Warriors' depth will be key
Depth at every position has Jeremy Nordick expecting more wins from the United North Central football team this season.
Last season, the Warriors went 1-4 in Prairie North Conference play and 3-5 during the regular season for the No. 8 seed before losing to top-seeded Hawley 49-0 in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs. Nordick is counting on the 26 returning letterwinners to lead the Warriors to more success this fall.
Leading the Warriors this season are seniors Brandon Junes, Jeff Skoog, Tanner Schwartz, Frank Moren, Travis Hanson, Stetson Burkman, Derek Halvorsen, Drake Anderson, Aaron Paulson and Mike Johnson; and juniors Taylor Carlson, Keiler Skaro, Tim Weiseler, Wyatt Puttonen, Tristan Kjellberg, Cole Schoon, Dan Ehnert, Dylan Huttunen, Mack Olson, CJ Maki, Bobby Lusti, Jordan Miller, Brandon Lau, Tanner Neisess, Ray Mueller and Josh Hepokoski.
Also playing key roles for the Warriors this season will be junior Sam Tellers; sophomores Austen Schwartz, Tyler Eckman, Alex Schwartz and Tristan Palmer; and freshmen Jordan Yliniemi.
"I feel really good about where we are as a group at this point," said Nordick, who will be assisted by Blaise Vasey, Corey Chouinard, Brian Johnson, Steve Bruer and Randy Thompson. "We've got guys competing for starting spots at almost every position on both sides of the ball. We're really excited about the depth that we'll have. I think it's probably the most balance we've had in a number of years."
Offensively, Junes returns at quarterback with Carlson serving as the back up. Skoog, Yliniemi, Kjellberg and Austen Schwartz will compete at halfback while the fullbacks will be Huttunen, Anderson and Ehnert. Skaro, Tanner Schwartz, Puttonen, Weiseler, Moren, Tellers and Halvorsen will be the wide receivers with Burkman, Schoon and Palmer serving as tight ends. Paulson and Johnson return to lead the line with Miller, Lusti, Olson, Maki, Alex Schwartz, Mueller, Neisess and Hepokoski battling for the other starting spots.
Junes completed 73 of 179 passes for 896 yards and five TDs last season while Carlson completed 2 of 12 passes for 33 yards. Huttunen was third on the team in rushing with 36 carries for 154 yards and three TDs while Skoog rushed six times for 28 yards. Skaro caught 15 passes for 237 yards and two TDs while Tanner Schwartz had three receptions for 43 yards, Moren had two catches for 33 yards and Huttunen had an 11-yard catch and returned six kickoffs for 75 yards.
Last year's leading rushers and receivers were Markus Tolkkinen (121 carries for 603 yards and three TDs and 14 receptions for 202 yards and a TD), Carlos Castro (45 carries for 160 yards and a TD and eight receptions for 67 yards), Justin Luedke (30 carries for 132 yards), Tanner Burgau (19 receptions for 230 yards and a TD), Brandon Burgau (four catches for 41 yards and a TD) and Mitch Hesse (seven catches for 32 yards). Bryson Vasey and Matt Squires led the offensive line.
"Brandon will be leading the Warriors this year. (Our halfbacks) all bring something to the table when they get the ball in their hands. I look for a lot of excitement out of this group. (Our group of fullbacks) is a nice balance of power and speed. Every single (receiver) has the ability to make the big play downfield as well as making that tough catch when we really need it. I'm really excited to see these guys flying around," said Nordick. "(Our ends) have great size and have the ability to run block and catch the ball consistently. We're extremely excited about the potential of (our linemen). This is one of the most athletic groups we've had up front and I look for all of them to play a significant role in our success."
Defensively, the Warriors will feature Carlson, Alex Schwartz, Miller, Burkman, Johnson, Paulson, Mueller, Neisess and Olson on the line with Lusti, Anderson, Skoog, Huttunen, Yliniemi, Schoon, Moren and Ehnert playing linebacker. Kjellberg, Skaro, Puttonen, Tellers, Austen Schwartz, Halvorsen and Weiseler will be in the defensive secondary.
Luedke had 47 solo tackles, 22 assists and an interception; Skoog had 30 solo tackles; Huttunen compiled 22 solo tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery; Puttonen had 21 solo tackles and an interception; Lusti had 13 solo tackles and eight assists; Skaro had 14 solo tackles; Carlson had 11 solo tackles, Robinson had nine solo tackles; Anderson had six solo tackles; Moren had five solo tackles; and Burkman, Ehnert and Miller had two solo tackles each.
Leading the defense last year were the senior crew of Vasey (33 solo tackles, 12 assists), Teague Weaver (31 solo tackles, 13 assists), Tanner Burgau (32 solo tackles, 10 assists), Squires (22 solo tackles, 18 assists) and Tolkkinen (20 solo tackles).
"The thing I like about the (defensive line) is any four of them could start and we could bring in the next four guys and not miss a beat. I'm really encouraged about the depth that we've got at defensive line," said Nordick. "(Our linebacking group) is an athletic bunch that loves to make the big hit. They will be the leaders of our 4-4 defense. (Our defensive backs) are all outstanding athletes that have great speed. They've all got the ability to close on the ball and also come up and make the big hit."
Barnesville returns as the defending champion in the Prairie North Conference while Warroad is looking to defend the Section 8AA title. Nordick is counting on the Warriors' talent and depth to produce a winning season and contend in both the conference and section this fall.
"Expectations are always high. We've got a very tough conference schedule and some very solid teams coming back in the section," said Nordick. "If we can stay healthy and continue to improve on the little things in the game, we should be right in the thick of things in the conference and the section."