Tigers want to make it back to playoffs
Motivation isn't lacking for the Fremont High School football team.
The Tigers qualified for the Class A state playoffs in 2017, but last year they missed out on the postseason with a 2-7 record. The players, led by a group of seniors, are intent on making it back.
"As a collective group, this is probably the most driven (team) we've had," Fremont coach Seth McClain said. "We don't have to get on them about things. They've taken ownership and that was neat to watch this summer. They wanted to be pushed and they pushed the guys around them to get better. They are a bunch of kids that really like football and like being around each other."
Junior Jack Cooper is expected to be at quarterback. Cooper was a backup last year to Brody Sintek, who is now playing baseball at Wayne State. As a sophomore, Cooper completed 8 of 14 passes for 75 yards and also rushed 30 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns. His season was cut short due to a knee injury, but he has fully recovered from offseason surgery.
"Jack is a solid-character kid and someone the kids respect," McClain said. "He is a lead-by-example player. He does everything you ask of him and he'll do anything for his teammates."
Fremont Tribune All-Area running back Cody Carlson graduated in May, but a trio of players will look to lead the rushing attack, including Jax Sorensen, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound sophomore.
"Jax is really something with the ball in his hands," McClain said. "He is like tackling air. He reminds me a lot of Danny Woodhead when he was at North Platte. He isn't the biggest guy, but he is shifty."
Mitchell Baxa, a 6-2, 185-pound senior, will give opponents a different look.
"Mitchell is a bruiser," McClain said. "He has big legs and has really improved."
Sophomore Micah Moore (6-0, 155) is also in the mix.
"Micah has a nice burst," McClain said. "All three of them do well catching the ball. Those are three guys we really like."
Junior Dawson Glause (5-11, 150) is the top returning receiver. He caught 20 balls for 151 yards last fall. Also back is senior Jon Kment (5-9, 150), who hauled in eight catches for 79 yards as a junior.
"Dawson was one of the reasons the (First State Bank) baseball team almost made nationals," McClain said. "He is a talented human being. Kment is a solid kid and a good worker. No one will outwork him. He'll play a lot of different positions for us."
Elmwood-Murdock transfer Massimo Lojing, a 6-0, 160-pound senior, joins juniors Conner Richmond and Tyler Downey and sophomore Drew Sellon as other threats at receiver.
"Conner has improved a ton and he reminds me a lot of Jake Sellon (a former FHS receiver now on the University of Nebraska track team)," McClain said. "Drew has had a nice camp and has good hands. Tyler is a lanky kid who is really coming into his own."
Senior Carter Newill returns at tight end. He caught 15 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown last fall. He'll also see time at fullback. McClain also likes the potential of senior Seth Redding.
The Tigers lost All-Area standout Jackson Ritchhart, now playing for the University of Nebraska at Kearney, to graduation, but the offensive line isn't lacking size or talent.
Junior Boone Gray (6-3, 260) will be at left tackle. He was slated to start last fall before breaking his ankle at the end of fall camp. Carter Richmond (6-1, 270) will be at left guard while Keegan Menning (6-5, 300) returns at right guard. The right tackle is senior Kade Richardson (6-5, 305). At center will either be Sergio Chavez (5-6, 250) or Jesus Morales (6-2, 240).
The Tigers utilized Carlson's skills last fall, but they hope to have a more balanced attack in 2019.
"A lot of it is dictated by what the defense gives us, but Jack has worked extremely hard on his passing game," McClain said. "He has worked his tail off on that. I think if we want to -- or need to -- we can definitely put the ball up in the air. That will open up our running game."
Those offensive linemen will also play prominent roles on the defensive side.
Carter Richmond and Gray are scheduled to be at the ends while Menning and Richardson will be on the interior of the line.
"Going up against the competition we do in Class A football, we have to give those guys some rest," McClain said. "We have another group that looks good."
That group includes 6-3 senior Esteban Soler and 6-2, 230-pound Quintin Rudder at ends and juniors Cody Beed and Alex Hernandez on the inside.
"I think those guys are just as solid as the first group," McClain said. "It helps us that we can bring them in without much of a drop off."
Newill and Redding head the linebacker corps that will also get a boost by the return of senior Colton McCurdy. He played significant minutes as a sophomore, but missed last season due to an injury.
"Those three guys like to hit you," McClain said.
Baxa, senior Mason Moore and junior Kayden Garges are candidates at outside linebacker. Glause will be at free safety to lead the secondary.
"Dawson can cover an awful lot of ground," McClain said.
Lojing and junior Jace Lamkins are in the hunt to start at corner while Kment, Conner Richmond, junior Connor Stone and Sellon will also see significant time in the secondary.
"We have some dudes that can play back there," McClain said.
McClain said no starting role is safe on this team.
"The good thing is that you can't have a bad day," he said. "If you have a bad day, then you will get your spot taken."
Lamkins, who averaged 29.5 yards on 16 punts last year, returns as the punter and is likely to handle the kicking duties. McClain, though, also is encouraged by the development of sophomore Valentin Ventura.
"It is hard enough to have one kicker, so it is really nice to have two," McClain said.
McClain believes the Tigers have the confidence to do well this season.
"To be good, you have to think you are good," he said. "That is part of it. You have to have that between the ears and I think these kids think they can be pretty good. ... We have a lot of good things in place. We just have to stay on the path and not lose sight of what is important and that is the relationships and staying together as a team."
Richmond makes steady progress for FHS
Carter Richmond has made a lot of progress during his football career at Fremont High School.
The 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior was at tight end on the Tigers' 2016 freshmen team. He played some junior varsity as a sophomore before enjoying success at the varsity level last fall.
His coaches took notice. Richmond and teammate Keegan Menning were named the co-winners of the Jeff Tucker Award that is presented to the most improved junior on the team.
"That meant a lot to me," the offensive guard/defensive end said. "Our sophomore year, I didn't even make the travel team to North Platte. I just played a little JV ball. I put in a lot of work that summer and some spots opened up. It was really good to play on varsity all of last year and make an impact."
Fremont coach Seth McClain said he has been very happy with Richmond's development.
"He is extremely quick and agile and we like to have him pull on a lot of plays," he said. "He is really good on his feet. When he hits you, you go head over heels. He is right there with those other guys on the line. He is a really good football player."
Richmond didn't take it easy this summer. He joined his teammates for various workouts.
"I was very happy with the dedication everyone showed," he said. "I've been doing these summer workouts for four years now. Honestly, we've had a lot of guys there every day and the team chemistry is very good. I'm really excited for the season."
Richmond has been one of several leaders for the Tigers this summer. He recalls players like 2019 graduate Jake Heineman helping him when he was a young player.
"A lot of the seniors who came before me helped me a lot," he said. "Before I could drive, Jake would pick me up to go to weights. Those older role models showed us how to work hard and what it takes, especially that senior class that had Riley Harms and Jake Sellon. They showed us what it was like to be a playoff team."
Harms, now a quarterback at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and Sellon, a pole vaulter at the University of Nebraska, were Fremont Tribune All-Area picks during their senior season of 2017. They also helped the Tigers qualify for the Class A state playoffs -- something Richmond and his teammates want to experience again.
"We definitely want the playoffs," Richmond said. "It was a great experience, but we don't just want to qualify. We want to win once we're in there."
All-Area running back Cody Carlson and quarterback Brody Sintek graduated in May. Junior Jack Cooper is the heir apparent to Sintek, who is now playing baseball for Wayne State.
"I think Jack is going to be special," Richmond said. "He is young, but he has a lot of potential. He throws a good ball and we have more weapons this year."
Jax Sorensen, Micah Moore and Mitchell Baxa are the candidates at running back while Carter Newill returns at tight end. Junior Dawson Glause also returns at receiver.
"Dawson is fast and Jon Kment is a senior that never misses a day at weights," Richmond said. "Conner Richmond (Carter's brother) did really well in 7-on-7. I think we have a lot of young guys that can shock some people."
The Tigers' offensive line that includes Richmond, Menning, Kade Richardson and junior Boone Gray will also play a key role.
"We have some dudes on the line," Richmond said. "The guys that we lost have been replaced and I think we'll be solid. Boone would've helped us last year, but he got hurt (a broken ankle). He is just an athlete."
That line is a cohesive group.
"We're pretty close-knit," Richmond said. "We work out together, we lift together and go to lunches together. We always hit the buffets."
Newill comfortable in any role for Tigers
Carter Newill will be back at tight end for Fremont High School this fall, but the senior is also expected to fill a different role for the Tigers.
"I'll be taking some hand offs at fullback," he said. "I'm looking forward to running some people over. That will be fun."
