Aug. 27—(Editor's note: This article is part of the 2023 Pigskin Preview, which will appear in the Saturday, Sept. 2, Post Bulletin print edition. A full list of articles that will appear on PostBulletin.com this week is at the bottom of this article.)
SPRING GROVE — Section 1, Class 9-Player has been an absolute state power in recent years and this year's section winner will be looking to make another strong run at the state tournament.
Section 1 has produced seven state champions in the past nine years. Last year, Spring Grove fell just short as the Lions lost to Mountain Iron-Buhl 28-25 in the state championship game.
A devastating injury could hurt the Lions' chances of repeating as section champions. And that could leave the field wide open in 2023.
Kingsland will participate in the Section 1, 9-Player playoffs this year and could be among the contenders.
"We feel like we can compete with all (teams) and it will be a very fun and competitive district and section," Kingsland coach Matt Kolling said.
Here is a team-by-team rundown of Section 1:
The Lions were just 25 seconds away from a perfect season and state championship last fall when Mountain Iron-Buhl scored the winning touchdown. Spring Grove had to settle for a 13-1 season and second-place finish.
Spring Grove has some tough obstacles to overcome this season as senior quarterback Elijah Solum suffered an ACL injury in the spring and will miss the season. He was All-District and 9-Man All-State as a junior. Junior OL/DL Emmet Engeldinger will also miss the season with a knee injury.
"I'm excited to see how our guys respond to some tough off-season injuries," coach Kody Moore said. "There will be guys filling some roles a year earlier than expected and that should make for some great development along the way."
The Lions have some talent returning. Senior DE/LB/TE Ethan Crouch was All-State and All-District last year while Jacob Olerud (LB/RB/WR) and 6-foot-4 Jaxon Strinmoen (DB/WR) were both All-District honorable mention. Junior Brandon Jahnke (OL/DL) was another staple in the trenches a year ago.
Moore said junior QB/DB Bryce Berns "has all the physical tools to have a stellar campaign, (and gaining) experience throughout the season will be huge." Other top newcomers should include seniors Braedon Solie (WR/DB) and Josh Newgaard (OL/DL), juniors Sylas Flatin (LB/RB), Zach Brumm (RB/WR/DB) and Shawn Crouch (C/DT), and sophomore Dash Ranzenberger (LB).
The Knights, 4-5 a year ago, are not new to playing 9-Player football, but they are when it comes to section play. Kingsland has played a 9-Player regular season the last couple of years, but then had to switch to Section 1, 1A in the playoffs.
Staying in 9-Player with a veteran and speedy team could make the Knights a section contender in 2023. Ten starters return and also 10 of 25 players on the squad have run a 4.95 or better 40-yard dash.
"They have worked really hard this off-season and I am excited for them to see some paybacks from that," Kolling said.
Senior RB/LB Beau Wiersma heads the list of five returning All-District players. He rushed for 1,470 yards, had 241 receiving yards, scored 15 TDs and had 81 tackles and an interception last year.
Other All-District players returning include sophomore QB/DB Kaaleem Reiland (481 rushing yards, 245 passing yards, 7 total TDs), junior DL Parker Johnson (61 tackles, 20 for loss, 9 sacks) and seniors Ayden Howard (WR/DB, 21 receptions, 204 yards, 53 tackles, 1 interception) and OL/DL Noah House (30 tackles, six for loss).
Seniors Acelee Kohn (WR/DB, two interceptions) and Courtland Drury-Deboer (OL/DL) return as starters while Ira Schmidt (OL/DL) was a key reserve on the line. Junior Caden Reiter (25 tackles) returns in the secondary while Sam Howard (TE/LB) and Seth Howard (C/DE) both played in 2022 but missed time with injury.
The Burros are coming off a strong 8-2 season and they reached the Section 1 title game before falling to Spring Grove. The veteran team figures to be among the better ones in the section.
"We have good senior leadership with 10 seniors," coach James Semmen said. "We are not huge, but we will be faster and hope to be gritty."
Semmen believes that Spring Grove will again be the team to beat.
Mason Howard returns as the team's quarterback for a second year and he is also a defense back. He passed and rushed for about 600 yards each a year ago and also threw eight TD passes while rushing for eight more scores.
He is one of the 10 returning seniors, but the Burros did lose their top lineman and running backs from a year ago. Other seniors back include TE/LB Michael Rein, OL/LB Lucas Nikoloski SR OL /LB, WR/DB Luke Ruen, OL/DL Reuben Swartzentruber, OL/DL Caden Johnson, RB/LB Boston Wright, WR/LB Will Harvey, WR/LB Kaden Stettler and WR/DB Ethan Soppa.
Other top players include juniors Cole Sass (RB / NT) and OL/NT Holden Wilford and sophomores David Harvey (WR/DB), QB/DB Mason Gilbertson and TE/DE Levi Rogers.
The Burros have lost in the section finals each of the past two seasons. They won both of their section games in 2020, but there was no state tournament due to COVID.
