Football preview: Young Tigers taking their time

South Hardin's Ryan Walters is one of the all-state returners for the Tiger football team this season. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder
Mid-America Publishing

Seventy percent of the South Hardin football team is underclassmen this season.

That’s a departure from years’ past, and leaves the Tigers starting from scratch in some areas as they prepare for this Friday’s home opener against Grundy Center.

“We’ve gone a little slower with these camps and practices early on just because we have so many new faces,” South Hardin head coach Nick Eller said. “The older guys have done a good job of leading, being patient with the new guys to help them.”

The Tigers return two all-state selections in third-teamers Ryan Walters, a senior this year, and junior lineman Sean May.

Walters, a 1,000-yard receiver last year, will likely see more time in the backfield this season as well. Eller pegged Josh Vander Wilt as a possible favorite to step in for all-state quarterback Mason Sheldahl due to Vander Wilt’s JV experience at the position.

“A lot of these guys aren’t incapable, they’ve just not been physically ready for varsity,” Eller said. “But now it’s their time, it’s their turn. And it’s a lot of ‘Who can step up, who shows up Friday night?’ and we’ll find that out soon.”

Eller sees lots of depth on the line with May, Levi Manetter, Nathan Miller, Coy Raska, Caden Steding, and Jimmy Hodges returning significant varsity experience on one end of the line of scrimmage or the other.

The offseason weight room participation saw continued growth, and Eller is really encouraged by the big increase in team speed from the “Feed the Tigers” offseason conditioning program.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys where we’re not sure if they’re physically ready when the time comes,” Eller said. “We’ve had a good offseason, a good summer camp, and we’re ready to roll - now it’s just trying to find everyone in the right spots and pieces in their roles.”

AGWSR head coach James Koop expects the Cougars to take a step forward in their second year back in 11-man with returning all-district players Jared Granzow, Ben Puente, Kaden Abbas and Bradly Roder leading a large group of returning letterwinners.

Bo Gerbracht will be the commander under center once again this season.

“He does a lot of great things for our school in a lot of different sports,” Koop said. “He’s had a year to read that zone coverage that there’s a lot of in 11-man and I expect that he’ll be quicker reading those things.”

The Cougars know that they’ll be able to run the ball behind Granzow and 6-foot-2, 215-pounder Aiden Heitland on the left side of the line. Now it’s a matter of shoring up the right side to keep opposing defenses guessing, Koop said.

“They’re gonna do good things on both sides of the ball,” Koop added.

Koop also noted that there’s a handful of kids giving football a shot this time around that haven’t in the past, which he’s encouraged to see.

“It’ll be exciting to see what the new group can do, what their strengths can be and what they develop into,” Koop said. “And we want the kids to be successful. Our district is really tough again this year, but the goals are still the same - winning record, make the playoffs, .500 or better district record. And I want the kids to do well in the classroom too, make them better men for their communities.”

BCLUW has a new head coach with previous assistant Jeff Pikna taking the reins.

His approach to the role is similar to how last year’s head coach, Luke Sommerlot, approached the role.

“We’re trying to build something that we feel like isn’t really there right now,” Pikna said. “And we want camaraderie built between all sports, not just football.”

Pikna credited Sommerlot for his role in bolstering the weightlifting program at BCLUW, which he feels has become a major part in building on the coaches’ vision for BCLUW football and BCLUW athletics.

Of the 38 football players on this year’s team, 20 never missed a lift and 30 of them made 90 percent or more lifting sessions, according to Pikna. And he imagines the volleyball workout numbers are likely similar.

“It started from zero, no expectations, attendance was low,” Pikna said. “And you start spending time together and the coaches started putting plans together and building this thing that has turned into a significant area of the school. And it’s been sweet to see this come from the ground up.”

In terms of what the Comets will put out on the field on Friday nights, Pikna is excited to work with a group that is a year more experienced, as well as an incoming freshman class that can continue to provide a fresh look to Comet football.

“Our young guys, by the time they’re juniors and seniors, are going to have a relationship built in the weight room, in football, and what we do outside of here in community service,” Pikna said.

BCLUW is starting from the ground up, looking to find momentum after a winless season last year and nearly a decade removed from the last .500 season.

“We believe in the kids,” Pikna said. “What we’re trying to do more importantly than being football coaches, is getting these student-athletes to believe in themselves, let them know that these guys aren’t as far away as they think - it’s just around the corner. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if we keep working right now, I promise you it will come.”



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