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|8/31/2013 ||Email this article Print this article |
Saber gridders ready to build on last year's success
|Constructing a championship. A year after winning a share of the district title and advancing to the 3A state quarterfinals, the Central football team still feels it has all of the right tools to bring home even more success in 2013.
Fall preview stories and photos by Ross Eberhart|
By Ross Eberhart
The Central football team proved time and time against last fall that it would not back down from any challenge.
The Sabers successfully handled the transition to a new coach and overcame both 0-2 and 2-3 marks to win a share of the district crown.
In the postseason, Central hit the road for a pair of games and won both to advance to the state quarterfinals where they gave eventual state champion Decorah their closest game of the season.
Ironically, the Sabers' ability to overcome obstacles last season has given this year's Central group its own formidable task.
Coming up with a fitting follow-up.
It certainly will not be easy as the Sabers graduated 15 seniors from last year's squad, a group that not only made up most of the defense (only three starters return), but also provided much-needed leadership throughout the season.
Fortunately, Central has plenty of reasons for optimism.
For one, this year's senior class has shown that it is ready to take on that same leadership role.
"We had a great senior class last year with a lot of tremendous leaders," said Central head coach Mike Miller. "We've been looking for that same class of leaders in this year's group of seniors and we've liked what we have seen so far."
The Sabers also inherit a junior class that is high in both numbers and talent (they won their own district title last season as sophomores). The result is a team that Miller believes will be deeper than last year.
"We had a lot of talented players last season, but there were times, especially early, where we were just wear out at the end of games," the Saber head coach said. "We have more depth in almost every position this year. The kids really dedicated themselves during the offseason."
Every Saber has benefitted from a full year with Miller's system and the results have shown both on and off the practice field.
"We're more on the same page this fall - players, coaches, everyone," Miller said. "The kids know what we want to accomplish and they are more adapted to what we expect, both on the field and in the classroom as students."
The Sabers' biggest accomplishments on offense last season came on the ground as Central rushed for a school-record 3,636 yards.
And with three members of its offensive line returning, Central does not expect to slow down anytime soon.
The entire right side of the line is intact with senior Doug Hayen again playing tackle and senior Chase Kraklio lining up next to him at guard, while Drew Schroeder returns to his spot at left guard.
Another senior, Austin Holst, will start at left tackle with junior Justin Schwennen handling the snapping duties as the Saber center.
There is certainly no lack of competition on the line either, with seniors Riley McDowell and Troy Hamilton as well as juniors Lucas Looney and Nolan Muhl all ready to make their own contributions.
An experienced line will be a luxury for the Sabers, who will open the season with two quarterbacks vying to fill the shoes of the departed Mitch Green.
Both candidates - seniors Marty Green and Jesse Brackey - have impressed in the early going. Brackey threw a touchdown in last year's rout of Anamosa and also rushed for a score, while Green saw action behind center against five opponents.
"We have two equally talented quarterbacks in Marty and Jesse," Miller said. "And each kind of has a different skill set, which is probably why it has been tough to decide on just one of them. Both guys will have the opportunity to showcase their skills in the early going."
Both quarterbacks will benefit from a backfield loaded with athleticism.
The Sabers face a big void at fullback with the graduation of Chris Keitel, who became the first Central rusher in a decade to eclipse 1,000 yards, but have two players - senior Tyler Stillmunkes and junior Mason Cousins - ready to step in and make an impact.
Just like Green and Brackey, the duo gives Miller two different kind of options.
"Tyler is more of a slash-and-dash type of runner who has that ability to break loose for big plays," Miller said of Stillmunkes, who rushed for 74 yards last year with a touchdown against Western Dubuque, "while Mason is more of a hard-nosed runner, who can pick up those tough yards," Miller said.
Central has a pair of big-play threats in senior Jake Feldpausch and junior James Grell, who will act as the team's slot backs.
Feldpausch averaged a fantastic seven yards per carry during his junior campaign and scored five touchdowns, while also running a kickoff back for a score against Marion.
Grell was just as explosive when he had an opportunity to carry the ball, averaging 9.4 yards on his 15 carries, while scoring a touchdown against Benton.
Giving the Sabers yet another threat is senior Jake Kagemann, who can be used as either a slot back or a receiver. Kagemann focused entirely on defense last season, but he scored three touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards per carry as a sophomore.
Kagemann will bolster a receiving corps that also includes seniors Emmitt Enyeart and Carter Cahill.
Enyeart emerged late last season, catching six of his seven passes in the Sabers' final five games, including a 75-yard touchdown reception against Anamosa and a three-catch game against Decorah.
Also ready to support the passing game are juniors Garrett Jacobs and Jordan Cornelius, who will both see time at tight end.
The defense has plenty of new faces and that extends all the way to the sidelines where Jason Lansing will take over as defensive coordinator for Ryan Streets, who became head coach at Anamosa.
The good news is that the Sabers return one senior starter at every level of the defense.
Down in the trenches, McDowell returns as the team's nose guard. Last season, the junior racked up 18 tackles, including four solo, and six for loss.
Cornelius will join McDowell in the interior of the line and so will Looney, Hayen (six tackles, three for loss) and Zac Foreman among others.
Schwennen, meanwhile, will tackle the power end position with fellow junior Lucas Daniels taking over for A.J. Smith as the team's rush end. Kraklio, who had eight tackles and a fumble recovery last season, can also play end and so too can Muhl, Holst and Feldpausch.
Stillmunkes, who finished his junior season with 36 tackles (21 of which were solo and nine going for loss), is the veteran of the linebacker corps.
The senior will see time as the Will linebacker along with Grell, who had 13 stops a year ago, while Feldpausch (15 tackles with one for loss) and Jacobs will both have a chance to be the Sam linebacker.
Lining up between the two will be Schroeder, who earned valuable experience at the spot during the latter parts of last season. Schroeder finished the year with 16 tackles with six being solo stops.
"The linebackers have been very disciplined so far," Miller said. "And you can see the speed they possess - they're quick to the ball."
Kagemann will highlight the secondary after earning all-district honors for his play there last season. The senior finished third on the team with 59 tackles with a squad-best 40 of them being solo. Kagemann had two tackles for loss as well and intercepted a pair of passes.
Enyeart, who had two interceptions of his own while racking up six tackles last fall, will handle the other cornerback spot, while juniors Logan Sheppard and Ryan Burke man strong safety and free safety respectively.
Returning after an incredibly memorable freshman season to handle all of the kicks for Central is sophomore Keegan Lass.
The Saber was a perfect 11-for-11 on his point after tries and booted two field goals, with both of them being game-winners (including a 25-yarder to beat West Delaware in the first round of the playoffs).
Grell will take over the punting duties with Hayen set to do the long snapping.
Not surprisingly after last year's memorable campaign, excitement has been high within the program and the Sabers are not about to relinquish it.
"The success of last year has really paid off this offseason," Miller said. "We've had more players buy in to what the program wants to accomplish and that will be a big benefit for us both this year and in the future."
Editor's note: A regular team picture of the Central football team will appear in Wednesday's Observer.