic a linebacker as you will find in eight-man football, a returning all-stater who will be joined by Gardner (75 tackles) at that position. May, a second-team all-district pick in 2013, and Gatobu return in the defensive line with Clough and Melton manning the secondary.
You could see Wallace winning six or seven in the regular season and making the playoffs.
Hitchcock County
A playoff team in 2013, something the program had accomplished just one other time, the Falcons return five starters on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 6-3.
"The key to us having a successful season is if we can develop an offensive line and we also need some players to step up at linebacker," says veteran head coach Clark Benne, who led Oakland-Craig to the 1995 Class C-2 state title and to a runner-up finish in 1997. "We are going to need some contributions from some players who are relatively inexperienced."
A four-year starter and two-time all-district player, senior Justin Kershaw (6-2, 220) will anchor the line from his tight end position; he's also an outstanding receiver, last year catching 25 passes for 288 yards and two TDs. Senior Daniel Arp (6-3, 175) will return at the other tight end spot, he caught 20 passes for 257 yards and three TDs, with sophomore Dakota Hagan (5-8, 225) the lone returning starter in the interior line.
Senior Levi Baughman (5-7, 150) will start at quarterback for the Falcons with John Rippen (5-10, 165) at running back. Baughman last year rushed for 153 yards and two TDs in limited carries.
Kershaw (80 tackles), Arp and Hagan return in the defensive line, with Arp playing some linebacker this fall, and Rippen and Baughman in the secondary. Five other lettermen will help fill in the blanks.
The Falcons took some major graduation hit so let's call for something like three wins and hope that line comes together.
With five starters back on both sides of the ball there is every reason to expect Eustis-Farnam will turn in a much better than last year's 1-7 finish.
"We have a strong group of seniors who have played since they were freshmen and that varsity experience will help us this year. Our players have been in the weight room, seeing the value of that kind of work," says head coach Paul Pistulka.
A tough little dude - he's a three-time state wrestling medalist - senior Chris Werth (5-8, 150) can pass a little (449 yards, 5 TDs) and run a little (206 yards, 4 TDs) and will run the show for the Knights. Senior Collin Thompson (5-11, 215) is a power back who last year rushed for 540 yards and four TDs and also caught 15 passes and Isaac Hueftle (5-9, 165) should get some carries, and be an impact player, if he can avoid the injuries which have plagued him the past two seasons.
Four starters return in the line, including a pair of senior interior linemen, Austin Boller (6-2, 215) and Marcus Wilcox (5-10, 195), and tight ends Mitch Reiker, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, and Mitch Head, a 5-10, 190-pound junior. Senior Logan Purdy (5-11, 225) and junior Lane Baxter (5-7, 180) are lettermen who will have a chance to earn playing time and first-year player Dusty Earwood (5-11, 225) is a senior who could be a big help.
Werth (89 tackles, 3 FR) and Thompson return at linebacker with Boller (42 tackles, 2 FR), Reiker (36 tackles), Wilcox and Head making up the defensive line. There will be new faces in the secondary with juniors Jordan Lauby (5-8, 130) and Gage Bellamy (5-5, 130) among the prospects.
Purdy returns as the team's punter after averaging 30.4 per kick last season.
Look for the Knights to win about four games this season.
After last year finishing 1-7 the Roughriders return five starters on defense and four on offense.
"We have good returning experience on both sides of the ball and we will rely on underclassmen to contribute heavily, especially on offense," says third-year head coach Nick Brost, a 2006 graduate of Chadron State College.
Leading the offensive line will be the team's only returning all-district player, senior Jackson Porter (6-0, 220), with junior Michael Lord (6-2, 210) another returning starter and senior Danny Sughroue (6-3, 195) and sophomores Connor McConville (6-2, 190) and Lance Kelley (6-0, 200) adding depth.
There is plenty of returning depth in the offensive backfield where the running backs are led by senior Brenton Ellis (5-8, 135), who last year led the team with 588 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Both junior Garrett Fries (5-8, 135) and senior Austin Minard (5-9, 140) are proven runners, Fries last year rushing for 352 yards and four touchdowns and Minard 192 yards and adding two touchdowns.
Junior letterman James Sughroue (5-10, 160) figures to start at quarterback.
Ellis (53 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Fries (62 tackles, 4 passes broken up) along with James Sughroue will lead the secondary while Minard (74 tackles) is the team's best linebacker. Lord (36 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Porter (33 tackles), Kelly and McConville should team for a solid defensive line.
