ENDZONE: MHS football
The Marion High School football team prides itself on the fundamentals. Head coach Grant Thierolf said if the team executes its plays this season it will win games.
For the Warriors that means picking up the right blocks and making the right read on the triple option. On defense, it means being in the right position on any given play, shedding blocks, and wrapping up a ball carrier with both hands.
“We’ve been in situations where we think about what the other guy does too much,” Thierolf said. “We want to have the kids to be as prepared as possible every Friday night.”
However, Thierolf wants to lull his opponents into thinking all the Warriors do is run the ball. If teams commit too many players to stopping the run, the Warriors will not hesitate to burn the opposing team with a deep pass, and do it creatively.
With well over 20 years of coaching experience, Thierolf has a sizable “bag of tricks” to pull from. One of the most exciting plays for the Warriors last season was a reverse pass. Playing receiver, Cole Lewman received a handoff on an end around; Lewman threw a strike down field to a wide-open Randy Regnier for a 50-yard touchdown completion.
“I’m sure there’ll be some times week to week,” Thierolf said of possible gadget plays. “It will still come down to fundamentals — blocking and tackling.”
Thierolf has an intriguing group of versatile skill players at his disposal.
“We’re as athletic as we’ve been in a long time,” Thierolf said.
After playing most of the year as the junior varsity quarterback as a junior, senior Lewman will take over for the varsity team. Lewman was the best wide receiver for the Warriors last season. He is athletic but also has a strong arm honed as an outfielder for the Warrior baseball team.
“He did a nice job in JV for us. He was a varsity-level player,” Thierolf said. “The more reps you get reading the option offense the better you’ll be.”
Senior Colten Johnson will be Marion’s No. 1 option at running back. Johnson possesses a blend of sprinter speed and power. He can be effective running between the tackles, running to the outside on sweeps and tosses, and catching the ball as a receiver. He also throws javelin for the Warrior track team — an occasional running back pass could be in the senior’s repertoire.
“Colten gives us things some other backs we’ve had didn’t,” Thierolf said. “He has great vision and agility.”
Joining Johnson in the backfield will be fellow track teammates Mikael Antoszyk and Brody Carroll. Antoszyk and Carroll provide the Warriors with speedy, elusive runners who can line up in the slot as receivers. Both could be return options on punts and kickoffs; Antoszyk performed that duty last season.
Thierolf wants to give more opportunities for Antoszyk to work in space and get the 5-foot-6 senior away from the bigger players in the middle of the field.
Carroll, a junior, could be equally explosive with the right opportunity.
“We’re expecting good things from Brody,” Thierolf said. “He started last year at free safety. He’s a good multisport athlete.”
Lewman will also have weapons at receiver and tight end. Junior Jacob Harper and sophomore James Jones give the Warriors a combination of height and speed at wide receiver; they will be the deep threats Marion has been missing in previous seasons, Thierolf said.
Jones ran the 400-meter dash for the Warrior track team last year; Harper shows speed in both basketball and baseball. Both athletes are more than 6 feet tall.
“I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that,” Thierolf said.
Sophomore Taylor Heidebrecht may also see some time at wide receiver and backup quarterback.
A familiar and reliable target for Lewman will be tight end Dakin Ledford.
The Warriors may end up with a more versatile offense this season because the power running game, on which they usually rely, is not a given this season.
As a senior in 2010, Les Riggs filled in at fullback after Sheldon Boone graduated the year prior, and pushed his way through the offensive line all season. He was the ready heir apparent.
When Riggs was hurt, Caleb Williams filled in admirably against Remington. The freshman running back had started for the junior varsity most of the season but struggled to gain yards against a powerful Bronco defensive front.
Williams looks to be the Warriors power back this season.
“He’s a heck of a lot more ready than last year,” Thierolf said. “We expect great things from Caleb. We just have to take advantage of what he can do.”
Assisting Williams will be an experienced and athletic offensive line. Senior Jon Tacha will take over at center. Tacha was the star of the Warriors first padded practice Thursday, Thierolf said.
Senior Spencer Fugitt and junior Isaac Baldwin will clear the way for Warrior running backs at guard. Juniors Ethan Hett and Miller Hendrix may also see time at guard.
Senior David Helmer will anchor the Warrior line at tackle. Sophomores Zac Lewman, who Thierolf said was the second best player during the Oklahoma drill Thursday, and Nick Meyer may provide size and athleticism to the tackle position.
As was the case last season, many Warriors will have to play on both offense and defense. Thierolf is excited about the athleticism the Warriors will have on defense.
“We should be multi-faceted as a defense,” Thierolf said.
Ledford leads the front four at left defensive end. Often asked to play the inside technique against a tight end and a tackle, Ledford is sure to draw many double teams this season in attempts to keep the strong and quick player out of the backfield.
The Warriors should have a solid run-stopping defense with Helmer and Tacha manning the two defensive tackle spots. Thierolf substituted defensive tackles frequently last season because it is a position that receives abuse. Baldwin, junior Jared Vondenkamp, and Hendrix may see time at defensive tackle.
There is competition between junior Wiley Lundy and sophomore John Nordquist for the right end spot. Lundy has a bead on the position but has been tested by Nordquist who worked hard in practice and offseason workouts.
“We expect them to become players by their junior year; they should be varsity ready,” Thierolf said.
One player who nearly has a lock on an important position is Fugitt at middle linebacker. Through hard work in the offseason, Fugitt has displaced fellow senior Corey Hiebert in the middle of the defense. Hiebert will still see time at linebacker, whether on the outside or in the middle.
“Spencer has worked hard enough to earn it,” Thierolf said.
Johnson and Lewman will be the primary outside linebackers. Ethan Hett may see some playing time at outside linebacker.
Thierolf’s talented group of offensive players become his secondary on defense.
Carroll will anchor the group at free safety. Antoszyk will play cornerback. The other main corner and safety positions are up for grabs. Harper, Jones, juniors Eric Regnier, Lance Knolla, and sophomore Zach Robson are vying for the positions.
Knolla and Robson have impressed Thierolf with their positioning and timing on pass plays.
“His dad is a coach,” Thierolf said of Robson. “He’s just paid attention to athletics. He listens well and is a smart kid. He’s just a kid who picks things up quick.”
Thierolf said the team is not looking forward to any particular matchups except Lyons in the first game Sept. 2 in Marion.
For the second year in a row, the Warriors play Remington, Southeast of Saline, and Hillsboro in district play. They need to defeat two of those teams by the appropriate number of points to move on to playoffs.
Even though football practice is in full swing, positions will still be in flux until the game against Lyons.
Thierolf was impressed with scout team player freshman Adam Janzen. Janzen threw the blocks as a slot receiver exactly how Thierolf designed.
“I’m pleased when they try to do the best job they can; they get better and it makes our (starters) not loaf,” Thierolf said. “If you’ll run and hit, it will open doors for playing time. That’s true at every level.”
Last modified Aug. 24, 2011