The 6-foot, 220-pound Newill caught 15 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown last fall. Only 2019 graduate Dillon Dix (31 catches) and junior Dawson Glause (20 receptions) caught more.
"Carter has really good hands for a guy that is so physical," FHS coach Seth McClain said. "His testing was unbelievable. In the pro agility, he ran a 4.12 which is crazy fast for someone at 220 or 230 pounds."
Tony Weinandt, who retired from FHS after the 2017-18 school year, has returned to serve as offensive coordinator for the Tigers.
"He has brought a lot more energy and a different vibe to the team," Newill said. "When he was calling plays my sophomore year, we went to the playoffs. He said they are going to try and get me the ball a little bit more this season."
Jack Cooper, who saw time at quarterback as Brody Sintek's backup last fall, is expected to move into the starting role this fall.
"Jack has looked good right now," Newill said. "He is throwing a perfect ball. He can throw on the run. He is quick and a good pocket passer. He's been working hard."
Newill was part of a group that joined Cooper after morning workout sessions to work on passing.
"The quarterbacks and the other skilled position guys would go out to the practice field and throw the ball around for 45 minutes to an hour," Newill said. "We'd run plays and everything."
Volunteer coach Mark Voss has also offered assistance.
"He is kind of our throwing coach," Newill said. "He has helped everyone out with their hands, footwork and other things. He has been there every day throwing."
The Tigers got to showcase some of their talents during 7-on-7 games.
"We finished that up a few weeks ago," Newill said. "It went well and I felt like we bonded as a team. Our effort was super high. We started a little slow, but gradually got better."
Newill is also expected to be at linebacker in the Tigers' 4-2-5 scheme. Last fall, he recorded 20 tackles, including 13 solo stops.
"We have a lot of young guys in the secondary, but our linebackers and defensive linemen are pretty experienced," he said. "We just need to find some more depth and I think we'll be pretty stout."
Newill likes playing on both sides of the ball.
"I'm pretty balanced with both of them, but defense is probably what I'll go and play in college," he said. "I definitely want to play at the next level."
To help in that pursuit, Newill attended various summer football camps. South Dakota State has been in contact with him since he attended a Jackrabbits' camp.
"All the camps I went to helped me quite a bit technique-wise and experience-wise," Newill said. "It really put me ahead for the season."
Newill said the senior class is doing everything it can to lead the Tigers back to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason last year.
"The vibe around the program is really intense," he said. "The seniors have been cracking down on everybody making sure they are doing what they are supposed to so we can be ready for the first game (Friday at home against Lincoln Northeast)."
Knights take aim at memorable season
What do you get when you combine a 1,300-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, a multiple-state track meet medalist and a veteran receiver, who had seven touchdown catches in 2018?
Answer: A potentially dynamic offense for 2019.
That is what Fremont Bergan coach Seth Mruz is hoping for from the Knights, who finished 6-4 last year and lost in the first round of the Class C-2 state playoffs.
"We've been looking pretty good," Mruz said. "We've had a good buy-in from the kids. We've looked stronger and faster. We need to stay healthy, but these guys love football and playing for each other. There is a good vibe on the team right now."
The return of senior quarterback Jake Ridder, senior running back Ethan Villwok, senior receiver Jackson Gilfry and sophomore receiver Koa McIntyre has the Knights optimistic about how good they could be offensively.
"We just need to make sure we're strong and develop some spots on the offensive line," Mruz said. "We're looking to build some depth there, but the kids are pushing themselves. I think we've got a good five there, but we'd like to have seven or eight."
Senior Eli Simonson (6-foot-6, 245), a returning starter, will lead the offensive line at right tackle. Other veterans include senior AJ Walter at center and junior Martin Meraz (6-1, 220) at left guard. Nolan Thomsen, a transfer from Arlington, will man left tackle while Hunter Bacon (6-1, 210), a transfer from Cedar Bluffs, will be at right guard.
"Hunter has never played offensive line before, but he is looking good," Mruz said.
Additional help could come from seniors Parker Raemakers and Ryan Rolle and junior Andrew Fellers.
"Parker has never played football before, but is trying it this year," Mruz said. "He is a big kid (6-4, 320) and has worked hard all summer. Ryan could fill in for us and we moved Andrew from a skilled position to guard."
Ridder, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, rushed for 496 yards and threw for 1,300 and 16 touchdowns as a junior.
"He is a good senior leader and he has worked hard to improve to where he is at," Mruz said. "He is a smart kid. He analyzes plays well and gets good reads on defenses. He puts people in position so we can have success. He is really an extension of a coach out there."
Villwok, a 6-0, 205-pounder, rushed for 1,015 yards on 146 carries last fall while scoring 10 touchdowns.
"He can squat 490-plus pounds," Mruz said. "He is still pretty explosive. He runs hard between the tackles and moves well. I think he has a sense of ownership of the position. He is understanding the offense better."
Chris Pinales, a sophomore, rushed for 155 yards on 42 carries and scored three touchdowns as Villwok's backup.
"He squatted over 400 pounds and has good vision and good speed," Mruz said. "He actually broke our school record in the 40 and then Koa broke it. Both run in the 4.4 to 4.5 range. They are going to be good and fun to watch."
McIntyre played as a ninth-grade reserve in 2018. He also qualified for the state wrestling tournament and finished second in the Class C 100 and 200 meters at the state track meet. He was fourth in the 400.
McIntyre could play a variety of roles on offense.
"Koa is kind of a freak of nature as an athlete," Mruz said. "He'll play some H, which is basically our slot receiver. He may line up some on the outside, he could line up in the backfield at running back. He'll probably get some snaps at quarterback. He is gifted athletically and the kids love him. He is very fast and explosive."
Gilfry, as the starting second baseman and lead-off hitter, helped First State Bank capture the Class A American Legion Baseball title in the summer. He returns at receiver after catching 20 passes for 416 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Jackson is a competitor," Mruz said about the senior receiver/defensive back who is in his second year with the team. "When he was at Millard West, he was kind of hidden. Coming to a smaller school environment, it kind of opened things up for him. His dad (Jeremy) is an alum here. Jackson has bought in and he loves it here."
Dylan Marchand, a senior transfer from Cedar Bluffs, could also play a key role in the Knights' passing game.
"He has brought a positive vibe," Mruz said. "He keeps things light hearted and makes practices go smoother.
Mruz is also eager to see what the Knights can do with their 3-5-3 defense.
"We'll be fast and that helps out a lot," he said. "These guys can close in and make up ground quickly. We can make up for our lack of total size against some teams by being being fast and flying around and making plays. These kids are without fear."
The Knights plan on rotating Simonson, Thomsen, Walter and Meraz on the defensive front. Raemakers may also figure into that mix.
Bacon and Villwok could also help on the defensive line, but Mruz has them pegged to play at middle linebacker. Others who could see action include Jarret Boggs, Pinales, sophomore Alex Painter and junior Jacob Cook. On the outside, sophomores Lucas Pruss and Cal Janke, junior Shea Gossett and Cedar Bluffs senior transfer Xander Greve (6-1, 175) will vie for playing time.
"We have a lot of guys," Mruz said. "Some will start and we'll rotate others in. We have three inside linebacker spots and we could rotate six or seven kids through there comfortably."
Gilfry, who intercepted three passes and recorded 29 tackles as a junior, will play either cornerback or safety. Marchand, McIntyre, junior Kaden Thomsen and freshman Kade McIntyre could also see action in the secondary.
The Knights open their season Friday night at Logan View/Scribner-Snyder. Mruz said the schedule, with Wilber-Clatonia, BRLD and Oakland-Craig, will provide Bergan will some big tests.
"I see no reason why we can't compete with the best at the top of the class. We should be able to compete with every team on our schedule," he said. "That is all I ask of the kids. If they give 110 percent and empty the tank, let the chips fall where they may."
RB Villwok looking for strong finish
Ethan Villwok is looking forward to his senior season at Fremont Bergan.
As a junior, Villwok helped the Knights qualify for the Class C-2 state playoffs by rushing for 1,015 yards on 146 carries -- an average of 6.95 yards per carry. With the return of quarterback Jake Ridder, receiver Jackson Gilfry, linemen AJ Walter and Eli Simonson and all-purpose performer Koa McIntyre, the Knights' offense appears to be in good shape.
"The guys are getting after it," Villwok said. "We know the potential we have. We're not going to hold our heads too high, but we're also not going to have them too low. I think we've found that middle ground. We know what we can do, we just have to go out and prove it."
Villwok has done his part to get ready for the season. He recently recorded a squat of 495 pounds.
"This summer I've tried to bulk up and put on muscle," he said. "The squat forever has been my lift because I have big legs. I haven't lost any speed, but I've put on weight and I'm stronger. It is good weight that I've put on."
