(Cover Photo: David Joles/Minneapolis StarTribune)
Zimmerman has won a share of the North title each of the past three seasons, and its two closest challengers have been Albany and New London-Spicer. You can expect those same three teams to be at the top in 2018, but the Wildcats have enough talent returning to make them the favorite.
Quarterback Brandon Adelman begins his third season as Dan Essler’s starter. He was an All-District performer last season with 1,664 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, with almost half of both totals going to Kelly Bennetts, who’s also back at receiver.
The Thunder and Huskies will be inexperienced groups this fall. Zimmerman returns two All-District players in Carter McEachern and Tucker Budreau, but that’s it for starters. Albany is in a similar situation, welcoming back Gabe Zierden and Ben Burr from strong junior years, but little else around the field.
Delano was the surprise No. 1 team at the top of the Class AAAA preseason rankings. That obviously makes them the favorite in the South subdistrict, one year after winning it with an unblemished record.
Junior Spencer Poll leads four returning offensive linemen for the Tigers. They’ll be blocking for experienced running backs Sam Kern and Caden Link, who both earned All-District honors in 2017.
Dassel-Cokato and Glencoe-Silver Lake are top candidates to stop Delano from another subdistrict crown. The Chargers have one of the top quarterbacks in the state in Paul Raisanen. The 6-foot-4 gunslinger threw for over 2,100 yards last fall, with 18 touchdowns and a 58 percent completion rate. The Panthers are led by QB/LB Kory Johnson, who coach Scott Tschimperle said “we have to keep healthy”.
Kelly Bennetts leads a talented New London-Spicer team. (Photo from Hudl.com)
Spectrum is the most veteran squad in the Blue subdistrict, making them the favorites to defend the 2017 title. Fisher Marberg is an absolute workhorse out of the backfield for the Sting. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior has rushed for more than 3,500 yards the past two seasons with 40 touchdowns. Safety Blake Smith leads the defense after earning All-District honors for a second-straight year last fall. If there’s an Achilles heel for Seth Mills’ team, however, it could be the depth and size of his defensive line.
St. Agnes will be the Sting’s toughest competitor. The Saints played six games that were decided by 10 points or less, winning two of them. That experience will be key as they return a host of players from last year’s campaign, led by juniors Terrell Jones and Joseph Connelly.
Nick David’s Mound Westonka team in perfect in subdistrict play since it began in 2015. The White Hawks went unbeaten in the Twin City Red before moving to the Gold league last year and repeating the feat.
There’s no reason to believe that streak won’t continue in 2018. Quarterback Brandon Hokkanen is one of the top quarterbacks in the entire district, as well as Class AAAA. Receiver Sam Default and running back Kris Kurtz will be the top offensive weapons, and both players will start on the other side of the ball too.
Providence Academy should contend after a disappointing 2017 season. The Lions finished with a .500 record last fall (5-5), but lost three games by 10 points or less. RB/LB Jeff Ekiyor and WR/DB Julian Cavin are two of the Gold’s best two-way players, which should help the team challenge Mound Westonka.
It’s state-or-bust for talented SMB this fall. The Wolfpack went 6-2 in the regular season before having their doors blown off by Orono in the section playoffs. 15 starters (8 O, 7 D) return for Collin Quinn’s team, including a quartet of Division-I players led by quarterback Jalen Suggs.
Suggs top target, Terry Lockett Jr., is also a big-time prospect, while three returning o-linemen should provide ample time to throw.
Linebacker Kaden Johnson and cornerback Craig McDonald are the other players with Division-I offers. Johnson led the team in tackles as a sophomore last season, while McDonald did the same in interceptions with four.
The Class AAA runner-up, St. Croix Lutheran, will give SMB everything it can handle in the Maroon subdistrict race. The Crusaders thumped SMB in 2017 and have Jon Liesener back under center to run the veer option. Finding replacements for their best two-way players, Garett Maag and Mike Stern, will be a priority early this season.
It’s Minneapolis North and everyone else in the Red subdistrict. The Polars are heavy favorite to roll through the group with unbeaten again after winning their six subdistrict games by an average of almost 40 points last season.
11 starters return for North, including seven on offense. With Nasir El-Amin and Omar Brown at receiver, along with Ar’mon Dalton at quarterback, the rest of the teams are going to have problems keeping the offense out of the end zone.
If anyone has the athletes to stay close to North, it’s probably Breck. The Mustangs have almost their entire starting lineup back from 2017, led by standout quarterback David Roddy. Elijah Zackery and Alex McKenna should be playmakers on both side of the ball too.