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Saints know, it starts with ‘D’

St. Charles rebuilding team around defense

It’s true, the St. Charles football team did get awfully defensive after reflecting on its record of the past two seasons — a combined three wins.

Saints coach Craig Walz made sure of it. But he didn’t do it with thin-skinned retorts. He did it by building his team around its defense.

It’s working. The Saints are 2-1 this season, doing that behind one of the stingiest defensive units in the Three Rivers Conference. St. Charles ranked third in the league in total defense after the first two weeks, and that was despite meeting and losing to juggernaut Caledonia in Week 2.

Last week, St. Charles added to its glowing defensive totals in a 21-0 win over Chatfield. It allowed the Gophers just 49 yards of total offense, including a minus-10 rushing.

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Not bad.

"Defense is what we are hanging our hat on," said Walz, in his third year at St. Charles. "To get back to winning games, we knew we’d have to do that. We now have kids who are getting to the ball."

Walz said they’ve done that behind some new-found commitment, as well as improved talent.

"We’ve got more athletic kids to work with here now," Walz said. "We’ve also got kids who hit the weight room over the summer, who would have been a step behind last year. We’ve got some linemen who can get around the field now."

St. Charles’ most mobile lineman, on the surface, seems to have no business playing on the line. Especially when you consider that he plays noseguard, where teams general stuff their widest player. Not so at St. Charles. Lined up against the opposing team’s center is none of than senior Jeff Heim, all 5-foot-7, 150 pounds of him.

Heim, a standout wrestler, was an outside linebacker until last year. That’s when Walz tried him at noseguard, and never looked back.

"Heim had three sacks in that first game," Walz said. "He is so quick and fast, that when he is going up against 230-pound kids, he has gotten past them almost before they’ve gotten out of their stance. He just flips right underneath them. And once he gets into the backfield, he is such a sure tackler. Once he wraps up on a ballcarrier, the play’s over.

"Heim is a 150-pound kid, but he thinks he’s 230 pounds."

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Heim is just part of standout five-man defensive line at St. Charles, which Walz says is clearly the strength of the team. Though it is balanced there, Walz says two more players stand out, 6-foot, 185-pound junior defensive end Jake Braun, and 6-2, 230-pound senior defensive tackle Erik Larson.

"You don’t want to leave Braun unblocked because he’ll let you know he’s on the field," Walz said. "He moves real well, and he brings a full load."

As for Larson, he’s the glue to the defense.

"He anchors our line," Walz said. "He doesn’t get a ton of tackles, but it’s only because teams continually run away from him."

NEW-LOOK KOMETS: The next thing you know you’re going to see Ivan Kroulik listening to hipster music on an iPod. Or text-messaging friends.

Kroulik, the Kasson-Mantorville 18th-year head coach, is catching up with the times, at least on the football field. And truth be told, it’s making him feel strange.

The KoMets formerly grind-it-out coach has been talked into going airborne with his offense this season. It’s working. The now pass-heavy KoMets are

3-0.

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"For me, it feels very unnatural to pass as much as we have this season," Kroulik said. "It had always been our philosophy to run the ball. But this year the passing is there for us, and you’ve got to take what other teams give you. Plus, I’ve got some young coaches pulling on my sleeve, telling me to pass."

Kroulik has obliged them, as K-M quarterback Isaac Manitz has already thrown for nearly 600 yards in three games.

"Traditionally, we threw 10 to 12 times in a game," Kroulik said. "Now we are throwing it 25 times."

Through K-M’s first two games, it had passed for 424 yards and rushed for just 106. That changed last week in an easy win over struggling Zumbrota-Mazeppa, when K-M ran for 265 yards and passed for 191. Sophomores Cameron Ruehmann and Chris Paradise led the way in the running game, with 116 and 62 yards rushing, respectively.

BATTLE LOOMS IN RUSHFORD: A showdown game is set for Friday in Rushford. That’s where unbeaten and state-defending Class A champion Rushford-Peterson meets unbeaten Southland.

Both teams have dominated their competition so far. R-P has outscored its opponents by a combined 92-27, and Southland has outscored its 116-27.

Two of the best running backs in the area will be on display, Parker Brand for R-P and Jake Chapek for Southland. Chapek leads the Three Rivers with 374 yards rushing and is averaging more than 10 yards per carry. Brand has rushed for 260 yards.

Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. His high school football notebook appears each Thursday of the prep football season. He can be

e-mailed at pruff@postbulletin.com.

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