Villwok is one of the most experienced players for the Knights. As a freshman and sophomore, he shared time at running back with Logan Brandt. He rushed for 488 yards and six touchdowns as a 10th grader before having a breakout 2018 season.
Bergan was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last season, but Villwok believes the Knights can go further this fall.
"I think we've exceeded a lot of people's expectations the last three years, but this year I feel that this will be a memorable season for everyone," he said. "People know we have speed, strength and athleticism on the team. No one knows how far we can go, but I think it will be one of our more memorable seasons."
Part of that optimism stems from the weapons that are on offense.
"I think we'll be a very hard team to defend," Villwok said. "We'll be a team to be reckoned with. Our passing game is strong because every receiver we have is fast. We've got a good backfield and we've got a few transfers that are athletic."
No one can question Villwok's athleticism. He went out for basketball his freshman year, but gave it up after four weeks. He joined the wrestling team and lost in the heartbreak round of districts. He qualified for state as a sophomore and finished third as a junior in the Class D 182-pound division.
"Wrestling and football kind of go hand-in-hand," Villwok said. "I know Cole Conrad (a Bergan graduate and a former University of Nebraska offensive lineman) said his biggest regret was that he never wrestled in high school. It helps with a lot of things."
Villwok helped the Knights to a Class D state runner-up finish in wrestling in February. He hopes Bergan can enjoy a deep run in the football postseason.
"I want to hit 1,500 yards (rushing) this year and I want to stay away from injuries," he said. "I think our goal as a team is to win the state championship."
Villwok enjoys both sports, but he is clear about which one is his favorite.
"I love wrestling to death, but football is my go-to sport," he said.
Gilfry enjoying success in multiple sports
Jackson Gilfry spent his summer helping the First State Bank Seniors win the American Legion state baseball championship, but he didn't neglect football.
The morning after FSB won the American Division state title at Omaha Creighton Prep, Gilfry was in the Fremont Bergan weight room recording a personal best of 335 pounds in the squat.
"I just woke up the next day and knew I had to keep working," the 6-0, 160-pound senior said. "I've got more things to do."
Bergan coach Seth Mruz said it wasn't surprising that Gilfry showed up to lift the morning after the championship.
"He is all-in here on everything he does here and he wants to be successful," Mruz said. "He is not a super big or strong kid, but he maximizes every single piece of his potential."
Gilfry was the second-leading receiver for the Knights in 2018 as they advanced to the Class C-2 state playoffs. He caught 20 passes for 416 yards and seven touchdowns as Bergan finished 6-4.
"I felt like we had a good season, but I definitely felt like it could've been better," Gilfry said. "I think we'll come out and play hard and try to have a better year."
Gilfry joined the Knights last year after attending Millard West High School. His father, Jeremy, was a multi-sport athlete at Bergan before going on to a solid career as a receiver at Midland University.
"I kind of wanted to have a fresh start," Gilfry said. "My dad was always telling me to go to Bergan so I finally did and it worked out for me."
Gilfry said students and teachers at his new school welcomed him right away.
"I think I adjusted pretty fast," Gilfry said. "Within the first week I knew about everyone in school."
Although leading receiver Eli Herink graduate in May, the Knights return several key offensive players, including quarterback Jake Ridder, running back Ethan Villwok, sophomore receiver/back Koa McIntyre and Gilfry.
"We have a lot of weapons this year," Gilfry said. "Ethan is an amazing running back and Jake is back. We also have some new kids coming in. I feel like our offense could be very dangerous this year."
Gilfry got to see some of those weapons at work during Bergan's 7-on-7 games during the summer.
"I thought our summer went pretty well," Gilfry said. "I think we have pretty good leadership on this team."
Gilfry will also play either cornerback or safety on defense for the Knights. He recorded 29 tackles last fall, including 19 solo stops and returned a fumble for a touchdown. He also averaged 16.8 yards as a punt returner and 16.6 yards on kickoff returns.
"I like being a (kick) returner," Gilfry said. "I love getting the ball and trying to make plays."
Gilfry made his share of big plays for the FSB baseball squad. He was the lead-off hitter for Coach Jeff Hayden and led the team in stolen bases. The state title only whetted his appetite for what the Bergan football team could accomplish. He is hoping to nab at least 15 touchdown passes and help the Knights march deep into the postseason.
"I think we'll be better than we were last year," he said. "I want to win the whole thing and I bet everyone else would say that, too."
Quarterback Ridder hopes to build on breakout season
After a breakout season as a junior, Fremont Bergan quarterback Jake Ridder is looking for even better things in 2019.
Ridder led the Knights to the Class C-2 state playoffs last fall. He rushed 68 times for 496 yards and also connected on 93 of 149 pass attempts for 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes.
Ridder made huge strides as a quarterback after being thrust into the role his sophomore season after Nick Burger was injured.
"Nick was ahead of me and he was very good," Ridder recalls about the 2017 season. "He got the (practice) reps. When I got thrown in there, I didn't have much experience. It definitely played a role, though, in giving me confidence and preparing me for my junior year."
Ridder worked with a quarterbacks coach Jake Oholendt in Bellevue following his sophomore season.
"I went every Sunday that I could make it," he said. "He really taught me fundamentals and we worked a lot on my footwork. He gave me more confidence, which I think is a big part of it."
This year Ridder has been working with former Midland University quarterback John Faulkner, who now works at Bergan.
"I feel really good about this year," Ridder said. "We've had 7-on-7 this summer and I've been working with my receivers. I have a lot of targets this year and I am confident that I can throw to pretty much anyone and they'll catch it and make a play."
The Knights lost 2018 leading receiver Eli Herink to graduation, but Jackson Gilfry, who was second on the team in catches, returns. Also back is senior Ethan Villwok, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, and sophomore speedster Koa McIntyre.
"I think our offense is going to be dangerous this year," Ridder said. "We have a lot of fast athletes. Koa blew everyone out of the water at state track this year. Dylan Marchand is a transfer from Cedar Bluffs and he is very fast and Jackson is fast. With Ethan, if anyone gets in his way he'll just run them over."
The offensive line includes veterans AJ Walter, Martin Meraz and Eli Simonson as well as Arlington transfer Nolan Thomsen.
"This is one of the biggest lines we've ever had," Ridder said. "AJ has gained some weight and I always feel protected behind Eli (6-6, 245) because he is so huge."
Ridder has stepped up as a leader for the Knights. He recalls looking up to older teammates when he joined the Knights.
"My freshman year I really looked up to my older brother (Brant) and then when I was a sophomore Nick Burger was a tremendous role model for me," he said. "He mentored me along. Last year, Eli, Caleb Villwok, Riley Lindberg and Dylan Gartner all played such a big role."
The quarterback tries to treat younger players the way he would want to be treated.
"I think I'm really good vocally," Ridder said. "I don't belittle them, but I just tell them what they can do better on the next play. I'm very positive on the field. I don't like to get down on players because I feel if they get down on themselves, you've already lost the game. It is very important to me to instill an attitude of keeping your head up and just worry about the next play."
Ridder was a starting guard on Bergan's Class D-1 state basketball runner-up team in 2019. The Bergan girls won D-1 state titles in basketball and volleyball while the Knights' wrestling team was runner-up in Class D. Herink and Gilfry earlier this month helped the First State Bank Seniors win the city's first Legion baseball state championship in 73 years.
"The Bergan girls were so successful and the boys made it to state in everything," Ridder said. "The seniors played a big part in that. They worked so hard to change the culture around Bergan. My senior class wants to try to do as good if not better since we were also a big part of what happened with the boys. We would like to follow in their footsteps."
Veterans look to spark Raiders
HOOPER -- Following a disappointing 1-8 finish last season, Logan View/Scribner-Snyder will look to improve and grow as a team under the guidance of Coach Dustin Sealey.
"We have had a very good summer and our kids have grown a lot physically and mentally as football players," said Sealey, who is in his ninth year as head coach. "They were busy with various things, but they still made it to the weight room and participating in 7-on-7. Hopefully all the hard work we have put in will translate to success as we enter the season.”
Sealey welcomes back junior Riley Hoetfelker at quarterback. As a sophomore, Hoetfelker was 74 of 155 passing for 885 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 85 yards and one score.
"I'm excited to see what he can do this year," Sealey said. "He has grown physically and has matured. Having a year of experience playing quarterback can make a huge difference."
Fremont Tribune All-Area pick Brady Hull graduated, but Sealey is hoping junior Beto Valdivia (5-foot-5, 150 pounds) and junior Connor Larson (5-10, 174) can pick up the slack. As a sophomore, Larson rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns, which was second behind Hull's team-best 916 yards.
Sealey also likes the potential of sophomore Jake Purdy (5-7, 145).