Let's say the Roughriders take a step in the right direction and win about three games this season.
Longtime assistant Mitch Pfeiffer enters his second year as head coach with five starters back on both offense and defense from last year's 5-4 playoff team. It was 12th consecutive season the Broncos played in the postseason.
"We return a good core of returning starters and lettermen but we have to fill some key positions due to graduation," says Coach Pfeiffer, a 1985 graduate of UN-Kearney.
They feature the running game at Mullen and the star of the show is junior Gideon Monette (6-0, 185), already a two-time all-district player who last season led the team with 924 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Adding depth to the run game will be powerful senior Britt McIntosh (6-0, 235), who rushed for 397 yards and six touchdowns, sophomore Lance Moore (6-0, 160), who in 2013 rushed for 369 yards and five TDs, and senior Michael Stichka (5-6, 140), who added 138 yards on the ground.
Also returning is senior QB Adam Starr (6-1, 185), who last season passed for 304 yards and five touchdowns and rushed another 150 yards and two TDs.
Returning at offensive end is junior Peyton Call (5-11, 190) while junior Emmet Storer (6-4, 200) is the lone returning starter in the line.
McIntosh (60 tackles) is a returning all-district linebacker while Monette (59 tackles), Call (43 tackles, 3 FR), Starr, Moore and Stichka will play in the defensive back end.
Expect more power football from the Broncos, along with five or six regular season wins and a playoff berth.
Returning five starters on both offense and defense, and dropping from Class D-1 to Class D-2, the Tigers are aiming to improve last year's 3-5 record, counting on young players to help get the job done.
"We have great numbers but two-thirds of them are freshmen and sophomores. We need to become more physical on defense and take advantage of what is going to be very good senior leadership," says 11th year head coach Mike Morland. "A lot of what happens for us will depend on our line play but we want to be in the hunt for a district title."
A returning all-district player, senior Cody Blackwell (5-9, 140) will move from running back to quarterback. He should be outstanding in that role, a playmaker who last year led the team with 817 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Sophomore Cade Schimonitz (6-0, 160) is a returning starter who last year rushed for 438 yards and four touchdowns and could easily double those numbers in 2014. Senior Kolton Carlyle (5-11, 170) will also help in the running game and senior Trey Zuniga (5-8, 180) will help somewhere on offense.
Providing leadership in the line will be two returning starters, senior Rhett O'Connor (5-11, 210), who is the team's vocal leader, and junior Chance Morland (6-3, 240), who could blossom this fall. Also returning is starting tight end Brett Storer, a 6-3, 190-pound senior who last year caught seven passes for 70 yards and a TD. Junior letterman Kord Gartrell (5-10, 200) is being counted upon to fill the other starting spot in the line.
Blackwell (48 tackles, 8 INTs) is a dynamic safety and will join with Schmonitz (33 tackles) to form a good secondary while Morland (26 tackles, 5.5 TFL), O'Connor (34 tackles, 3.5 TFL) and Gartrell will man the D-line. Storer (45 tackles, 3.5 TFL), senior Alex Fox (5-11, 170), who totaled 23 tackles last fall, and Zuniga will play linebacker. Zuniga is also the team's returning place kicker.
There is a chance Paxton could surprise if those younger players develop quickly but we are calling for something like last year's three wins.
Dropping from Class D-1 the Wildcats return five starters on defense and four on offense.
"We have a solid group of returning players, with more starting experience than we usually have to start a season and it will be good to have seniors Jaydn Sturdivant and Jacob Whisenhunt, who were hurt last year," says eighth-year head coach Ryan Jones. "We have a JV team that was 6-0 last season and that group will provide us some depth."
Sturdivant (5-8, 170), who was an all-district player as a sophomore but missed all of last year due to a knee injury, could wind up as the team's quarterback or maybe split time at running back. Junior Blake Morrissey (5-10, 155) could also emerge as the team's starter at QB. Rising sophomore fullback Garett Schledewitz (5-8, 215) had a huge rookie season, making the all-district team and rushing for 607 yards and 16 touchdowns, rounding out what should be an outstanding backfield.
Junior Zac Miller (6-2, 200) gives the Wildcats an outstanding blocker at tight end and he can catch it, too, last year pulling in 11 passes, three for TDs. Junior Levi Simmons (5-9, 205) is a leading candidate to play the other tight end position.
