Leo Pohlkamp’s Pioneers are the only Class AAA program that’s advanced to the state semifinals or beyond in three straight seasons. They won the title in 2015, which was sandwiched between heartbreaking semifinal losses to Rochester Lourdes (’13) and St. Croix Lutheran (’15).
Pierz is the Class AAA favorite to take home the title at U.S. Bank Stadium this November. Three offensive linemen return from one of the most physical groups in the state, along with All-District quarterback Preston Rocheleau.
The Pioneers will have to replace their leading rushers from 2016. Junior Carson Huls figures to get the most carries, along with senior Alex Funk. Huls will be one of the top disruptors on a young defensive line, while senior cornerback Ben Herold anchors an experienced secondary.
If not for a remarkable play by Rochester Lourdes in the Class AAA title game, St. Croix Lutheran might be gearing up to defend a state championship in 2017. The Crusaders still have an intimidating group of 13 starters returning with some unfinished business on their minds.
North Dakota commit Garett Maag (WR/DB) and NFN No. 181 prospect Stephen Kletscher (TE/DL) are two of the best players in Class AAA. Both players made a significant impact as juniors.
SCL’s leading rusher, Mike Stern, also returns after gaining 1,450 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Stern will also start at linebacker for the Crusaders defense along with James Chernohorsky.
The team does need to replace Isaac Tietz at quarterback, who ran the veer option to near perfection last fall. Coach Carl Lemke has tabbed junior Jon Liesener to begin the season under center.
The Rebels have been knocking at the door of the Prep Bowl since 2013. Will this season be the year they finally break through to the state championship game?
Another solid group of experienced players, including all five offensive linemen, give DGF a great chance. Andy Oberg and Hunter Macziewski flank the interior linemen at the tackle position, while both also start up front on defense.
Junior tight end Bryce Anderson is the other returning starter for the Rebels offense, which does need to replace its entire starting backfield as well as the quarterback position.
Defensively, two linebackers return with the strong defensive line. Defensive back Austin Bitker is back too, and he could also be the answer at quarterback for Anthony Soderberg’s offense.
The Rails are usually contenders in the Northeast Red subdistrict, even though they’re one of the smallest schools in the league. That’s traditionally helped them come playoff time in Class AAA.
Derek Parendo returns an experienced group of players this fall which could put Proctor on a path to U.S. Bank Stadium. Defensive lineman Kaleb Stevens is the most notable of the senior class. Stevens is being recruited by FCS and Division II schools after an All-District season in 2016. He’s joined by 290-pound Van Johnson in the trenches, while linebackers Cody Hampton and Matt Zupetz also return.
Hampton will also start at one of the running back positions on offense. Feature tailback Jerrid Parrott – a three-year starter — rushed for more than 800 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Once again, the fifth and final team from Class AAA will come from Section 1. After choosing Cannon Falls over Rochester Lourdes last preseason, and Tri-City United over Rochester Lourdes in 2015, let’s go with the Eagles over Stewartville and Byron this fall.
Mike Kesler’s Eagles will have to grow up quickly though. Lourdes returns only six starters from last season’s Class AAA champion, and just two seniors. Still, Kesler said the Class of 2018 group is “motivated to get back to the bank” and has provided great leadership this offseason.
Senior Noah Borgeson is the team’s heart and soul. He’s expected start on both the offense and defensive lines. Two juniors, Pat Leary (QB/DB) and Jake Groteboer (RB/LB), will provide some punch on offense. Newcomer Zach Jungels should also be a factor out of the backfield, but finding chemistry up front and in the option game could take a few weeks.