Larson was the Raiders' top receiver with 32 catches for 399 yards and five touchdowns.
"Connor had a good year at receiver and he is a good punt and kick returner for us,' Sealey said. "We want to get him the ball as much as we can."
Keaton Bushlow, a 6-0, 145-pound junior, returns on the outside after making three catches and scoring one touchdown in 2018.
Junior Dru Mueller (135 yards receiving and three touchdowns) is also back along with junior Garrett Palmer, who had six catches last fall. Senior Alex Wagner (10 catches for 126 receiving yards) will be at tight end.
Defensively, Wagner (25 tackles) will be at a tackle spot while Valdivia (53 tackles and 10 tackles for loss), Larson (42 tackles and Logan Boothe (23 stops) return at linebacker. Also back is senior lineman Alex Miller (5-10, 220).
"We have a lot of guys who are three-year starters for us so I'm looking forward to a big jump this year," Sealey said.
Bushlow is back at kicker after connecting on 12 exra-points a year ago.
“I expect us to learn from last season what we can and can't do as a team and what it takes to beat good teams,” Sealey said. “We have a loaded schedule but I think we need to finish out games better than we did last season."
The Raiders have a tough challenge to open the season. They will host Class C-2's No. 8 Fremont Bergan. After facing the Knights, Logan View/Scribner-Snyder has successive road games at North Bend and Boys Town.
"Bergan is a big game for us," Sealey said. "We like playing them. Once you get that first game under your belt, it can set the tone for the rest of them."
The Raiders are eager to get their season under way.
"The kids are excited and ready to go," Sealey said. "They seem dialed in and very focused."
North Bend not lacking offensive weapons
NORTH BEND -- After a 10-year absence from the postseason, North Bend qualified for the state football playoffs last season.
Although the Tigers' graduated several key players, including Fremont Tribune Male Athlete of the Year John Emanuel, North Bend coach Ryan Stieren thinks securing another playoff berth in 2019 is very possible.
"We had a lot of kids who got their feet wet last year on varsity and now they are ready to be some of our better players," Stieren said. "Someone said that winning is contagious. I think when you are winning, people want to be a part of it."
After graduating 12 seniors, including Emanuel at receiver and all-district defensive line pick Jeremy Doernemann, the roster number has not changed from last year (37).
"That was good to see," Stieren said.
Stieren has been impressed with the leadership of the veterans on his team and also the squad's overall football talents.
"One of our strengths is the number of kids that we feel can play on Friday nights," Stieren said. "We feel good about our offensive line rotation. We've got seven guys there and at all of the skilled positions we have two guys at each spot. We're also further along with what we're trying to do. These kids have worked hard in the offseason."
Leading the way is senior quarterback Austin Endorf. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder earned Tribune All-Area honors last fall after connecting on 207 of 323 passing attempts (64 percent) for 2,617 yards. He threw for 29 touchdowns.
"He puts us in situations to help us win on every play," Stieren said. "The thing about Austin is, he works hard but he doesn't always look good in practice. When those lights for a game come on, though, he is out for blood. He gets after it and he is pretty darn good."
Emanuel caught 78 balls for more than 1,000 yards last fall. Stieren believes that junior Breckin Peters can help fill that void.
"He will put up big numbers," Stieren said about the 6-foot-1, 200-pound multi-sport athlete. "He is a matchup problem for defenses. We want to put our big receivers on the edge and match them up against smaller corners and then go after them. He is big and strong and athletic. He is a guy that will do good things for us offensively and defensively."
Cody Pospisil, a 6-1 senior, hauled in 26 catches for 392 yards and four touchdowns as a junior last fall. Cody Prohaska, a 6-0 senior, caught four touchdown passes in just three games in 2018 before breaking his collarbone.
"Pospisil and Peters have worked hard in the weight room and Prohaska has come back really strong," Stieren said. "Those three guys will have well over 20 catches and two of them will probably have over 40."
Ethan Mullally rushed for 432 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore last year. He will share time at running back with Ian Virka, a 6-1, 195-pound sophomore.
The offensive line includes right tackle Payton Mitties, right guard Cole Johnson (5-11, 205), center Gavin Peterson (5-11, 200) and left tackle Landon Krenzer, a 6-4, 235-pound junior. Juniors Jace Owen and Hunter Johnston are battling for the left guard job, but both will play a lot.
At tight end is Austin Taylor, a 6-1, 180-pound junior.
"He'll be a nice player for us," Stieren said.
North Bend averaged 32.2 points per game last season, but Stieren thinks the offense could be even better.
"I expect us to be better," he said. "I expect us to put up better numbers, more yardage and more points. I expect all of that. I think we're more complete this year. We have more weapons across the field. Last year, we had Emanuel and we went to the well. This year I feel we can be a tough out because people will have to defend us from all areas.
"I think we can have a 1,000-yard rusher and I think Austin can throw for over 3,000 yards this year. I know I'm pretty optimistic, but we're as far along as we've ever been."
The Tigers have options on the defensive line, including Krenzer and Owen at nose tackle. Johnson will start at one of the other spots while Mitties or Johnston will be at the other.
Peterson recorded 66 tackles as a middle linebacker last fall. The other inside backers will be Peters and Pospisil.
"Those middle three linebackers are the strength of our defense," Stieren said. "They are fast and smart and are aggressive kids."
Taylor, junior Gage Dunn and Virka are in the hunt for the two outside linebacker jobs. Mullally will be at safety while Prohaska and Allan Orellana will be at the corners. Endorf could also play in the secondary, but Stieren would like to save him exclusively for offense.
"I feel really good about our front eight," he said. "We just need to improve our depth in the secondary."
The Tigers open the season Friday night at Johnson County Central. They will face perennial power David City Aquinas on Oct. 11 in North Bend. The Monarchs downed the Tigers 52-14 last season.
"We have to be focused every week," Stieren said, "and we have to play better against one of the best teams in the state. We've talked about last year's game this summer. We're looking forward to that opportunity because we haven't played well against them."
Eagles hope to improve on 4-6 record
ARLINGTON -- Doing a better job on third down, both offensively and defensively, will go a long way in terms of helping the Arlington varsity football team improve upon last year’s 4-6 overall record, head coach Steven Gubbels said.
Because he didn’t think his offense did a good enough job of converting on third down in 2018, Gubbels said he will emphasize that part of the game with his team heading into the 2019 season.
“We need to make offensive conversions on any down, but particularly on third down. It is an emphasis to keep our offense on the field and the opponent’s off,” said Gubbels. “Execution on the early downs, staying away from negative plays and/or penalties, and an awareness of the need to keep our third downs to third-and-short scenarios will be a part of our preparation and overall mentality.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Gubbels said he would like his Eagles to force more three-and-outs this year.
“It will be important for us to not just get off the field on third down,” Gubbels said, “but to force the opponent’s offense into negative or limited yardage plays on the early downs to put our defense in more third-and-long scenarios, rather than third-and-short.”
Those tasks will be made somewhat easier by the return of 15 starters, seven on offense and eight on defense, off of last year’s team.
All of Arlington’s starting skill position players return in 2019, including junior Josh Miller - who passed for 710 yards last year - at quarterback.
Joining Miller in the backfield will be running backs Logan Kirk, a senior, and Jesse Thompson, a junior. Those two backs combined to rush for 928 yards and score eight touchdowns one year ago. Senior Tanner Pittman, who caught 11 passes for 131 yards as a junior, also returns at wide receiver.
“Our backfield experience and depth will be solid,” Gubbels said, “and thus we will expect them to build on their successes from last season and to provide the offensive leadership needed to take our offensive production to the level needed to compete for another district title (the Eagles won the District C1-2 championship with a 4-1 record in 2018).”
Another strength on offense, according to Gubbels, will be an offensive line that includes three returning starters: seniors Remington Gay (tackle), Kobe Wilkins (guard) and Cooper Hilgenkamp (center).
“With a number of very experienced, veteran players on the offensive line, we will rely on them to lead and help bring our less experienced linemen up to speed,” Gubbels said. “Much of our success will be determined by how quickly we can gel as a unit on the offensive line.”
Arlington returns starters on every level of the defense this season. Gay (96 tackles), Hilgenkamp and Wilkins (a combined 103 tackles) will anchor the defensive line, while Miller (67 tackles) and Thompson (57 tackles) will lead the linebackers.
The Eagles also return their entire secondary in Pittman (40 tackles), senior Casey Kirk (34 tackles) and Logan Kirk (31 tackles).
“Defensive efficiency starts with the ability of the defensive front to stalemate the push of the offensive line to provide an effective pass rush when needed,” Gubbels said. “That said, we feel we have the right guys-some with multiple years of experience-to get that job done. We feel our linebacker core will be athletic and versatile in their defensive abilities and we return our entire secondary.”
