Winona has an abundance of talent at the skill positions on both sides of the ball, making it the team to beat in Class AAAA.
Two 6-foot-5 receivers — Dakota Matthees and Logan Smith — return at wideout. The pair combined for almost 800 yards and 11 touchdowns offensively last season. Smith also made his mark on defense, notching 42 tackles and nine interceptions.
Three offensive linemen need to be replaced for Jon Casselius’ offense, which returns eight full-time starters. Nick Waldo and Bryce Heftman are the two back after each earned All-Big Southeast District honors in 2017. Both players start on defense as well for a front-seven that will be inexperienced at linebacker, except for senior Dan Jonsgaard.
Rocori lost a seesaw affair to Winona in the state semifinals, but has the experience and talent to contend again in 2017. Three offensive linemen, led by 325-pounder Matt Waletzko, should provide quarterback Mason Primus with ample time to throw in Mike Rowe’s spread attack. Tunning back Matt Koshiol should emerge as one of the top outstate running backs after a productive sophomore season too. Linebacker Jordan Pemble and defensive back Gunnar Feldhege headline a defense with eight returners.
The Spartans have made a habit of making postseason runs with multiple losses the past few seasons. That’s largely been a product of their difficult schedule filled with Class AAAAA programs in either the former Central Lakes Conference or the North Central Red subdistrict.
That changes this season. Rocori moves into the White subdistrict comprised of all Class AAAA schools, and the Spartans only game against larger schools is their Week 4 tilt against Alexandria.
Is the No. 3 ranking too high for the Wolfpack, which drops down a class in 2017? The first three weeks will be telling, as SMB plays the three toughest opponents (Academy Force, St. Croix Lutheran, Fridley) on this season’s schedule.
Super sophomore Jalen Suggs is already one of the state’s most sought-after basketball recruits, and he’s also Division-I quarterback material. Iowa State extended him a scholarship offer for the Class of 2020 based on his athleticism and a freshman year with almost 1,600 yards passing and 15 touchdowns.
Suggs is the team’s catalyst, but there’s a solid core of players around the field too. Four offensive linemen return from last season, as well as junior running back Siegel Howard who earned All-District in 2016. Linebacker Bennett Theisen leads a defense that will have to forget last season’s meltdown against Mahtomedi in the Zephyrs 50-27 section final romp.
This year’s Holy Angels team looks an awful lot like last year’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s team that won the Class AAAA title after finish its previous season below .500. Like the Red Knights, Holy Angels returns a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but face a tough schedule that should pay dividends in the postseason.
The Stars defense was extremely inconsistent last fall, but another year of mental and physical training should breed improvement with 10 of 11 defensive starters returning. Western Illinois commit Jack Anderson, along with junior Thomas Shelstad, will be the playmakers in the front seven, while the secondary is led by Keontay Shorter and Peter Laird.
Anderson and Shorter will also play important role on offense. Quarterback Joe Heimbold enters his third season under center and is one of the metro’s most-experienced quarterbacks. He combined for more than 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016. Four offensive linemen led by Gerone Hamilton Jr. are also back for NFN's Class AAAA sleeper, which opens the season at Hill Murray.
Coach Chad Sexauer has built the Packers into perennial contenders in Class AAAA and 2017 shouldn’t be any different. South St. Paul returns athletic skill players on offense along with two offensive linemen and its starting tight end from a year ago.
Cade Sexauer, Chad’s son, will replace Ryan Duffy as the starting quarterback. Sexauer played predominately defensive back as a junior, but does have experience running the Packers scheme at lower levels. He’ll benefit from having Chase Bentson and Angel Rodriguez with him in the backfield, making the option attack a three-headed monster.
Defense is a big question mark for this team. Linebacker Ben Smith – a NDSU commit for baseball – will be the unit’s leader, but no returning starters in the secondary and just one on the defensive line could pose early-season problems.