The Cougars are coming off a strong 7-3 season and with six key players back, three who were All-District, they could be a team to watch in the Section 1 playoffs. M-C lost in the second round of section play to Lanesboro last season.
Senior do-everything player Cayden Tollefsrud was All-District a year ago. He rushed for 1,010 yards and 11 TDs and also caught 21 passes for 498 yards and five TDs. As a defensive back, he picked off four passes and had 101 tackles. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and was 9-Man All-State honorable mention.
Other top players back include All-District senior Hayden Erickson (OL/DL, 54 Tackles), All-District junior RB/LB Tyler Larson (827 yards rushing, 15 TDs, nine catches, 90 yards, 1 TD, 37 tackles), sophomore QB/DB Isaac Underbakke (822 yards passing, 9 TDs, 37 tackles, 5 interceptions), senior Colton Tollefsrud (RB/DB) and sophomore Milton Hutchinson (OL/DL).
Newcomers looking to make an impact include seniors Triston Hunsaker (DL) and Riley Snell (DB), junior Teddy Torgerson (OL/DL) and sophomores Darian Hershberger (OL/DL) and Nate Nordsving (OL/DL).
Second-year coach Paul Tollefsrud said the section should be "very competitive."
"This year's team has worked extremely hard," Tollefsrud said. "I am very proud of the commitment and drive of this team. We look forward to the weekly challenges of the season."
The Superlarks were 6-4 a year ago and lost to Spring Grove in the section semifinals.
If Grand Meadow is going to surpass last year's mark, second-year coach Josh Bain says that newcomers are going to have to step up.The Superlarks will feature five returning starters.
"We lost some talent off of last year's team but I feel we have a great core of talent and experience with the senior class," Bain said. "We will need some younger players to step up because our senior class is small and will have a lot of youth when it comes to Friday nights."
Senior QB/DB Corbin Ludemann is a three-year veteran who will again run the offense. The running QB rushed for 1,389 yards and two TDs last year. He was a modest 24-for-49 passing for 250 yards and four TDs.
Other starters back are seniors Tyler Reid (TE/DE), G/DT Aaron Mork, C/DTColton Gardner and junior RB/DB Dalton Pischke. Bain expects a big improvement from both Reid and Pischke.
A trio of juniors expected to fill big roles are TE/DE Halen Schumann, RB/LB, Dustin Stejskal and G/LB Zac Gehling.
Bain said he anticipates the Superlarks again being a physical team.
"I am excited to see what this group of young men can bring to the field every Friday night," he said. "They have been working hard in the off-season to get prepared for this season."
The Cardinals were just 2-7 a year ago and lost to Mabel-Canton in the first round of section play. But fourth-year coach Trevor Carrier, who guided the Cardinals to a 9-Player state championship in 2021, has high hopes for the 2023 squad.
"I believe we have the depth and talent to make a run," Carrier said. "We will need to stay away from injuries in our tough district."
Carrier said the Cardinals should not only be a physical squad, but they also have good players at the skill positions.
"We have a big, experienced line with dynamic skill positions," he said. "The players have put in the time and effort. The team has dedicated themselves all off-season with one goal in mind, win state."
Senior Malyk Schaefer, a three-year starter at center, anchors the offensive and defensive lines. Junior QB/DB Camden Hungerholt was All-District a year ago as he passed for 1,260 yards with 11 TDs and rushed for 1,016 yards and 12 TDs.
Other returning players include senior G/DT Mason Diemer and juniors Carter Sweeney (WR/OLB) and TE/MLB: Ryder Stern.
Top newcomers include sophomores Logan Diemer (RB/OLB), WR/DB Talan Lewison, RB/MLB Carson Roe and G/DT Spencer Goodale along with WR/DB freshman Reid Hungerholt.
The Rebels were just 1-8 a year ago but have high hopes in 2023 with 12 key returning players.
"The kids have been working extremely hard and taking ownership of their program," second-year coach JJ Galle said. "Our coaches have been putting in work ever since the season ended."
QB/DB Noah Bauer leads a strong senior presence. He threw for 1,299 yards and 12 TDs as a junior. Other seniors back include WR/DB Sam Boe (298 receiving yards, two TDs), WR/DB Odear Granle (one kick return TD), WR/DB Riley Jax, TE/DB Jack Bruggeman (All-District honorable mention, 583 receiving yards, seven TDs), OL/LB Cash Day, TE/DL Andrew Timm and a trio of OL/DL in Brad Lagerstedt, Cody Krull and Travis Kirtz (All-District, 68 tackles).
Other key players back include juniors Landon Chilman (WR/DB, 58 tackles), RB/DB Tyson Stevens (95 tackles, 1 interception, 172 receiving yards, 2 TDs), TE/DL Kaleb Yunker and sophomore RB/LB Royce Jax (83 tackles, one interception)
Top newcomers include senior RB/LB Jake Stroup, juniors Timmy Hogfeldt (WR/DB) and Austin Swenson (RB/LB/DB), sophomore Carson Wagner (OL/DL), and freshmen Beau Sathre (RB/LB) and Cam Forthun (OL/DL).