Sophomores Isaac Foust, Logan Kaup, Dustin Kirk, Jordan Meehan and Nick Smith are five additional players that Gubbels said will see significant playing time for Arlington this season.
“With depth being an issue, we will be heavily focused on preparing our younger players for some level of varsity competition during camp and preseason practices,” Gubbels said. “We expect and will need our sophomores to step-up and fill several offensive and defensive positions as starters or regular back-ups.”
The Eagles will open the 2019 season at home on Friday against West Point-Beemer, before beginning district play on Sept. 27, at Omaha Concordia.
“Much like last season, every team in the district will be a contender for the title,” Gubbels said. “We are aware of the competition and are firmly focused on the task of defending our 2018 district title.”
Wrestling champion boosts Arlington
ARLINGTON -- Remington Gay’s signature move (on the wrestling mat) isn’t a single action at all, but a flurry.
His constant movement is at once exhilarating and exhausting: circling around the mat, clinching and releasing, jockeying for position, shooting in for the takedown, making a series of moves, securing the win.
The numbers confirm the impression that Arlington’s lithe 6-foot-3 and 240-pound multi-sport athlete is everywhere at once: Gay led the Eagles with a 48-2 record and won the Class C 220-pound state wrestling championship in February of 2019.
“I just really try to outwork my opponent,” said Gay, who is a three-time state wrestling qualifier. “I treat every match like it’s the state title match. I get up early and then wrestle defensive after that.”
This fall, Gay hopes the success he had on the wrestling mat as a junior will translate into a stellar senior season on the football field. Having already earned a combined five letters in both sports, Gay said he tries to apply the lessons he’s learned in one sport to the other.
“Knowing how to use your opponent’s weight and strength against them has been very beneficial to me in both sports,” Gay said. “Also, as a lineman, it’s important to be aggressive because usually the player who gets off the ball faster usually wins.”
Arlington football coach Steven Gubbels credits wrestling for helping Gay become a well-rounded defensive and offensive lineman.
“Wrestling is great for body awareness and the overall competitive development of young athletes,” Gubbels said. “Both his challenges and his successes on the mat have played a role in his development as a football player.”
His development as a football player helped Gay earn all-district honors each of the two years he’s been a starting lineman for the Eagles. This past season, the 18-year-old Gay led Arlington in tackles with 96 and earned Fremont Tribune All-Area first-team honors as an offensive lineman.
“Well, I improved a lot from my sophomore year to last year,” Gay said, “but there’s still a lot that I can still do to get better."
One constant in Gay's game, however, is his singular purpose.
"I’m out there to hit hard," he said, "and make my opponents not want to play across from me.”
Gubbels said there are many other reasons why Gay has been a key contributor to the AHS football team the last two years.
“Remington has several positive attributes for the positions he plays,” Gubbels said. “Of course his size and strength are on that list, but it is also his knowledge of the game and his instincts that have allowed him to be successful.”
Whether he’s on the wrestling mat or the football field, Gubbels knows that Gay’s constant movement gives him a winning advantage.
“Through his hard work and continued commitment to improvement over the years,” Gubbels said, “we expect Remington to have a tremendous impact on the field with both his physical play and his love and understanding of the game.”
Brinkman takes charge of Cedar Bluffs program
CEDAR BLUFFS -- Adapting to a new coach is something that has become routine for the Cedar Bluffs High School football team.
As this year’s seniors prepare for their final season, they’re also getting to know their third head coach in four years.
Tom Brinkman was hired by Cedar Bluffs Public Schools this past spring as a social studies teacher and head football coach. He was a substitute teacher at the school this past year and was able to work with the players during offseason training.
The transition has went well for the new coach.
“They’ve been very accepting of me,” Brinkman said. “They’re buying in to what we’re trying to do. At first the biggest thing was I wanted to build their trust and they were building mine. These seniors want to have a successful football season. They want to have a fun season, so they’re really buying in and they’re having fun and hoping for the best.
“We’re putting the work in and hopefully it ends in our favor. They’ve been great to work with. I’ve loved it so far.”
Brinkman graduated in 2013 from Grinnell College in Iowa, where he played on the defensive line for the Pioneers. He was an assistant coach for the college for two years.
Brinkman spent the next four seasons on the Midland University coaching staff, including serving as the defensive coordinator for the Warriors in 2018. He also earned his Master’s in Education from Midland.
After spending six years at the collegiate level, Brinkman was excited for the opportunity to get into high school coaching and teaching.
“I think it was my passion for wanting to work more closely on the education side of things,” Brinkman said of the move to the high school level. “As a college football coach, you’re only working as a football coach, hardly working in the classroom with kids. I wanted to get back to that. It was something I loved.
“It’s a big time commitment at the college level as well, and obviously is at the high school level, but there’s more time for my family. I just got married about a year ago. She loves this time a little more than last year’s fall football season.”
Brinkman inherits a Wildcats squad which finished with a 1-7 record last season. This year’s seniors have won a total of six games the past three years.
Achieving success is just as much mental as it is physical, Brinkman said.
“I want these guys to believe that they can be good and that they can compete. That’s a big thing going into each game, believing you have a chance to win because you have to think that way in order to be able to win,” he said. “The mental side of things is always a thing that we’re always trying to focus on with these guys.”
About 20 players make up Cedar Bluffs’ roster this season, a number Brinkman hopes continues to grow in upcoming years. That will allow for junior varsity games in addition to varsity games, helping players gain more experience.
“We actually have quite a few guys that have at least played somewhat in the past, so that’s good,” Brinkman said, noting every position is an open competition in his first year.
Juniors Brody Ptomey and Gabe Anaya will help solidify the Wildcats’ play up front this year as they are both returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines.
Senior Grant Pleskac and sophomore Zephan Kluthe are battling for the starting quarterback spot.
“Whoever doesn’t play quarterback will probably be a starter at another position for us, too. Both of those two are very competitive kids,” Brinkman said.
Brinkman also is looking to seniors Chris Vasquez and Dominic Goodwin for solid contributions this season.
“Our senior class is excited and I’m excited about them. … I want to help these guys end their high school career with something they can be proud of,” Brinkman said. “It’s nice they’ve come together and they’ve really tried to improve as much as they can so far. They’re kind of the leaders of our team. We’re going to go as our seniors go this year is how I see it.”
Defense has been a struggle for Cedar Bluffs the last few years. The Wildcats gave up over 60 points a game a season ago, including 92 points to Pender in a 92-70 loss.
With Brinkman’s background on that defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats are looking to make some positive strides.
“The No. 1 thing is I believe in keeping it simple, so we’re going to try to make sure that we are simple on defense so that guys know what they’re doing each play so they can be in the right position,” the coach said. “After that it’s about changing the culture into a physical, attacking defense. That’s something that we’re trying to do. With low numbers, obviously you want to be as physical as you can while also being safe, but that’s something we’re trying to implement.”
Assistants Cody Amen from Boone Central and Jeremiah Johnson from Elba round out the Wildcats’ new coaching staff.
Cedar Bluffs will open the season Friday at Allen, one of five opponents on the Wildcats’ schedule which qualified for the playoffs last season. Their first home game, which also will be homecoming, is Sept. 6 against Omaha Brownell Talbot.
“We’re just looking forward to competing every single week,” Brinkman said. “It’s definitely a tough schedule with a lot of the teams making the playoffs last year, but if we believe that we can compete every single day, we’re setting ourselves up for success and that’s the biggest thing.
I just want us to get better every single day and if we do that, the scoreboard takes care of itself and I can be satisfied with the outcome no matter what it is.”
Oakland-Craig braces for another run in C-2
OAKLAND -- Coming off a successful season that saw Oakland-Craig finish 11-1, head coach Joe Anderson will look to continue the Knights' rich football tradition.
Despite losing depth from last year’s team, Anderson is confident some players will step up for O-C this season. The Knights are ranked ninth in Class C-2 by the Omaha World-Herald.
Quarterback Jared Mulder graduated, but Anderson has been impressed with senior Colten Thomsen. As a junior, Thomsen threw for 31 yards and one touchdown.
“It is really nice to be able to plug in a guy who has been with us for all four years,” said Anderson. “He is someone who has ran the system during practices and has a grasp of what we expect from him.”
The running back spot will be manned by junior Jaron Meyer, who Anderson describes as their speediest and most explosive player they have on the team.
Meyer had a solid opener in 2018 before breaking his foot.
"He is an explosive player," Anderson said. "When he is healthy, he can make a lot of big plays for us."
Thomsen will have the luxury of throwing to South Dakota State commit Wyatt Seagren, who will enter the season at an impressive 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds. The veteran will provide a huge target for Thomsen to turn to throughout the season.