Senior guard Jeremiah Keith (6-1, 250) will lead an offensive line which will include junior center Marcus Miller (6-1, 230) and junior guard Houston Crane (6-1, 225), with senior letterman Breyden Geyer (6-0, 195) providing depth in the line.
Schledewitz (72 tackles), Sturdivant and Morrissey return at linebacker while senior Christian Simmons (5-7, 170) will battle for playing time, while junior Ryan McKeeman (5-7, 150) returns as a starter in the secondary.
Miller, Keith, Miller, Crane and junior Sage Galley (5-11, 160) return in the defensive line, where Levi Simmons and junior Connor Cornell (6-1, 190) will add depth.
Look for Maxwell to win five games or so and be a factor in the district and playoff races.
A veteran team which qualified for the playoffs last season, Brady appears to be a good shape for a rebound from last year's 2-7 season. Head coach Andy Seamann returns six starters on defense and five on offense.
"All six of those returning positions are held by seniors, which is another advantage," says Coach Seamann, who enters his fourth year at BHS. "Defense was a weakness for us last year but to have six starters back should mean better play on the side of the ball and we have some playmakers on offense. I am fully confident our seniors are going to seize the moment and become better leaders, helping lead this team to the playoffs and possibly a district title."
Returning to the starting quarterback job is senior Trevor Mann (6-1, 180), a dual threat who last year passed for 630 yards and five TDs and rushed for another 394 yards and eight TDs. Two running backs with experience return, including senior Cody Warren (5-8, 160), who rushed for 294 yards and five TDs, and sophomore Matt Neiman (5-11, 165), who rushed for 221 yards and two scores.
A two-time all-district pick, senior tight end Troy Lusk (6-1, 170) is the team's leading receiver, last season having caught 21 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Adding depth to the receiving corps is seniors Jon Taullie (5-9, 145), who caught 17 passes last season, and Chase Viter (6-2, 170), who pulled in 12 receptions.
There is work to be done in the offensive line, which returns junior center Nate Sitorius (6-3, 180), with senior Cody Most (6-1, 190) expected to gobble up one of the other starting jobs.
Senior Levi Destefano (6-3, 195) is a playmaker at linebacker, the team's leading returning tackler (62 total) to go with five tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Viter (60 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FR), Neiman (29 tackles) and Lusk give the team an outstanding set of linebackers.
Taullie (53 tackles, 2 INTs) is a returning all-district safety and kicker (32.1 punt average) and will lead a secondary which will include Mann and junior Dane Porter (5-10, 135) while Sitorius (38 tackles) will anchor the defensive line.
Gotta get the line figured out but coaches love seniors in the starting lineup and this bunch figures to win right at four games and make a run at the playoffs.
The Broncos are back, after ending their cooperative effort with McPherson County. Stapleton will have eight starters back on both sides of the ball after SMC finished last season 1-7.
"We have good experience and good speed and strength to build our team around," says second-year head coach Mark Shaw, a graduate of Hastings College.
Running the show for the Broncos will be senior quarterback Logan Paben (6-0, 155), who last season rushed for 417 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 351 yards and five more touchdowns. Senior Laramie Fowler (6-0, 160) is the team's leading returning rusher (135 yards) and seniors Luke Walz (6-0, 200) and Brock Alexander (6-0, 215) return at fullback.
Four more seniors will fill out the offensive line, including Clancey Barnum (6-0, 170), Tanner Donohoe (6-0, 220), Justin Cosler (6-0, 285) and Drew Schaeffer (6-0, 170).
Fowler (56 tackles, 3 FR) and Paben (48 tackles) lead a secondary that will include Walz while Schaeffer (23 tackles) and Barnum (20 tackles, 2 FR) return at linebacker and Cosler (18 tackles), Donohoe and Alexander will play the defensive line.
It will be interesting to see how the transition to stand alone program but we see the Broncos finding their way to a couple of wins, maybe three.
Coming off an excellent 7-2 season which included a second straight playoff berth the Warriors return four starters on both sides of scrimmage.
"We will return a two-year starter at running back, will have a strong core of defensive linemen and some other key starters but we also have no depth in the backfield, our underclassmen lack experience and we need to rebuild at quarterback and the receiver positions," says head coach Glen Lipska, a 1997 graduate of Chadron State College who enters his 11th year at Leyton.
