Warriors out to defend title
Even though the United North Central football team graduated 10 key players, head coach Jeremy Nordick is counting on the Warriors to defend their Prairie North Conference title and be a legitimate contender in the Section 8AA playoffs.
Last season, the Warriors won the conference title for the second time in the last three years with a 4-0 record and entered the section playoffs as the No. 4 seed. UNC defeated No. 5 Warroad 42-18 before falling to No. 1 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 42-0 in the semifinals to end the season with a 7-3 overall record.
Leading the Warriors last season were the senior crew of Alex Brockpahler, Luke Hendrickson, Casey Strayer, Chris Suhl, Lawrence Sams, David Revelo, Joey Cuperus, Ethan Huttonen and Taylor Pederson. All nine were all-conference players.
Offensively, Brockpahler led the Warriors with 51 receptions for 785 yards and nine touchdowns, Hendrickson caught 21 passes for 376 yards and six TDs and Cuperus had seven receptions for 110 yards and a TD. Revelo made 24 of 28 extra-point kicks.
Helping the Warriors average 298 yards a game was the offensive line of Strayer, Suhl and Sams.
Hendrickson (75 tackles), Brockpahler (66 tackles, six interceptions), Huttonen (52 tackles), Cuperus (50 tackles), Suhl (40 tackles), Strayer (36 tackles), Pederson (34 tackles), Cushman (34 tackles) and Sams (34 tackles) helped lead the defense.
Despite losing all that talent, Nordick is counting on another successful season from the Warriors this fall.
The Warriors return plenty of experience, led by the 15 letterwinners: seniors Tom Gruchow, John Clark, Kasey Tyge, Andy Cushman, Sean Dormanen, Ben Skoog, Colby Pudas and Derek Hendrickson; and juniors Bryson Vasey, Markus Tolkkinen, Tanner Burgau, Teague Newman, Justin Luedke, Alex Schoon and Matt Squires. Gruchow, Clark, Tyge, Cushman and Vasey will serve as captains.
Offensively, the Warriors will be led by Tyge at quarterback; Gruchow at running back; Clark, Dormanen, Pudas, Tolkkinen, Burgau and Newman at wide receiver; Skoog and Hendrickson at tight end; and Cushman, Vasey, Luedke, Schoon and Squires on the line. Gruchow, Tyge, Clark, Cushman and Vasey were all-conference players last season.
Gruchow led the Warriors with 175 rushes for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught six passes for 71 yards while Tyge completed 98 of 167 passes for 1,475 yards and 19 TDs.
Clark rushed 20 times for 115 yards and a TD, Burgau had five carries for 63 yards and Tolkkinen rushed 12 times for 59 yards and a TD. Skoog caught four passes for 45 yards and a TD.
On defense, the Warriors will be led by Cushman, Vasey, Schoon and Squires up front; Clark, Gruchow, Tyge, Skoog, Hendrickson and Luedke at linebacker; and Dormanen, Pudas, Tolkkinen, Burgau and Newman at defensive back.
Clark led the Warriors with 95 tackles last season while Gruchow was fourth in tackles with 55. Also tallying double digits in tackles last season were Vasey (44 tackles), Dormanen (14 tackles), Burgau (11 tackles) and Newman (10 tackles).
Also expecting to play key roles for the Warriors this fall are senior Jacob Dissmore (lineman) and sophomores Carlos Castro (running back/defensive back), Mike Johnson (lineman) and Teague Weaver (running back/linebacker).
The rest of the Warriors' roster features senior Tanner Berttunen (tight end); juniors Zach Sorenson (wide receiver), Travis Murphy (running back), Lane Hillukka (running back) and Mitch Hesse (tight end); sophomores Jeff Skoog (running back), Michael Robinson (running back), Stetson Burkman (tight end), Brandon Junes (quarterback), Shaun Roth (kicker), Arik Hillukka (lineman), Drake Anderson (lineman), Aaron Paulson (lineman), Brandon Torgerson (lineman), Tanner Schwartz (wide receiver) and Derek Halvorson (wide receiver); and freshmen Taylor Carlson (quarterback), Tristan Kjellberg (running back), Derek Lillquist (running back), Cole Schoon (wide receiver), Wyatt Puttonen (wide receiver), Sam Tellers (running back), Keiler Skaro (wide receiver), Levi Schwartz (running back), Jason Steinke (wide receiver), Dylan Huttonen (wide receiver), Brandon Lau (lineman), Logan Walz (wide receiver), Bob Lusti (lineman), CJ Maki (lineman), Jordan Miller (lineman), Mack Olson (lineman), Chris Waln (lineman), Tanner Neisess (lineman), Levi Myers (lineman), Ray Mueller (lineman), Tim Weiseler (wide receiver) and Ryan Johnson (wide receiver).
Serving as Nordick's assistants will be Brian Johnson (offensive coordinator), Ramsey Miller (defensive coordinator), Jeff Sams (line coach), Blaise Vasey, Cory Chouinard and Steve Bruer.
"We always have high expectations to start the season," said Nordick, whose team opens the season against Browerville Thursday night at Sebeka. "We're expecting to contend for the conference championship again this year as well as be in the hunt for Section 8AA. Some of the keys to the season will be for us to stay healthy and for our young guys to step up when their number is called."