When the Nevis football team needed a big play last season, Luke DeWulf provided it.
The Tigers will have to find a new go-to player this fall.
DeWulf capped off his senior season by being named to the 9-Man All-State Team after earning District 9 West honors and being selected as the District 9 West South’s MVP. DeWulf put up impressive numbers on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, DeWulf rushed for 785 yards on 94 carries with 11 TDs, caught 31 passes for 531 yards and seven TDs, returned two punts and one kickoff for TDs, converted four 2-point conversions, kicked nine extra points and completed 2 of 5 passes for 24 yards and another TD in scoring 143 points and playing a role in 22 TDs.
Defensively, DeWulf led the team with 72 solo tackles and added 31 assisted tackles while intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble as a linebacker. DeWulf also handled the kickoff and punting duties.
Those numbers earned DeWulf the team’s Offensive Back of the Year, Defensive Back of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year and MVP awards.
Finding someone to take over that load is going to be tough.
“We are going to need to find a go-to guy with the departure of All-State player Luke DeWulf,” siad Nevis head coach Shawn Klimek. “He did most of the heavy lifting for us the past two seasons.”
In addition to DeWulf, the Tigers graduated Logan Funk, Cooper Henry, Kolby Hamblin and Darin Keezer. Keezer was named the team’s Offensive Lineman and Defensive Lineman of the Year and earned All-District honors while Funk received All-District honorable mention consideration. Keezer had 32 solo tackles and 43 assists, Hamblin had 27 solo tackles and 27 asists, Henry had 19 solo tackles and 19 assists, and Funk had 19 solo tackles and 10 assists.
Despite those graduation losses, the Tigers do return a talented group of players that are looking to move up in the Section 6 9-man standings.
Among the 14 returning letterwinners are eight starters. Being counted on to lead the offense are seniors Derek Lindow (quarterback), Reese Kline (running back), Dan Aman (center) and Brody Johnson (guard); juniors Cain Mitchell (wide receiver) and Ian Ahrendt (running back); and sophomore Ethan Klimek (tight end).
Lindow completed 83 of 188 passes for 1,246 yards and 17 TDs and rushed 53 times for 235 yards and two TDs in earning All-District honors. Ahrendt gained 76 yards on 16 carries with three TDs and Kline rushed 12 times for 57 yards. Klimek caught 16 passes for 190 yards and four TDs while Mitchell caught 10 passes for 165 yards and two TDs.
Returning to lead the defense are Johnson (defensive end), Kline (linebacker), Ahrendt (linebacker), Mitchell (defensive back) and senior Dawson Andress (lineman). Mitchell had 43 solo tackles, 22 assists and two interceptions, including one returned for a TD. Ahrendt had 39 solo tackles and 22 assists. Johnson had 26 solo tackles and 23 assists. Kline had 18 solo tackles and 13 assists. Andress had 17 solo tackles and 26 assists.
Other players expected to play key roles this season are senior Devan Arola-Johnson (running back/linebacker); juniors Ethan Lewis (running back/linebacker), Aiden Thompson (lineman) and Nate Pyburn (wide receiver/safety); sophomores Jon Rice (wide receiver/safety), Nate Keiser (lineman), David Riehle (lineman) and Luke McNamee (tight end/defensive end); and freshmen Jon Paul Benson (tight end/defensive end) and Joe Houchin (running back/wide receiver/defensive back). Lewis had 16 carries for 54 yards and a TD and had 25 solo tackles and nine assists on defense last season. Thompson (12 solo tackles, seven assists) also saw extensive time on defense last fall.
Rounding out the varsity roster are freshmen Connor Andress (lineman), Eli Lewis (quarterback/safety), James Johnson (wide receiver/safety), Gunder Nelson (lineman), Lealan Norby (wide receiver/safety) and Austin Ahrendt (running back/linebacker); and eighth graders Eli Klimek (running back/linebacker) and Ayo Ogundiji (running back/linebacker).
Klimek, who enters his 15th season as the Tigers’ head coach with an 86-56 career record, will be assisted by Mike DeWulf, Matt Schmidt and Larry Frank.
“This fall we return several starters on both sides of the ball. I would say we are finally starting to gain some experience. On the offensive side of the ball we should be led by Derek Lindow, who is a three-year starter. Cain Mitchell and Ethan Klimek look to be his top receivers coming back. With a lot of the line, anchored by seniors Dan Aman and Brody Johnson, coming back, we hope to improve the running game. Last year Ian Ahrendt and Reese Kline both had their seasons cut short due to injuries. We hope that they are ready to replace DeWulf and carry the mail,” said Klimek. “Defensively we have a lot of our linebacking core back (Ahrendt, Mitchell and Kline). We hope to be more physical and get better at stopping the run. We have several defensive line guys (Andress, Johnson, Thompson and Aman) that saw a lot of playing time last year. We just need them to be more physical and make plays.”
A year ago, the Tigers averaged 30.3 points a game while allowing 27.9 points a game in going 4-4 to finish fourth in the section standings. Nevis received the No. 4 seed for the section playoffs and ended a 4-5 season with a 26-14 loss to No. 5 Park Christian in the section quarterfinals. Win-E-Mac defeated Fertile-Beltrami 30-18 in last year’s section title game.
Klimek is looking for his team to once agan be competitive and challenge the top teams in the section at the end of the season.
“A couple keys for us are we need to stay healthy and have the COVID virus stay away so we can play,” said Klimek, whose team hosts Stephen-Argyle Friday night in the season opener. “Last year, down the stretch we lost several key guys to injury and we struggled. When we were healthy we were able to compete with some of the best teams.”