Seagren caught six passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns last season and will look to be even better this season.
"We expect him to have a much bigger part of the offense than he did last year," Anderson said. Junior Mike Maline and Tom Maline will join senior Laurence Brands as leaders of the offensive line.
Leading the defense will be Ian Lundquist, a two-time all-district pick at linebacker. Additional help will come from junior Mike Brands (6-2, 195), junior linebacker Caden Nelson (52 tackles) and senior linebacker Blake Johnson (36 tackles).
“Defense should most definitely be one of our strengths coming into the year,” Anderson said. “Lundquist, Brands, Nelson, and Johnson should give us one of the better linebacker groups we’ve ever had, so that will be huge to have that group in the middle of the defense."
While depth will be a question for the team, Anderson believes some younger players can help fill the void left by last year's senior class.
“We lost a good group of 10 seniors last season but will return a group of solid players that have played a lot of football and were undefeated last year on JV,” Anderson said. “Our top groups will have a chance to be very good, but we will not have as much depth as last year. We must develop that as the season progresses.”
The Knights will open their season Friday at Crofton, followed by consecutive home games against seventh-ranked Hartington Cedar Catholic and Ponca. Following the two home affairs they hit the road to face Syracuse and Tekamah-Herman. Anderson's team will then return home to face off against Louisville and eighth-ranked Fremont Bergan.
"We're going to be a physical team and I think we're going to be better up front," Anderson said. "I think everyone is excited to get the season started."
O-C ends the regular season with consecutive road games to Yutan and second-ranked BRLD. The Wolverines are coming off the C-2 state title in basketball where many players, such as Will Gatzemeyer and Lucas Vogt played key roles.
Warriors ranked No. 2 in C-1
WAHOO -- Wahoo High School opens the season ranked No. 2 in the Class C-1 ratings by the Omaha World-Herald.
The only team to beat the Warriors during the 2018 season was C-1 champion Aurora. The Huskies downed Wahoo during the regular season and then in the playoffs.
After a 10-2 season, Wahoo coach Chad Fox, now in his 18h season, looks to take another team deep into the postseason.
“I believe that this team is capable of great things and can play at a very high level," Fox said. “We have high and lofty expectations and have spent a lot of time improving. We think we can have a really great year and hopefully we can carry the momentum from the summer and put all the hard work to good use.”
All-state senior running back Trevin Luben (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) returns after setting the school rushing record with 2,215 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns.
"He has a really good feel for the running game and where the running creases are," Fox said.
Fox also likes the potential of sophomore Colin Ludvik (5-7, 160) and senior Peyton Walling (5-10, 160) to help with the ground attack.
Thomas Waido returns as the starting quarterback, but Cooper Hancock and Tate Nelson could also see action if needed behind center.
The offensive line returns Brandon Swahn, Gunnar Vanek and Callan Phillips.
Luke Partridge is a two-year starter at wide receiver while Nate Fox will be at tight end. Running back Cooper Hancock and Partridge both recorded more than 300 yards receiving last fall.
Defensively, the Warriors lost lineman Jack Sutton and linebacker Sam Kolterman to graduation, but Kole Bordovsky returns. The 6-foot, 190-pound Bordovsky recorded 127 tackles and an interception at linebacker last fall.
Grant Kolterman will look to ease the loss of his brother at linebacker while Phillips, Swahn, Vanek and Kalon Cooper look to lead the line.
The secondary will rely on Waido, Partridge, Hancock and Luben.
Neumann welcomes new coach
WAHOO -- Although Tim Turman retired as the head coach at Wahoo Neumann following the 2018 season, a familiar face will be leading the Cavaliers this fall.
Longtime assistant coach Doug Lanik has taken over the reins at Neumann. He inherits a squad that finished 9-3 last season and upset Auburn and Pierce in the Class C-1 state playoffs.
Lanik, a former Midland University player and coach, has a wealth of experience.
"I've been a head coach before and I've been an offensive coordinator at the college level before," he said. "We'll just pick up where we left off and keep it rolling."
Although standouts such as Fremont Tribune All-Area lineman Caden Johnson graduated, the Cavaliers return three offensive and five defensive starters.
David Lilly, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, rushed for 484 yards on 64 carries as a junior. He also recorded 144 tackles with 13.5 tackles for loss at linebacker.
Tight end Trey Miller (6-2, 220) caught 26 passes for 285 yards as a junior last fall. Dalton Bartek, a 5-11, 265-pound senior, and Jan Mautlka, a 6-0, 205-pound senior, return to bolster the line.
Jarrett Kmiecik, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, also gives Neumann a threat at receiver. He caught 11 balls for 161 yards in 2018. He also averaged 34.4 yards as a punter.
Eli Vedral graduated at quarterback, but Taylen Pospisil, a 5-10, 160-pound senior, is back after missing all of 2018 due to a torn ACL suffered during the summer basketball season.
If Pospisil falters, the Cavs can turn to junior Kolten Cada, who served as Vedral's backup in 2018.
Additional help on offense could come from junior running back Spencer Wiese (5-10, 155), senior lineman Jonathan Klement, junior lineman Will Kavan, junior running back Dawson Sabatka and junior tight end Karson Sander.
Defensively, Lilly, Miller and Kmiecik return at linebacker while Bartek is a returning starter on the line. Wiese started in the secondary.
"Our expectation is to play good, solid Neumann football on both sides of the ball," Lanik said. "We want to be able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense."
The Cavaliers will open the season Friday night at Boys Town. Their home opener is Sept. 6 against Lincoln Lutheran. The annual rivalry game with Wahoo High is set for Oct. 11.
Jaguars ranked fifth in Class D-1
Howells-Dodge is back in a familiar place to start the 2019 season.
The Jaguars, a perennial top-10 squad in Class D-1, are ranked fifth in the preseason by the Omaha World-Herald.
Jaguars' coach Mike Speirs, now in his 24th year at the school, said nothing is a given for his squad that finished 7-3 in 2018.
"Our schedule will be challenging and we must increase our overall team strength to compete," he said. "We only have three juniors on our roster, so we will need freshmen and sophomores to give us depth."
The Jaguars lost Fremont Tribune All-Area running back Dylan Horejsi to graduation in May. The three-year starter was just one of the key losses for the Jaguars.
"Our biggest needs going into the season are finding replacements at running back and in the offensive line," Speirs said. "On defense, it will be finding ends. But we do return a solid nucleus of seniors with a couple of underclassmen that gained valuable experience."
Senior Darrin Pokorny (6-1, 165) returns at quarterback. As a junior, he passed for 807 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 446 yards and seven scores.
"Darrin has really become a team leader and we will lean on that leadership a lot this fall," Speirs said.
Luke Rocheford, a 6-1, 170-pound senior, caught a school-record 17 passes for 370 yards and eight touchdowns. He also was a dynamo on special teams as he returned three kicks for touchdowns.
"He is without a doubt, one of the top receivers I have coached," Speirs said. "On special teams, teams stopped punting to him by the end of the year. ... We've got to find ways to get Luke the ball in space."
Pokorny also started at safety. Other two-way returning starters for the Jaguars include: Trevor Schumacher (a 5-11, 180-pound tight end and linebacker), Carter Throener (a 5-11, 220-pound guard and nose guard) and Charlie Dvorak (a 5-11, 165-pound running back and defensive back).
Dvorak rushed for 145 yards as a junior. Defensively, he had 41 tackles and intercepted a pass.
Schumacher finished with 129 tackles to lead the Jaguars in 2018. Throener recorded 75 tackles and four sacks.
"Carter has developed into an outstanding lineman on both sides of the ball," Speirs said. "He should increase his (tackle) numbers as we plan to move him to defensive end. As an offensive lineman, we tended to run behind by the end of last season."
Also back on the defense is Levi Belina, a 6-0, 175-pound sophomore. He recorded 97 tackles as a freshman.
"Levi was forced into starting due to an injury in Week 4," Speirs said. "We didn't use him on offense, but this fall he will see an expanded role on both sides of the ball."
Speirs is counting on a trio of seniors to help with the offensive line, including Kyle Pickhinke (5-11, 290), Logan Nelson (6-2, 240) and Wyatt Hegemann (6-0, 175). The latter was also be looked to for help at linebacker.
Trevor Jedlicka, a 5-6, 135-pound junior, could get carries at running back and will help in the secondary. RJ Bayer, a 6-1, 185-pound sophomore, will play tight end and defensive end.
Howells-Dodge will host Clarkson/Leigh on Friday night before playing third-ranked West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic on Sept. 6.
Another key game is Sept. 27 when the Jaguars make the trek to face second-ranked Norfolk Lutheran and quarterback Jaxon Kant, who Speirs said is one of the best players in D-1.
