The Rabbits have a nice blend of size and skill returning from their state semifinal squad. Quarterback Nick Altermatt totaled almost 1,500 yards of total offense and 21 touchdowns last season as a junior. He’ll again be throwing to the Taylor twins (Cooper and Colton), but leading rusher Mitchell Fulton is gone to graduation.
With four starters returning up front, including Ty Kemp, Wabasso shouldn’t have many problems opening holes for whoever is carrying the football. On defense, six of the seven starters are in the back end of the defense. Only defensive tackle Kyle Jacobson is back on the defensive line, which is the biggest unknown on the field.
The Rabbits also caught a break in the new section alignments. They move to Section 3 from Section 5, providing a slightly easier path to the state tournament.
The Wildcats should be the team to beat in southeast Minnesota, which automatically makes them a contender for the Class A state title.
Running back Mason Huemann is entering his third year as a varsity starter. He’s already rushed for around 2,800 yards in his career and will be one of the best backs in small-town football again in 2017.
Huemann will also be an important piece of the Goodhue defense, along with 6-foot-5 defensive end Ryan Schoenfelder, who also starts at tight end. Junior linebacker Kelby O’Reilly returns after being one of the team’s leading tacklers last fall, as does quarterback/defensive back Jack Gadient. Gadient was an All-District performer last season, throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 11 scores.
Steve Solem’s Warriors return a trio of running backs who combined to rush for almost 2,000 yards in 2016. Senior Austin Einerson headlines the group after gaining 930 yards and 14 touchdowns. Junior guard Riley Weis is the only returning lineman, though, which could be cause for concern early this fall.
The Warriors defense surrendered 14 points or less in all but two games last fall. The stingy unit allowed less than seven points per game, their 49-6 blowout loss to Wabasso notwithstanding. Nine starters are back on that side of the ball, including Einerson and Hayden Tersteeg at linebacker.
The Warriors play a schedule with mostly Class AA schools, which should help prepare them for teams like MInneota and Dawson-Boyd in the loaded Section 5.
Mahnomen is going for its eighth-straight Class A State Tournament appearance in 2017, and 25th overall. The Indians have a strong group of players returning this fall, but coach John Clark Jr. has concerns about the program’s numbers and the team’s depth.
Two-way starting linemen Nick Podlak and Chris Busche will anchor both sides of the ball. Both players also finished in the top five in tackles last season, and helped pave the way for a ground game that averaged more than 220 yards per game.
Jon Starkey returns after starting half the season at quarterback as sophomore. He’ll also patrol the defensive backfield with cornerback Izaiah Asher. Like last season when they lost to Pillager, Mahnomen will have a tough game against a Class AA opponent, Hawley, in Week 1.
The Vikings were dethroned last season from their perch atop Class A when they were stunned by Wabasso in the Section 5 semifinals. The loss also ended their 36-game winning streak, but the Vikings should again be in the running for a spot at U.S. Bank Stadium this November.
Quarterback Alex Pohlen enters his fourth season under center. Barring injury, he’ll likely end his Minneota career with the second-most passing yards and passing touchdowns in program history. Another multiple-year starter, Issac Hennen, will be leaned on in the backfield after rushing for 1,460 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior. He was also the Vikings leading tackler in 2016.
Finding the right combinations on the offensive and defensive lines is the Vikings’ biggest priority as the season begins. Senior Trent Esping returns on both sides of the ball, and you can expect junior Ty Lipinski to play a big role in the trenches too.