PIGSKIN PREVIEW TAB L.C. may be tops in HVL
Tigers coming off state-tournament season
By Pat Ruff
Gordy Ziebart doesn't want to come right out and say it. He's not about to suggest that his team should push and shove its way all the way to another Hiawatha Valley League football championship and a repeat trip to the Metrodome for the state semifinals.
The Lake City coach, whose Tigers did tie for the HVL Blue title with Rochester Lourdes and did later invade the Metrodome, knows better than to put that kind of pressure on his guys. So he takes another approach.
"We were successful last year, but we were more lucky than dominant," he said, pointing to games his team won by the slightest of margins and in the most dramatic of fashions. "I think there are some other teams in our conference this season who are going to be awfully tough."
He'll get little argument there. Those teams include Lourdes, which returns nine of its 11 starters on defense; Cannon Falls, which has one of the fastest and best halfbacks in the state in Jered Chambers, plus mammoth and talented offensive and defensive lines; and Byron, which returns Isaac Raeen, Brent Eustice, Brandon Bordelon and Tim Fugleberg as starting offensive linemen.
Still, it still seems Lake City should get the nod as likely the best team in the HVL, if only by a little bit. Sure, the Tigers have no proven quarterback this season after getting so much production a year ago from Josh Oeltjen. They also have to start the year without Brent Sexton. The 6-foot-5 standout receiver continues to recover from a broken ankle he suffered in basketball playoffs last spring and won't be in the lineup right away.
But what the Tigers have is likely the best combination of defensive talent in the conference. It's a group that possesses size, led by 6-3, 265-pound Ben Roberson, Kevin Sprout (6-2, 225) and Callin Koller (6-5, 210). They also have speed and a knack for the big play. Jeremy Holst comes first to mind there. The pass-thieving defensive back helped the Tigers to a whopping plus-26 giveaway/takeway ratio last season. Lake City returns its terrific secondary intact.
"Our goal is to improve on that plus-26 ratio," Ziebart said.
If Lake City can pull that off, they are also going to pull off another long, win-filled season.
If you like big, and you like to mix in one burner, you like Cannon Falls.
The Bombers have the look of a small college offensive line with all kinds of guys in the 230-pound range.
The best of them is Nate Safe, described as "a stud" by Cannon Falls coach Ted Schultz. Safe, who is getting lots of attention from NCAA Division II colleges, is 6-foot-5, 275 pounds and a three-year starter. He'll play offensive tackle and defensive tackle and end for the Bombers.
Other whoppers in the line are 6-3, 240-pound senior Clint Sjoquist, 6-foot, 205-pound senior Chris Derosier, 5-11, 200-pound senior Adam Hernke and 5-11, 232-pound junior Brock Malloy.
On defense is the Bombers' biggest player, 6-4, 300-pound senior Mark McCoy. Then there is another junior on the line, 6-2, 216-pound Matt Martin.
So there's your beef. The Bombers get rarified speed from their tailback, Jered Chambers. Chambers, who rushed for 1,100 yards last season when the Bombers went 6-3 overall, is the state track Class A 100-meter champion. The 5-11, 180-pound senior runs a 4.5 40. Joining him in the backfield will be another guy with good speed, senior Eric Johnson. Johnson runs a 4.7 40.
Head coach: Ted Schultz, third year.
Assistants: Bucky Lindow, Matt Schultz, Jarie Nortsad, Scott Hvistendahl, Scott Safe, Lee Gisvold, Brian Swanson, Josh Hofstad, Jason Hedeen.
Last year's record (overall/conference): 6-3, 3-2.
RETURNING KEY PLAYERS
Backs: Jered Chambers, Eric Johnson. Linemen: Nate Safe, Clint Sjoquist, Chris Derosier, Adam Hernke, Mark McCoy.
Linemen: Matt Martin, Brock Malloy.
This is a rebuilding year for the KoMets. Just two starters return on offense and three on defense.
But K-M has a couple of excellent people to build around. Ryan Collins (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) returns for his third year as starting quarterback, and Phil Kirsch (6-1, 185) is a third-year starting running back.
"Besides those two we really are inexperienced," K-M coach Ivan Kroulik said. "We'll be playing sophomores, and we typically don't play them."
The KoMets are coming off a solid season in which they made it all the way to the Section One, Class AAA finals. There, they lost to eventual state champion Jackson County Central.
Two primary pass catchers for Collins will be sophomores Nick Thompson (6-2, 175) and Eric Gruhlke (6-0, 170).
Head coach: Ivan Kroulik, 14th year.
Assistants: Steve DuBois, Jeff Bernards, Broc Threinen.
Last year's record (overall/conference): 7-4, 2-3.
RETURNING KEY PLAYERS
Backs: Ryan Collins, Phil Kirsch. Lineman: Brandon Johnson.
Lineman: Josh Larsen.
The Tigers didn't put smiles just on each other's faces with their trip to the state semifinals. They had the entire town beaming.
That is reflected on the carryover from all of that winning. Not only did coach Gordy Ziebart indicate that his current players were working harder than ever in the weight room this summer and attending more football camps then ever, but the number of kids out for football at Lake City in grades 7-10 is higher than it's been in years.
"That trip to state was a real positive," Ziebart said. "It gave the kids a taste of what it is to go up (to the Metrodome) and motivated them to work harder this past offseason."
BOX: HVL schedule
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Kenynon-Wanamingo; Kasson-Mantorville at Triton; Lourdes at Byron; Lake City at Winona Cotter; Cannon Falls at Hayfield; Stewartville at Pine Island.
Hayfield at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Byron at Kasson-Mantorville; Triton at Stewartville; Pine Island at Lourdes; Kenyon-Wanamingo at Lake City; Cannon Falls at Winona Cotter.
Winona Cotter at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Kasson-Mantorville at Pine Island; Lourdes at Triton; Byron at Stewartville; Hayfield at Lake City; Kenyon-Wanamingo at Cannon Falls.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Cannon Falls; Lake City at Kasson-Mantorville; Triton at Hayfield; Stewartville at Lourdes; Winona Cotter at Byron; Pine Island at Kenyon-Wanamingo.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Stewartville; Cannon Falls at Kasson-Mantorville; Pine Island at Triton; Lake City at Lourdes; Hayfield at Byron; Kenyon-Wanamingo at Winona Cotter.
Lourdes at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Stewartville at Kasson-Mantorville; Triton at Kenyon-Wanamingo; Byron at Pine Island; Cannon Falls at Lake City; Winona Cotter at Hayfield.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Lake City; Kasson-Mantorville at Lourdes; Triton at Winona Cotter; Kenyon-Wanamingo at Byron; Stewartville at Cannon Falls; Pine Island at Hayfield.
Kasson-Mantorville at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Byron at Triton; Lake City at Stewartville; Winona Cotter at Pine Island; Lourdes at Cannon Falls; Kenyon-Wanamingo at Hayfield.