We saw how the media ranked 11AAA. Here’s how I voted in the preseason poll. For comments, and to see all the Media Rankings, go to my Twitter account. Tune in to Varsity Sports Live Friday nights at 10:30 starting next week for live high school football updates.
1. Brandon Valley
It’s not hard to see why the Lynx are a favorite heading into the season. They return eight offensive starters and four on defense. Brandon Valley went 10-2 last year, got hot toward the end of the season and ran all the way to a 11AAA title.
Thomas Scholten threw for 1,994 yards and 27 TDs last season – and he wasn’t very healthy the first half of the year. Scholten goes into his third year as the starting QB and is looking for a monster senior season. His main target last year, Carter Olthoff, has gone on to college football, but look for Cole Sylliaasen, Ty McCann and Jackson Hilton to man the receiver positions just fine. Jesse Steffel and Tate Johnson shared the backfield last year and are both back in the stable again. They combined for over 1,900 yards and 19 TDs, and they have a legit line to run behind. Zach Bennett, Zach Roggow and Jared Vanderbush lead a big group up front. Parker Reed, Jod Kolbeck and Jackson Hilton all started as sophomores last year on defense. They are all back with the defensive leader Jesse Steffel at linebacker.
The Lynx are very talented at the top of their roster, and their depth is good, too. Don’t hand them the trophy just yet, though. 11AAA is extremely competitive and it’s tough to repeat. “We will need to stay healthy and build depth as the season rolls along,” said Coach Chad Garrow. “We still have a very talented group of young men that have worked very hard in the off-season.”
They went 8-3 last year and bring back 7 starters on offense and 6 on defense. Things are looking up for the Riders this year. This team has as much talent as anyone, but have not been able to finish their seasons strong.
Brady Dannenbring is back for his third year at QB for the Riders. He is surrounded by talent and playmakers. Tyler Feldkamp will line up at receiver and may even see some time in the backfield. Tyree Nave will carry most of the load at running back. Mike Paulson is an up and coming star at receiver.The line is stout with Sam Kohls, Nick Pruitt and Ben Kohls, some of the best offensive linemen in the class. We haven’t even gotten to the staggering amount of talent on defense. Adam and Aaron Kusler are the two best linebackers in the class. Caleb Dwyer, Nathan Moon, Tucker Large and Joey Hughes give Roosevelt one of the deepest defenses around.
Roosevelt will have a tough one out of the gate against Brandon Valley, but after that they could reel off eight wins in a row and should have enough momentum to make a push to the championship. If they get even a little more improvement at quarterback (which they’ve already had good success in), they could be the most explosive offense in the state. And their defense is one of the top two or three already.
O’Gorman doesn’t have as deep of a roster as most in this class, but somehow remains near the top. This year they’ll have to replace their main playmaker, Canyon Bauer, and find an effective quarterback to lead the offense.
Teegan Schlimgen and Sam Stukel are both juniors vying for the QB spot. They also have Zach Norton at receiver, but he has shown he can play quarterback at a high level like he did last year. Norton is joined by Jacob Byrd and Tip Reiman as some speedy targets in the passing game. Tate Wishard did well at halfback last year, and should be one of the top backs in the class this year. Will Washenberger leads a good group on the line. Plus, the Knights have one of the best kickers in the area, Conor Pavelko. Look for Alex Kowalczyk to lead this defense at linebacker.
If O’Gorman gets the quarterback play from either Stukel or Schlimgen that they need to get the most out of their elite receiver group, the Knights should be in title contention. They can’t afford any injuries on defense, but can field a very talented starting 11.
The Warriors broke their winning streak last year and came out of the chute just 1-2. But a determined group improved and fought their way to a runner-up finish by the end of the year. This season they have four returning starters on offense and five on defense.
This summer Randolph Kpai got noticed by a lot of big-time FBS coaches for his upside at linebacker. He returns to lead what should be a very stout defense. He’s not the only linebacker to watch, though; Ben Peterson is back to start again for his senior year, and Jaden Feterl – who is just a junior – might be the most sound linebacker of this talented group. Freddy Frederic is a shut-down corner and Ben Bartling is back on the D-Line. Offensively, the Warriors are in a brand new era. No more JJ and Tupak to lead the team down the field. They will have a sophomore quarterback, Max Thompson, ready to take the reigns. He has a solid line in front of him with all-state guard Brandon Dickens leading the way. Tyus Hanson is the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the state. Look for Luke Behrens and Michael Johnson to run the ball for the Warriors.
It’s strange to see the Warriors without household names on offense, but don’t be fooled – they’ll be able to get behind a line that averages 283 pounds. Washington is in a little different spot without a big target on their back, and I think they’ll find that situation suitable. They could compete with any team in the class, but will have a tough time getting back to the title game.