Hickman, Mead shoot for improvement
MEAD -- Mead coach Terry Hickman welcomes back five starters on both sides of the ball from last year's 3-5 team.
Junior Calvin Muhlback (5-foot-9, 145 pounds) returns at quarterback. Junior receiver Hunter Pickworth (6-1, 175), junior receiver Blaine Nicola (5-7, 140), junior lineman Cade Mongan (5-9, 210) and senior receiver JT Haag (6-2, 155) are also back.
Haag finished with 11 catches for 262 yards and five touchdowns as a junior.
"He has a chance to move up on our all-time charts as a senior," Hickman said. "We expect him to be a focal point of our offense."
Defensively, Pickworth, Nicola, Mongan, Haag and lineman Bayley LaCroix (6-3, 255) return.
"We also have a lot of players who have seen time in their first three seasons, but now we're asking them to fill starting roles," Hickman said.
Other players who could contribute are sophomore Jared Doherty (5-9,130), senior lineman Tyler Engle (5-10, 205), senior lineman Riley Mayfield (5-7,165), sophomore running back Caleb Lihs (5-10, 160), sophomore lineman Collin Konecky (5-10, 190) and freshman Trey Simon (6-6, 270).
2019 Area High School Football Schedules
Aug. 30 vs. Lincoln Northeast
Sept. 6 at Omaha Benson
Sept. 13 at North Platte
Sept. 20 vs. Columbus
Sept. 27 vs. Millard North
Oct. 4 at Papillion-La Vista
Oct. 11 vs. Omaha Burke
Oct. 18 at Gretna
Oct. 25 at Elkhorn
Aug. 30 vs. Elkhorn South
Sept. 6 at Norfolk
Sept. 13 at Columbus
Sept. 20 vs. Lincoln Southwest
Sept. 27 vs. Omaha Burke
Oct. 3 at Millard North
Oct. 10 vs. Gretna
Oct. 18 at Papillion-La Vista
Oct. 25 vs. Fremont
Aug. 30 at Elkhorn
Sept. 6 vs. Millard North
Sept. 13 vs. Lincoln North Star
Sept. 20 at Bellevue West
Sept. 27 at Columbus
Oct. 4 vs. Millard South
Oct. 11 vs. Omaha Westside
Oct. 18 at Omaha Northwest
Oct. 25 at Creighton Prep
Aug. 30 at Omaha Skutt
Sept. 6 vs. Waverly
Sept. 13 vs. Norris
Sept. 20 at Seward
Sept. 26 vs. Omaha Roncalli
Oct. 4 at South Sioux City
Oct. 11 vs. Schuyler
Oct. 18 vs. Blair
Oct. 25 at Elkhorn Mount Michael
Aug. 30 at Plattsmouth
Sept. 6 vs. York
Sept. 13 at Omaha Skutt
Sept. 20 at Norris
Sept. 27 vs. South Sioux City
Oct. 4 vs. Schuyler
Oct. 11 at Elkhorn Mount Michael
Oct. 18 at Bennington
Oct. 25 vs. Omaha Roncalli
Elkhorn Mount Michael
Aug. 30 at Ralston
Sept. 6 at Omaha Gross
Sept. 13 vs. Omaha Concordia
Sept. 20 vs. Plattsmouth
Sept. 27 at Schuyler
Oct. 4 at Omaha Roncalli
Oct. 11 vs. Blair
Oct. 18 at South Sioux City
Oct. 25 vs. Bennington
Aug. 30 vs. North Platte
Sept. 6 at Hastings
Sept. 13 at Northwest
Sept. 20 vs. Sterling, Colorado
Sept. 27 at Gering
Oct. 4 at Sidney
Oct. 11 vs. Lexington
Oct. 18 vs. Alliance
Oct. 25 at McCook
Aug. 30 vs. West Point-Beemer
Sept. 6 at Pierce
Sept. 13 vs. Wayne
Sept. 20 at Boone Central/Newman Grove
Sept. 27 at Omaha Concordia
Oct. 4 vs. Fort Calhoun
Oct. 11 at Boys Town
Oct. 18 vs. Platteview
Oct. 25 at Douglas County West
Douglas County West
Aug. 30 vs. Raymond Central
Sept. 6 at Columbus Lakeview
Sept. 13 vs. Schuyler
Sept. 20 vs. West Point-Beemer
Sept. 27 at Platteview
Oct. 4 vs. Omaha Concordia
Oct. 11 at Fort Calhoun
Oct. 18 at Boys Town
Oct. 25 vs. Arlington
Aug. 30 vs. Fremont Bergan
Sept. 6 at North Bend Central
Sept. 13 at Boys Town
Sept. 20 vs. Fort Calhoun
Sept. 27 vs. Boone Central/Newman Grove
Oct. 4 at Wayne
Oct. 11 vs. Pierce
Oct. 18 vs. Columbus Scotus
Oct. 25 at West Point-Beemer
Aug. 30 vs. Wayne
Sept. 6 at Nebraska City
Sept. 13 vs. Aurora
Sept. 20 vs. Platteview
Sept. 27 at West Point-Beemer
Oct. 4 at Raymond Central
Oct. 11 vs. Wahoo Neumann
Oct. 18 at Columbus Lakeview
Oct. 25 vs. Columbus Scotus
Aug. 30 at Boys Town
Sept. 6 vs. Lincoln Lutheran
Sept. 13 at Fort Calhoun
Sept. 20 vs. Lincoln Christian
Sept. 27 at Columbus Lakeview
Oct. 4 vs. Columbus Scotus
Oct. 11 at Wahoo High
Oct. 18 vs. Raymond Central
Oct. 25 vs. Wayne
Aug. 30 at Arlington
Sept. 6 vs. Boys Town
Sept. 13 vs. Columbus Scotus
Sept. 20 at Douglas County West
Sept. 27 vs. Wahoo High
Oct. 4 at Boone Central/Newman Grove
Oct. 11 vs. Wayne
Oct. 18 at Pierce
Oct. 25 vs. Logan View/Scribner-Snyder
Aug. 30 at Logan View/Scribner-Snyder
Sept. 6 vs. Crofton
Sept. 13 vs. Wilber-Clatonia
Sept. 20 at Stanton
Sept. 27 at Louisville
Oct. 4 vs. Yutan
Oct. 11 at Oakland-Craig
Oct. 18 vs. BRLD
Oct. 25 vs. Tekamah-Herman
Aug. 30 at Hartington Cedar Catholic
Sept. 6 vs. Ponca
Sept. 13 vs. Crofton
Sept. 20 at Norfolk Catholic
Sept. 27 at Yutan
Oct. 4 vs. Tekamah-Herman
Oct. 11 at Louisville
Oct. 18 at Fremont Bergan
Oct. 25 vs. Oakland-Craig
North Bend Central
Aug. 30 at Johnson County Central
Sept. 6 vs. Logan View/Scribner-Snyder
Sept. 13 at Stanton
Sept. 20 vs. Grand Island Central Catholic
Sept. 27 at Twin River
Oct. 4 at Centennial
Oct. 11 vs. David City Aquinas
Oct. 18 vs. Shelby-Rising City
Oct. 25 at David City
Aug. 30 at Crofton
Sept. 6 vs. Hartington Cedar Catholic
Sept. 13 vs. Ponca
Sept. 20 at Syracuse
Sept. 27 at Tekamah-Herman
Oct. 4 vs. Louisville
Oct. 11 vs. Fremont Bergan
Oct. 18 at Yutan
Oct. 25 at BRLD
Aug. 30 at Ponca
Sept. 6 vs. Stanton
Sept. 13 at Twin River
Sept. 20 at Conestoga
Sept. 27 vs. Oakland-Craig
Oct. 4 at BRLD
Oct. 11 vs. Yutan
Oct. 18 vs. Louisville
Oct. 25 at Fremont Bergan
Aug. 30 at Freeman
Sept. 6 vs. Conestoga
Sept. 13 vs. Malcolm
Sept. 20 at Johnson County Central
Sept. 27 vs. BRLD
Oct. 4 at Fremont Bergan
Oct. 11 at Tekamah-Herman
Oct. 18 vs. Oakland-Craig
Oct. 25 at Louisville
Guardian Angels Central Catholic
Aug. 30 vs. East Butler
Sept. 6 vs. Howells-Dodge
Sept. 13 at Omaha Brownell Talbot
Sept. 27 at Wisner-Pilger
Oct. 4 vs. Omaha Nation
Oct. 11 at Wakefield
Oct. 18 at Homer
Oct. 25 vs. Winnebago
Aug. 30 vs. Clarkson/Leigh
Sept. 6 at Guardian Angels Central Catholic
Sept. 13 vs. Wakefield
Sept. 27 at Lutheran High Northeast
Oct. 4 at Neligh-Oakdale
Oct. 11 vs. Elkhorn Valley
Oct. 18 at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge
Oct. 25 vs. Madison
Aug. 30 at Allen
Sept. 6 vs. Omaha Brownell Talbot
Sept. 20 at Riverside
Sept. 27 vs. Emerson-Hubbard
Oct. 4 at Pender
Oct. 11 vs. Clarkson/Leigh
Oct. 18 at Omaha Christian Academy
Oct. 25 vs. Mead
Aug. 30 at Howells-Dodge
Sept. 13 vs. Humphrey St. Francis
Sept. 20 at Parkview Christian
Sept. 27 vs. Pender
Oct. 4 vs. Omaha Christian Academy
Oct. 11 at Cedar Bluffs
Oct. 18 at Mead
Oct. 25 vs. Emerson-Hubbard
Aug. 30 at Parkview Christian
Sept. 6 vs. Johnson-Brock
Sept. 13 vs. Elmwood-Murdock
Sept. 27 at Omaha Christian Academy
Oct. 4 vs. Emerson-Hubbard
Oct. 11 at Pender
Oct. 18 vs. Clarkson/Leigh
Oct. 25 at Cedar Bluffs
Warriors not content with 7-4 record
The Midland University football team wasn’t content with last season’s 7-4 record.
