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Panthers counting on team quickness

Leading the Park Rapids football team this season will be seniors (front from left) Billy Kimball, Kyle Kanten, Dan Pike, Nick Belfiori; (back) Kevin Just, Colin Vaadeland, Tyler Barr, Christian Ridlon.

Aaron Morris is relying on team speed and depth to lead the Park Rapids football team to a successful season.

The Panthers return five starters on both offense and defense from last year's team that went 1-5 in the Northern Division of the Heart O'Lakes Conference and 2-6 overall before falling to Perham 36-22 in the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs.

"We lost a lot of talented seniors, but I think the kids we have coming back will step in and accept the challenge and be ready to go," said Morris, who will be assisted by Brett Bishop (defensive coordinator), Joe Grimes (offensive coordinator and special teams coach) and Aron Moses (defensive coach). "We have a lot of potential. We're going to be a young team, but we can only get better. It should be a fun year."

Leading the Panthers this season are the returning starters: seniors Dan Pike (6 foot, 185 pounds), Billy Kimball (5-8, 205), Christian Ridlon (6-2, 230) and Kyle Kanten (6-0, 140); and juniors Brock Fritze (5-7, 150), Brandon Ritter (6-2, 215) and Cory Odland (5-8, 160). Pike and Kimball were all-conference honorable mention players and will serve as captains.

Pike completed 21 of 106 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns and rushed 64 times for 96 yards and a TD last season. Pike will share duties at quarterback and fullback this fall. Kimball (center), Ridlon (tackle), Ritter (tackle) and Fritze (guard) return to solidify the offensive line.

Defensively, Pike returns at linebacker, Ridlon returns at tackle, Ritter returns at end, Kanten will move from cornerback to safety and Odland returns at cornerback. Pike finished second on the team with 104.5 defensive points, including 22 solo tackles and 59 assists. Kimball had 11 solo tackles and 35 assists for 61.5 points. Kanten tallied 14 solo tackles, 22 assists and one interception for 53 points. Ritter had two solo tackles and 40 assists for 44 points. Ridlon had two solo tackles and 31 assists for 39.5 points. Odland contributed nine solo tackles and six assists for 24 points.

Looking to replace last year's senior all-conference crew of Tucker Coborn (91 carries for 457 yards and two TDs, seven receptions for 132 yards and two TDs, 54 defensive points), Kevin McMorrow (102 carries for 387 yards and six TDs, five catches for 80 yards and a TD, and 157 defensive points), John Drury (116 carries for 595 yards and two TDs, six receptions for 67 yards and a TD, and 103 defensive points), Dan Ricke (85 defensive points) and Caleb Atkins will be seniors Colin Vaadeland (5-8, 165), Kevin Just (5-11, 160), Tyler Barr (6-2, 200), Nick Belfiori (6-0, 165) and foreign-exchange student Herman Steing (6-3, 155); juniors Cole Tretbar (6-4, 205), Levi Erickson (5-10, 170), Tyler Ridlon (6-2, 160), Forrest Drury (6-0, 170), Josh Crist (6-2, 160), Zach O'Hern (6-0, 160), Brent Johnson (5-7, 135), Zach Steffen (5-7, 145), Luke Hartig (5-7, 130), Jeff Hemenway (5-6, 155), Jamison Nessman (6-2, 210), Logan Schmaus (6-3, 200), Robert Borger (5-10, 165), Kyle Kniss (5-10, 165) and Caleb Abraham (5-11, 165); and sophomores Zach Eystad (5-9, 140), Ian Johnson (6-2, 165), David Dirks (5-10, 155), Jade Roy (5-10, 130), Kody Walsh (5-10, 150), Cory Gartner (6-0, 165), Chris Goplerud (6-0, 165), Andy Waller (6-0, 160), Nick Schulz (5-11, 155), Kyle Goplerud (6-0, 165), David Dannheim (6-1, 155), John Wiederin (5-10, 155), Jeremy Mitchell (5-9, 200) and Kyle Ritter (6-0, 190).

Belfiori (guard), Barr (guard, center, tackle), Nessman (tackle) and Schmaus (tackle/guard) will provide depth on the line. Vaadeland, Drury, Erickson and Odland will handle the running duties with Kyle Goplerud, Crist, Dannheim, O'Hern and Kniss serving as receivers. Tretbar will see action at quarterback. Erickson and Odland will handle punt and kickoff returns.

Erickson (four carries for 26 yards), Vaadeland (11 carries for 21 yards), Drury (five rushes for 11 yards), Odland (one carry for 5 yards) and Steffen (two carries for 1 yard) saw limited action in the backfield last season while Erickson (one catch for 32 yards), Drury (two catches for 30 yards and two TDs), Vaadeland (one catch for 12 yards) and Tyler Ridlon (one catch for 8 yards) saw limited roles as receivers last fall. Tretbar completed 3 of 7 passes for 40 yards and a TD last season.

Providing depth on offense will be Steing (tight end), Eystad (running back/wide receiver), Tyler Ridlon (wide receiver/tight end), Ian Johnson (quarterback/tight end), Dirks (running back), Roy (wide receiver), Walsh (running back), Gartner (fullback/tight end), Just (wide receiver), Brent Johnson (running back/wide receiver), Chris Goplerud (tight end), Waller (tight end), Steffen (running back/fullback), Schulz (guard/tackle), Hartig (guard/center), Hemenway (guard/tackle), Borger (guard/tackle), Abraham (wide receiver), Wiederin (tackle/guard), Mitchell (guard/tackle) and Kyle Ritter (guard/tackle).

On defense, Fritze will play tackle; Drury and Steffen will play linebacker; and Abraham (safety), Kniss (cornerback) and Erickson (strong safety) will play in the secondary. Pike will kick off and Waller will handle the punting duties.

Providing depth on the defensive line will be Tretbar, Gartner, Chris Goplerud, Waller, Schulz, Hartig, Belfiori, Hemenway, Nessman, Schmaus, Borger, Kyle Goplerud, Dannheim, Wiederin, Mitchell and Kyle Ritter. Contending for playing time at linebacker will be Tretbar, Vaadeland, Drury, Crist, Gartner, O'Hern and Waller. Filling in spots in the secondary will be Steing, Vaadeland, Eystad, Tyler Ridlon, Ian Johnson, Crist, Dirks, Roy, Walsh, O'Hern, Just and Brent Johnson.

Of that group, Erickson (31), Drury (10), Vaadeland (8), Hartig (7), Tretbar (6), Belfiori (5), Kniss (4), Barr (3), Fritze (3), Abraham (3), Schmaus (2), Steffen (1), O'Hern (1), Borger (1), Just (1), Crist (1), Tyler Ridlon (1) and Hemenway (1) tallied defensive points.

"We're not big, but we're quick. Overall, we're going to be quicker than the other team. Just because we're small, doesn't mean we're going to get beat," said Morris. "We're a family. We take care of each other. We have a lot of talent and potential. If everyone understands and accepts their roles and believes in each other, we're going to have a successful season.

Morris sees a competitive conference and section with Pequot Lakes looking to repeat as conference and section champs. The Heart O'Lakes Northern Division will stay the same with Perham, Thief River Falls, Crookston, East Grand Forks and Roseau rounding out the seven-team conference. Section 8AAA will feature Crookston, East Grand Forks, Pequot Lakes, Perham, Roseau, Staples-Motley and Thief River Falls.

"The kids are working hard and they want to win," said Morris, whose team hosts Wadena-Deer Creek in the season opener Friday night at Vern Weekley Field. "The conference is tough, but I believe we can be a .500 team or better and be in the top half of the section if we come out and play like we should every night."