Senior running back Jared Westman (5-8, 165) is the team's most accomplished player, a returning all-district pick who last year rushed for 413 yards and nine touchdowns and also caught 14 passes for 142 yards and a TD. Senior James Rushman (5-7, 150), who last year rushed for 132 yards and two TDs and caught 12 passes for 181 yards and three scores, will likely play both quarterback and running back, with sophomore letterman Zach Hellie (6-0, 150) another option at quarterback. Junior Rhett Dye (5-8, 125), who last year rushed for 148 yards and four touchdowns, also brings experience to the running back position.
Two juniors return as starters in the offensive line, including Freeman Lineback (5-7, 280) and Tanner Bellmyer (6-0, 180), with junior Jake Ernst (5-10, 250) expected to bid for playing time in the line.
Senior Cody McKay (6-2, 170) gives the Warriors a quality receiver at tight end, where last season he caught 10 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Drew Brenner (5-8, 135) will be another option at tight end.
Westman (30 tackles, 2 INTs) returns as a starter at linebacker, where Hellie is also expected to play, while Rushman (31 tackles) leads a secondary that will include Dye and Brenner.
McKay (34 tackles, 4 TFL) and Bellmyer (35 tackles, 2.5 TFL) leas a defensive line that also returns Lineback (19 tackles), with Ernest and junior Jeff Deal (5-7, 125) adding depth.
Lots of things have to work out but Leyton is always a competitive program and we expect the Warriors to reach .500 this season.
Garden County
Rebuilding both lines will be a top priority for the Eagles, who three return starters on both offense and defense from last year's playoff team which finished 5-4.
"We return some skill people but suffered heavy losses on both the offensive and defensive line," says Jason Spady, who is 98-40 in his 13 seasons as Garden County head coach. "Low numbers will limit our depth and our underclassmen will need to be ready to play early in the season if are going to have some success this season."
Junior Elliott Epp (5-10, 165) returns as the team's starting QB after last season passing for 391 yards and three TDs and rushing for 207 yards and five more scores. Junior Matthew McCarthy (5-10, 165) is the team's most accomplished rusher, last season rushing for 479 yards and nine touchdowns, while senior Dustin Bleidt (5-11, 155) did last season add 199 yards and four rushing TDs and sophomore Mason Zorn (5-9, 145) also played some last year.
Senior Tristan Kirch (5-11, 160) is the lone returning starter in the line, so the Eagles are going to look to senior Logan Douglas (6-3, 280) and juniors David Young (5-11, 215), Jeremy Hart (5-9, 225) and Chris Wheeler (5-9, 150) to play important blocking roles.
Senior Ryan Smith (6-1, 165) is the team's most experienced receiver, last season catching six passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Epp (98 tackles, 3 FR) is a returning all-district linebacker with McCarthy (45 tackles) and Smith (48 tackles) also back at that position, making it a certain steam strength. Bleidt and Zorn will lead the secondary while Kirch returns as a starter in the D-line with Douglas, Young and Hart giving the interior of the line some good size.
Some untested players will need to deliver, especially in the line, but at Garden County they win, so look for another five-win season.
It will be a veteran crew at Potter-Dix where the Coyotes return seven starters on both sides of the ball from a team which finished 2-6 and missed the playoffs after reaching the postseason three of the previous four seasons.
"We have a lot of experience and leadership returning but depth will be our biggest concern," says co-head coach Dale Frerichs, a 2002 Chadron State College graduate entering his sixth season at Potter-Dix.
Senior fullback Jake Johnson (6-1, 180), who rushed for 185 yards and two TDs, and junior running back Kelsey Rozelle (5-10,150), who gained 363 yards and scored nine touchdowns, give the Coyotes a solid backfield with senior athlete Cameron Purcell (6-0, 175) and sophomore Noah Nelson (5-10, 145) also good fits at the skill positions. Senior Coby Hicks (5-10, 150) is the team's most veteran wide receiver.
Senior Sammie Gingerich (6-0, 220) and junior Wyatt Long (5-7, 175) are returning starers in the interior offensive line with senior Cooper Hicks (6-0, 180) the returning starter at tight end. Seniors Keverett Rusk (6-3, 285), Cody Garlach (5-9, 270) and Zac Godfrey (5-7, 200) will add depth in the line.
Johnson (78 tackles, 7 TFL) and Gingerich (83 tackles, 7 TFL) are both returning all-district defensive linemen and will be joined in that unit by Long and others. Cooper Hicks (94 tackles) is a returning all-district linebacker and will lead a group that will also include Rozelle (57 tackles, 2 INTs) and maybe Purcell.