The Warriors want to do something about that in 2019.
“Our team goal is that we want to make the playoffs,” Midland junior linebacker Theo Blum said. “We’ve been scratching the surface between good to great or great to elite. We just haven’t hit that spark that we’ve needed to get over the hump.”
The Warriors hope they can do that this season. Midland coach Jeff Jamrog said the players have bought into the strength and conditioning program that was led by Coach Morgan Bergen.
"I can't say enough about Morgan," Jamrog said during the GPAC Media Day. "I think we are doing things that are on the cutting edge. Our guys are getting stronger and faster. We'll see how that pays off."
Midland was picked to finish fourth in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll behind defending champion Morningside, Northwestern and Dordt, but optimism is high in the Warriors’ camp.
“We want to get in the playoffs," Jamrog said. "That is our goal."
Blum said the Warriors put in the summer work to try and attain that goal.
“I think the dedication was through the roof this summer,” he said. “We worked out five days a week. We had guys busting their butts for an hour, 90 minutes or even up to two hours. We had anywhere to 50 to 75 people there and sometimes more. It really builds a different level of trust and camaraderie that I think will correlate to success on Saturdays.”
The Warriors return several veterans from last fall. Omaha native Payton Nelson was limited to eight games at quarterback due to an injury. He was 114-for-206 passing (55 percent) for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Nelson also hurt opponents with his running skills. He rushed for 445 yards on 92 carries (a 4.8 average) and found the end zone five times.
Noah Oswald also returns after filling in for Nelson. The senior, who played prep ball at Omaha Roncalli, was 50-for-104 passing (48 percent). He threw for six touchdowns and ran for one.
"Noah came in and did a solid job," Jamrog said. "We feel pretty good about the quarterback spot."
Keenan Smith leads a deep group of running backs that also includes seniors Garry Cannon and Adrian Kellogg.
“We’ve got the most running back depth we’ve had since I got here,” Jamrog said.
In just seven games, Smith rushed for 511 yards on 84 carries (6.1 yards per carry) and scored five times. Cannon, a former quarterback, rushed for 302 yards and scored five times while Kellogg, a native of Omaha, added 251 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“We think Keenan can be as good as anyone in the league and obviously we’re sure hoping for that,” Jamrog said.
The Warriors graduated some talented receivers, but sophomore Dalton Tremayne is back after catching 14 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. The Ponca native was also a dependable kick returner with an average of 24.6 yards per return, including a 90-yard touchdown.
Daniel Jahn, a two-time second-team All-GPAC pick, heads the offensive line.
"He is one of the best I've been around," Jamrog said "He (potentially) could be first team and be an All-American this year. I think he is that good of a football player."
Ethan Butler, a prep teammate of Jahn's at Millard North, is also four-year starter while guard Riley Williams, a graduate of Millard West, is beginning his third year as a starter. Clayton Wittmayer, an Omaha Burke product, has been a part-time starter at right tackle the past few seasons.
The defense includes veteran David Hansen at nose guard (19 tackles) and linebackers Blum (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and Jett Hampton (6-0, 210). Blum is beginning his first year as a full-time starter, but he finished with 28 total tackles. Hampton was third on the team with 66 tackles and recorded 4.5 tackles for loss. He also intercepted two passes.
Ray Rush and Crash Woodle were freshmen starters at cornerback last year. Rush recorded 27 tackles while Woodle was in on 22. Rush also picked off a pass.
“We had a couple of freshmen corners that got initiated early on, but they have had great offseasons,” Jamrog said.
Safety Ashton Ellis is beginning his fourth year as a starter. He was fourth on the team in 2018 with 60 total tackles.
“He is one of our most experienced players,” Jamrog said, noting that Fremont High School graduate Christian Harmon (5-10, 180) also gives the Warriors a veteran presence in the secondary. Harmon had 13 tackles in four games last year.
"Christian started late last year and played excellent football for us," Jamrog said.
Midland only won seven combined games in the three years prior to Jamrog's arrival. After records of 7-4, 6-4 and 7-4 in the last three years, the Warriors are ready to take the next step.
"I think everyone on the team has high expectations,” Blum said.
The Warriors open their season on Saturday against Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. After a bye week, MU opens Great Plains Athletic Conference play against Northwestern on Sept. 14 at Heedum Field.
Jahn set to begin 4th season as Midland starter
Daniel Jahn doesn't know first-hand what the term "benchwarmer" means.
Ever since Jahn arrived at Midland University as a freshman in the fall of 2016, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive lineman has been a starter for Coach Jeff Jamrog.
"He is one of the best I've been around," Jamrog said during the Great Plains Athletic Conference Media Day in Sioux City, Iowa. "He is a two-time second-team all-conference selection. This year he'll get first team and (could be) an All-American. I think he is that good of a football player."
Jahn and teammate Ethan Butler, also a four-year starter on the offensive line, came to Midland after helping Millard North win the 2015 Class A state championship. The two played for legendary coach Fred Petito.
"It was awesome playing for him," said Jahn, who captured Super State honors as a senior. "He was a great mentor and coach. He talked about a lot of things that could set you up for success -- not just football, but after football. He talked about a lot of the things that Coach Jamrog talks about, which I really like."
Jahn was recruited by several colleges, including Wayne State and Peru State, but ultimately chose the Warriors where Jamrog was beginning his first season as head coach.
"The reason I chose Midland was because of the coaches," he said. "I felt like it was kind of like a family there and that the coaches really cared about me. They would call every day or every other day just to make sure everything was going all right. That just really appealed to me."
Jahn was inserted in the starting lineup at left guard for the first game of his freshman year.
"It was a huge jump for me," Jahn said. "I have to be honest, I was super nervous starting out. We had Coach (Mike) Caputo at the time and he really slowed things down because he knew some of us were freshmen starters. He took time to make sure we were all set and ready to go. It just took a lot of preparation to be ready."
The baptism by fire was also made a bit easier by having Butler there going through the same process.
"That was good, especially since we were right next to each other on the line," Jahn said. "I think we work really well together, but it was nice to have someone going through the same experience of starting as a freshman and getting thrown in there."
Jahn and Butler have switched positions during fall camp. Jahn has shifted to tackle with Butler moving to guard for new offensive coordinator Wes Fleming. Jahn believes the potential is there for a memorable season for the Warriors.
"We've kind of hit the ground running this year," Jahn said. "We all wanted to get back to work. We're very optimistic about this year. We have some new coaches and a lot of returning guys, which is good to see."
The Warriors have a pair of battle-tested quarterbacks in seniors Payton Nelson and Noah Oswald, some running back weapons in Keenan Smith and Garry Cannon and a veteran offensive line, including junior center Alex Irwin, tackle Clayton Wittmayer, guard Riley Williams, the two Millard North products and Millard South graduate Zach Wilson.
"We have a lot of experience in that room," Jahn said. "I think we're all pretty optimistic about our line."
Jahn is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in accounting. He plans on eventually getting his CPA license and working for a public accounting firm, but first he wants to help Midland improve on its 7-4 record of a year ago.
"Our goal is to be the best we can be every single day," he said. "That is for academics, football and all (aspects) of your life. It really comes down to doing the little things right that build you up for success in the bigger picture. That is something the coaches here really stress a lot."
The Warriors open the season at 6 Saturday night in Winfield, Kansas, against Southwestern College.