"We're looking to take a big step forward this year," Galle said. "Section One is always a tough section to get out of, but we feel we have an opportunity to compete in the playoffs this year."
The Hurricanes were just 1-8 a year ago and suffered a loss to Spring Grove in the first round of section play, but eighth-year coach Cody Hungerholt is hoping for a quick turnaround and a strong 2023 season.
"(We) hope to be competitive in a tough Section One," Hungerholt said.
Houston does have a strong core of returning players, which includes nine players back with starting experience.
Junior QB Morgan Rowheder returns to lead the offense, which hopes to be improved from a year ago. There is not a lot of senior depth as the returning starting upperclassmen back are G/LB Ethan Knutson, WR/DB Ethan Frauenkron, RB/DE Austin Groth and RB/DB Arik Melbo.
Other starters back include juniors Aden Kulas (RB/DE), RB/LB Maddox Rodriguez and RB/DB Zach Olson, along with sophomore TE/DL Axel Vix.
"We bring back a lot of guys who have started and played a lot of football for us," Hungerholt said. "We are hoping that will lead to fielding a competitive and balanced football team that continues to improve throughout the season."
Top newcomers include junior Logan Olson, sophomores Nolan Nelson, Logan Kinstler, and Grayden Beckman and freshman Lee Klunder.
(All games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
Thursday, Aug. 24 — Houston at Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons.
Friday, Aug. 25 — Lanesboro at Southland.
Thursday, Aug. 31 — Nicollet at Houston.
Friday, Sept. 1 — Southland at Spring Grove, Mabel-Canton at Kingsland, LeRoy-Ostrander at Westbrook Walnut Grove, Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons at Grand Meadow.
Friday, Sept. 8 — Grand Meadow at Spring Grove, Houston at Mabel-Canton, Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons at LeRoy-Ostrander, Southland at Madelia, Hills-Beaver Creek at Lanesboro, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 9 — Red Rock Central at Kingsland, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15 — Spring Grove at Lanesboro, LeRoy-Ostrander at Houston, Mabel-Canton at Southland, Kingsland at Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons.
Saturday, Sept. 16 — Edgerton at Grand Meadow, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22 — Southland at LeRoy-Ostrander, Grand Meadow at Kingsland.
Saturday, Sept. 23 — Lanesboro at Mabel-Canton,1 p.m., Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons at Spring Grove, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 29 — Spring Grove at Mabel-Canton, Lanesboro at LeRoy-Ostrander, Houston at Kingsland, Grand Meadow at Southland.
Friday, Oct. 6 —Mabel-Canton at Grand Meadow, Lanesboro at Houston, Southland at Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons.
Saturday, Oct. 7 — Kingsland at LeRoy-Ostrander.
Friday, Oct. 13 — Kingsland at Spring Grove, Mabel-Canton at LeRoy-Ostrander, Houston at Southland, Lanesboro at Grand Meadow.
Wednesday, Oct. 18 — Spring Grove at Houston, Mabel-Canton at Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons, LeRoy-Ostrander at Grand Meadow, Lanesboro at Kingsland.
SUNDAY, AUG. 27
—Plainview-Elgin-Millville's "hit man" is southeastern Minnesota's top tackler
—Column: The Pigskin Preview turns 50
—Why the chase for the Section 1, 9-Player championship could be wide open this fall
MONDAY, AUG. 28
—How and why the Winona State University coaching staff is prioritizing southeastern Minnesota as a recruiting hotbed
—Defending champ Fillmore Central is among the favorites in a loaded Section 1, Class 1A
—Who will challenge Chatfield in Section 1, Class 2A this season?
—Stewartville star will be a problem for opposing linemen
TUESDAY, AUG. 29
—Donovan family has led La Crescent-Hokah's quick turnaround
—Chicago native Martell Williams returned to RCTC this fall for one reason
—One powerhouse has moved out, another has moved into Section 1, Class 3A
—Is Section 1, Class 4A a three-horse race again?
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 30
—Section 1, Class 5A could be up for grabs
—The Post Bulletin names its "Dangerous Dozen" for the 2023 season
—College coaches have eyes on John Marshall's Ladu brothers
THURSDAY, AUG. 31
—John Marshall graduate Deontae Veney is making a "big" impact at Minnesota State University, Mankato
—Mayo's Holcomb a rare five-year varsity player — and a rare athlete
—Rochester Mayo to tackle the state's biggest class, moving up to Section 3, Class 6A
FRIDAY, SEPT. 1
—Why are teams schedules so different this fall? We find out why local teams will face unfamiliar foes
—Kingsland's dynamic backfield duo has Knights dreaming big in '23
—As the Pigskin turns 50, we look back at every southeastern Minnesota team that has won a state title since its inception in 1974