The Pats have sustained two years in a row full of damaging injuries and unrest, which have kept them from getting to their goals. This season there seems to be a new focus and optimism that could put Lincoln into contention.
Tommy Thompson goes into year two as the starting quarterback at Lincoln with a command of this offense and more experience, which will help him decide when to be a gunslinger and when to manage the offense. He has the luxury of having a multi-position playmaker with rare skills in Hunter Merkley. He is one of the most entertaining and skilled players in the state. Wyatt Van Den Top broke his ankle this summer but should be back by the second or third game at wide out. Luke Smith, Elliot Hackett, and Logan Needles make up a very good group of receivers. The line has Tyler Hiatt back after a meniscus injury last year. Leo Kayee and Isaiah Robinson aren’t big backs, but they pack a punch. Defensively, the Pats are loaded with SDSU recruit Mitch Eichacker at DE and Alex Oppold and Jonathan Smith up front. Ayden Sand and Sam Siegel are two of the best defenders in the city, and are both back on D as well.
This group will have to stay away from injuries, unlike the past couple of seasons – but if they do, they could be a serious threat to break into the final four. If the mainly junior offensive line continues to take big steps, they could be great.
Others to Watch
The Golden Eagles have no where to go but up – but the good news is they should definitely go up. They have Austin Huff returning at QB, with two good backs in Carter Hogg and Dillon Stoebner. Also watch out for Chris Weber, who’s one of the fastest players in the state.
The Tigers are deciding between Jack Teigen and Jacob Knuppe at quarterback – and whoever wins the job has one of the best receiver groups in the class. Jhei Roewart, Jack Rabern and Lincoln Boetel are very talented playmakers in the passing game. This group is young, but could show improvement this year and contend next year.
The Cobblers are an up and coming program. Coach Iverson has put this team on the map, and they could surprise some people with some firepower on offense. Toward the end of last year they quit running straight wing-T and mixed in some Kohl Meisman air raid at quarterback, and he showed very well. The junior QB could be one of the better players in the state by year’s end. But it’s Jeremy Weidmann who is their biggest difference-maker on the team. The mighty mite has lightning speed and moves that give him the ability to score from all over the field.
Head Coach Steve Svendsen has built programs before and hopes to do the same with the Stevens Raiders. They return five starters on offense and six on D. Colton Hartford is back at quarterback, and has an A+ target in wide receiver Michael Norman. Bridger Nesbitt and Brandon Kuehl give this team an array of pass-catchers. Wesley Folsom is a three-year starter on the defensive line to lead an experienced group.
Watertown continues to show improvement and continues to be one of the quickest teams in the state. Brett Fossum is back to carry the ball, and could have a break out season. Brandon Smith was forced into action last year at quarterback due to an injury to Brandon Florey. That experience should help this year as he leads this offense. Look for him to find Evan Falconer in the passing game. Sam Stroup will be important on defense for the Arrows.
Top 11 Players in 11AAA
1. Adam Kusler, Sioux Falls Roosevelt
2. Aaron Kusler, SF Roosevelt
3. Thomas Scholten, Brandon Valley
4. Tyler Feldkamp, SF Roosevelt
5. Hunter Merkley, Sioux Falls Lincoln
6. Randolph Kpai, Sioux Falls Washington
7. Jeremy Weidmann, Rapid City Central
8. Michael Norman, Rapid City Stevens
9. Zach Norton, O'Gorman
10. Jesse Steffel, Brandon Valley
11. Ben Kohls, SF Roosevelt
Other Top Players to Watch
Jacob Byrd, O'Gorman
Brady Dannenbring, SF Washington
Brandon Dickens, SF Washington
Caleb Wyer, SF Roosevelt
Mitch Eichacker, SF Lincoln
Evan Falconer, Watertown
Jaden Feterl, SF Washington
Wesley Folsom, RC Stevens
Brett Fossum, Watertown
Tyus Hanson, SF Washington
Tyler Hiatt, SF Lincoln
Jackson Hilton, Brandon Valley
Tate Johnson, Brandon Valley
Sam Kohls, SF Roosevelt
Joe Kolbeck, Brandon Valley
Kohl Meisman, RC Central
Mike Paulson, SF Roosevelt
Conor Pavelko, O'Gorman
Jack Rabern, Harrisburg
Tip Reiman, O'Gorman
Jhei Roewart, Harrisburg
Zach Roggow, Brandon Valley
Ayden Sand, SF Lincoln
Sam Siegl, SF Lincoln
Tommy Thompson, SF Lincoln
Will Washenberger, O'Gorman
Chris Weber, Aberdeen Central