This is the fifth part in Northstar Football News' profiles of teams who might surprise in the 2017 season. From now until August 31, we will attempt highlight a “sleeper” team from each level that we believe will have a bounce back year this fall after finishing with a .500 or worse record in 2016.
NFN's 2017 4A sleeper: Academy of Holy Angels Stars
2016 Record: 4-6Returning starters: Jack Anderson RB/LB, Joe Heimbold QB, Aiden McCrory OL, Gerome Hamilton Jr. OL, Lars Hanson OL, Jack Aleman OL, John Kosmach WR, Thomas Shelstad SS/LB, Alex Gillard DE, Ryan Mazurek OLB, Keontay Shorter CB, Jason Kraus CB, Jason Miller NT, Peter Laird FS, Jack Aleman LB.
There is a lot for third-year head coach Jim Gunderson to like about this season's group. For starters, there are a ton of starters coming back – 17 in fact. Even with all the underclassmen starting last season the Stars almost cracked the .500 mark last year.
If you have not noticed by now, I am partial to teams that have returning starters at specific positions – mainly quarterback and offensive line – in my option two of the hardest area to develop. AHA not only has quarterback NFN’s 261st senior prospect Joe Heimbold back but he will also be operating behind an offensive line with four guys who started in 2016 – Aiden McCrory, NFN’s 25th ranked senior Gerome Hamilton, Lars Hanson and Jack Aleman.
On top of all that the Stars return one of the top all-around players in the state – Jack Anderson. Anderson – who has already committed to play football for Western Illinois – rushed for over 1000 yards and NFN’s 14th ranked senior was one of the team's leading tacklers.
Speaking of tacklers, Gunderson's team returns their leading tackler from a year ago Thomas Shelstad. Shelstad is only one of six players returning in the Stars' defensive front seven.
If not for one factor, this might be the pick I am most confident in making.
AHA is set up to cause some serious damage. The only reason – outside of injury – the Stars don't take a big step up this season will be because of their schedule. In the regular season, they play South St. Paul in Week 2 and then finish with Benilde-St. Margaret's, Waconia and Orono. All four of those teams won at least seven games in 2016.