Pierre is on the verge of building a dynasty in Class 11AA. Last season’s 12-0 domination will be hard to sustain, though. The field of contenders is much larger this season.
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Jandy's Preseason Top 5 for 11AA Football
Pierre has some very good players back to try to win the first four-peat in South Dakota since West Central. Head Coach Steve Steele knows there will be challenges. “We will still have a lot of seniors, but most will be stepping into starting roles for the first time," he said. "We have some great skill players back on offense but will be replacing much of the line. This will need to be a similar year to 2018, where we learned and grew throughout the year to peak in the playoffs.”
The big change will come at quarterback, as Josh Rowse and Lincoln Kienholz compete to start. Sophomore Kienholz has a big arm and is mobile and will continually improve. Other key cogs on offense include Maguire Raske — who had a 1,000-yard year last season — and Regan Bollweg — who caught 40 passes and 11 TDs — as well as Zach Letellier and Collin Brueggeman. Plus, defensive gems Gunnar Gehring, Bollweg and Preston Taylor return. While things look promising for the Govs, they won’t be a shoo-in this season. They’ll need to gel and work hard to get to another title game.
The Kernels look like the main threat to get in Pierre’s way this year. They have six starters on offense and eight on defense to form a pretty good core.
Parker Phillips collected three 200+ yard games and blew up for 1,107 yards and 12 TDs last year. He’ll be one of the biggest playmakers in the state this year. Junior Tucker Vilhauer takes the reigns at quarterback to engineer a new passing attack. Last season’s top two tacklers were sophomores, and Joe Van Overschelde and Tucker Vilhauer are both back to lead a much more experienced group.
“The return players proved willing to work and learn and grew in 2019. We should be able to create competitive practices, and help our team grow, avoid entitlement, and get better each day,” said Coach Van Overschelde.
I expect Mitchell to be an improved running and defensive team. If they can make some big plays in the passing game, they’ll be a contender.
The Bucks underwent a couple of rough seasons, but things are looking up for Yankton this fall. Nine starters are back for coach Brady Muth, which helps with continuity. “We return a lot of starters on offense, defense and special teams. We also have some really exciting young players that are going to make a push for significant roles in the 2020 season. Our success will depend on how good of a job our seniors and veterans do leading our team when we start playing,” he said.
Trevor Fitzgerald will be tabbed at quarterback to run the offense. Corbin Sohler returns to power the running game and the line is solid behind two-year starter Gaige Koster. Tanner Fitzgerald, Brodey Peterson and Zavier Leonard give all three levels of the defense a leader. Yankton should improve on their 3-7 mark.
The Tigers are riding back-to-back winning seasons, and Head Coach Scott Spanton hopes to keep the momentum going. “The players that return from last year that gained valuable game experience will have to produce at a higher level to make up for some lack of experience in certain positions,” said Coach Spanton.
Eight starters are back on offense including quarterback Cade McNeil, a junior. The line is very experienced too, so finding targets in the passing game will be key. Tyson Lien will get most of the carries in the backfield. There isn’t as much experience on defense, but Derick Siemonsma is a great leader for the unit. He and Tyson Lien were play disrupters at linebacker and are back this year.
Sturgis has been close to making the jump into the upper half of this class recently. This year, they’ll try with a junior-strong team. “Our seniors will need to raise their own expectations to meet our team expectations to make the strides we want to see,” said Coach Chris Koletzky. “We need to become comfortable in competitive circumstances and learn to battle in those tough situations.”
Owen Cass has the talent to take over at quarterback. Just a sophomore, Cass is a very coachable kid who has the tools to keep improving. He has Kaden Phillips and Wren Jacobs in the backfield with him and Sanden Graham at tight end, but the line in front of him will be full of new faces. They also have All-State punter Brodie Eisenbraun back.
Brookings - The Bobcats had a great season last year, but it was the end of an era, as Lee Schmidt retired from coaching following their championship game. This year, Brady Clark is excited to take over. “We have a lot of athletes who have been putting in a lot of work during quite an uncommon summer. We have a lot of athletes that are excited and ready to 'Raise the Flag' for our program and community!” he said.
The Bobcats have 19 seniors on the roster but very few have a lot of experience. Max Struck and Jackson Krogman are two seniors with some big game experience back for the Bobcats. Much of what comes from Brookings this fall will be a surprise with a new offense and defense in place.
Douglas - Douglas showed some flashes last year and could build on that this season with David Severson back at quarterback. They also return All-State player Malik Hosie. They have a big defensive line and could cause some havoc if they can keep pressure on the quarterbacks.
Spearfish - Dalton Wademan takes over as head coach in Spearfish. Although there will be plenty of changes in store, there are a lot of players back on the field. Eight starters are back on offense, including quarterback Sean Wenzel and running back Aiden McCarty. The receivers are deep, and the line has a solid core.
Coach Wademan is working hard to turn things around. “We have to commit to getting better each day starting this summer in the offseason and let that carry into fall camp and then the season," he said. "There is going to be adversity throughout the season, throughout each game. We have to respond in a positive manner and make the best of each situation we find ourselves in.”
Preseason 11AA Player of the Year - Regan Bollweg, Pierre
The underappreciated tight end/linebacker Regan Bollweg is one of the most versatile players in the state. On offense, he can line up outside and burn you or get on the line and dominate by blocking. He’s also versatile on defense — he can drop in pass coverage, play the run and rush the quarterback. Last season, Bollweg piled up 42 tackles, 14 TFL and 13.5 sacks, and he logged 842 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. He’s verbally committed to play football at SDSU next season.
10 More Top Prospects in 11AA
- Trevor Fitzgerald, Yankton
- Gunnar Gehring, Pierre
- Malik Hosie, Douglas
- Zavier Leonard, Yankton
- Tyson Lien, Huron
- Cade McNeil, Huron
- Parker Phillips, Mitchell
- Maguire Raske, Pierre
- Corbin Sohler, Yankton
- Joe VanOverschelde, Mitchell