Coby Hicks (51 tackles) will lead the secondary where Nelson could wind up playing.
Last year was a building season and the payoff should come this time around; we see the Coyotes winning something like five or six games and competing for the district title.
Hay Springs
Last season the Hawks not only qualified for the playoffs a third time in four seasons they also bagged their first-ever playoff win. Second-year head coach Jason Funk tries to build on that success, returning five starters on both sides of the ball from last year's 7-3 team.
"We should be strong in the line with four starters back but we did lose all of our backs," says Coach Funk, a 1994 graduate of Chadron State College. "We are expecting great things out of this group of seniors, who have a lot of playing experience and great leadership skills. Most of the boys are on the team (23) and the kids' attitude is amazing."
Anchoring the offensive line is a pair of seniors, both of them returning all-district players, including Seth Nowak (6-4, 225) and Riley Abbott (6-0, 220), with senior Kolton Marx (5-10, 160) back at one tight end position and junior Austin Reed (6-0, 190) at the other.
Rushing duties will be split between seniors Chris Ray (5-8, 145) and Levi Ray (5-9, 140) with senior Jordan Encinia (5-10, 160) and sophomore Garrett Weyers (6-1, 180) helping at the skill positions.
Abbott (48 tackles) and Nowak (40 tackles, 6.5 sacks) are returning starters in the offensive line with Weyers a likely third starter. Reed (30 tackles, 2 INTs) returns at linebacker and there is good depth in the secondary with Levi Ray (54 tackles, 2 INTs), Marx (41 tackles), Encinia (25 tackles, 3 INTs) and Chris Ray (24 tackles) comprising what should be an outstanding group.
Encinia also returns as the team's punter, last season averaging 32.6 per kick.
We expect the Hawks to win something like four or five games in 2014.
With seven starters back on both sides of the ball there is great hope the Rams can improve upon last year's 1-7 mark.
"The experience we gained last year should show up on the field this year and put is in a position to be competitive within our district," says eighth-year head coach John James, a 1997 graduate of Black Hills (S.D.) State. "We struggled last year due to being a young team without much depth. This season we have seven starters back on both sides of the ball and a large freshman class to help us with depth.
"We will be better in both lines and we hope to throw the ball better this year to breathe some life into the offense."
The Rams will return their entire offensive backfield, including senior QB Colton Micheel, who was all-district in 2013 and rushed for a team-high 413 yards and seven TDs and passed for another 172 yards and a score, as well as senior running back Joe Kriz and junior fullback Taylor Alcorn. Kriz last year rushed for 211 yards and two TDs while Alcorn rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
Four starters return in the offensive line including seniors Darin Lemmon, Charles Anderson and Blendon Olson and junior Kain Forbes. Look for contributions from senior Devon Julius and junior Josh Harris, a pair of transfer students.
Alcorn (36 tackles, 4 TFL) is a returning all-district linebacker and will lead the Crawford defense. Kriz (29 tackles, 3.5 TFL) and Micheel (30 tackles) return in the secondary while Lemmon, Anderson, Olson and Forbes bring great experience to the D-line.
No doubt this is a more experienced team and we like the Rams to win somewhere around three or four games.
South Platte
Having to replace six starters from a 2-6 team will be the main challenge in front of the Blue Knights for 2014.
"We have several positions to fill but many of our underclassmen did gain experience last season and will have the chance to step up as starters," says head coach Ken Bartels, who prepares for his 27th season in coaching, his 17th at South Platte.
Junior Rowan Ford (5-4, 130) last season rushed for 186 yards and brings some experience to the quarterback positions where sophomore letterman Jeramy Bartels (5-4, 110) will add depth. Senior Laine Waterman (5-10, 180), who last year rushed for 123 yards and a TD, and junior Lance Collins (5-7, 145), who gained 132 yards and scored a TD, will open as the team's running backs.
Senior Jessie Martin (5-11, 175) is a returning starter in the line, where junior Dean Kahl (5-11, 215) is another candidate for playing time, with senior Eddy Peterman (5-10, 120) returning at end.
Collins (29 tackles, 2 FR), Ford (24 tackles) and Peterman (23 tackles) will be leaders on the defensive side of the ball, where Martin and Kahl will be key figures in the line.
Something like last year's two wins seems about right for the Knights.