1. BON HOMME
The defending champs lost six outstanding seniors to graduation, including the player of the year, Joey Slama. So why so much optimism for the Cavaliers?
“We have 5 or 6 guys on our team that could play for just about anybody. We have a ton of speed which should help us throughout the year,” said Head Coach Byron Pudwill.
Two All-State selections return to the field for Bon Homme. Cole Bares leads a strong offensive and defensive line, while Josh Crownover may be the best linebacker in the class. These are just two of the six players returning with starting experience. I think Noah Heesch could be the breakout player of the class this year. Heesch is a speedy and elusive running back with size and power.
The Cavs have to find solid play at quarterback to replace Slama, but they have the size and athleticism to do some major damage to Class 9AA again.
Rob Kessler is building something in Viborg-Hurley. The Cougars scratched out a 4-4 record last year, but their effort left opposing teams talking about how good they could be this year.
Shane Andersen is one of the most athletic players in the class. He could take a huge step up in notoriety this season as he leads the Cougars, making big plays. Chase Mason has the experience to break teams down with his arm and feet at QB. The Cougars are filled with athletic bigs paving the way on offense and with an improved focus on defense.
A tough schedule that starts off against Arlington/Lake Preston should test the Cougars. But their overall athleticism and commitment to improving at football should take them further than they’ve been recently.
The Bulldogs have been building a program that is getting better and better. The fruits of those re-building years may show some yields this year. While they lost their most notable playmaker, Sam Muston, from last year’s team, they have more depth and strength this season.
Look for Sam Sittig to take over at QB, with Zach Polzin ready to churn out the yardage. Their line was very young last year, so with more experience back this year, things should be smoother for those senior backs. Plus, their top two leading receivers, Brodee Teveldal and Elliot Haux, are back, with Avery Nordbye returning on defense.
Baltic should show improvement this year. They’ll need to find new big playmakers, but the line and defense should be small but very solid. Their two toughest games of the year are both at home, so if things start falling their way they could have a very special year.
Rankings two through six are anyone’s guess. The reason I put Hamlin here is because they went 7-2 with a lot of contributions from underclassmen last year. They always seem to be close to the top, but they have a chance to be at the top with this group this year.
Nash Grantham returns at quarterback with a year of experience to build on. Last season he threw for 1,006 yards and 15 TDs. They also return their leading rusher, Jackson Noem, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Cameron Thue had a great sophomore season last year on defense and leads a promising group of juniors into action this year.
If those juniors can fill the holes at receiver and defense, the Chargers should be in good shape. They put together a 7-game winning streak last year and barely lost to Garretson to advance to the semis last season. That confidence should be very valuable this season, with senior Nash Grantham leading the way. Big tests against Britton-Hecla and Arlington/Lake Preston will get them ready for a post-season run.
The Cardinals made progress throughout the season last year but came up short on defense as they strived to make a playoff push. They bring back seven starters and tons of seniors to take one more step on their journey in 2019.
Carter Hoffman had an outstanding sophomore season in 2018 with 1,046 yards rushing. He is surrounded by a big, seasoned offensive line full of seniors and second-year starter Logan Stoltenburg at QB. On defense, Ty Kenyon and Nick Kasten are a dynamic duo of linebackers.
The Cards have not been consistent enough on defense to make a playoff push. This year, with senior leadership and a much stronger line, they could have what it takes to break through in a wide-open class.
Others to Watch
Gavin Holland is, hands down, one of the top athletes in the state. He ran for more than 1,200 yards and earned all-conference and all-state recognition last year. He will be the main weapon in this Badgers offense. Jasper Dennison is a tall quarterback who will try to step in and lead as a junior. The Badgers went unbeaten in the regular season last year, but this season’s schedule has a lot more punch. They see new teams like Viborg/Hurley, Hamlin, Baltic and Parker, who will test them each week. The record may be worse, but don’t be surprised to see them deep in the playoffs again.
This should be the best from Region 4. Cody Thompson might be the best quarterback you’ve never heard of. Thompson threw for 2,000+ yards as a sophomore last year. They also bring back their top four rushers, top five receivers, and top three tacklers. They have a tough transition moving up from 9A, but they have more experience than every team they will play.
Two years removed from a state title, the Britton-Hecla Braves continue to stay at or near the top of the class. The Braves are loaded with eight starters back.
You could name the entire starting lineup as impact players for the Braves, but a few names really stick out. Stanley Haskins Jr. has been a star since he was a sophomore and now gets ready to have a big senior year. He’s coming off of a 2,183 yard season with 35 TDs, and he was rarely there for the second half. Nick Nelson needs to be mentioned as an all-state top lineman. He will be a second-year starter who leads the way on both sides of the ball. Trevor Zuehlke goes into his junior season as an experienced quarterback who will look to pass even more this year.
“It is a good problem to have, but we need to make sure we get a lot of kids on the field every game. We have a lot of depth and we need to get kids field time every game,” said coach Pat Renner.
There is not team in the class with higher expectations and more experience. Look for the Braves to be a major contender yet again this year.
2. Sully Buttes
The Chargers have made several deep playoff runs and championship appearances but haven’t been able to capture a state title. This season, their sights are set on another successful season with some key senior leaders back again.
Nick Wittler has been one of the most electric playmakers in the state. He threw for 2,253 yards and 35 TDs last year and ran for 1,120 yards and 16 TDs. Look for all-state receiver Grant Johnson to be a playmaker on the outside on offense. Then there’s Jett Lamb, one of the most destructive defensive players in the state regardless of class.
“Jett is a big part of the success we have with our offensive and defensive lines. Jett makes it hard for our opponents to run up the middle, and he always gets pressure on the QB in passing situations,” said Coach Mark Senftner.
Sully Buttes is very skilled with their five returning seniors, but they have a lot of questions, too. They have to move up into a very competitive Class 9A as well as find some linebackers and another ball carrier. I have confidence that Sully Buttes will figure it out with some great top-end talent.
The state champs look to repeat, with six starters back this season. Head Coach James Strang is looking forward to this group. “Nice group of athletes coming back returning from a championship season that need to be disciplined and execute the game plan,” he said.
This class, however, is deeper than it’s been in recent years. The Pride will have to work hard to stay on top this season.
Trey Ortman did a nice job at QB for the Pride. This year, they should have more opportunities to throw the ball with his senior leadership. Bailey Sage, Tyce Ortman, Collin Helma, Cole Papendick, Clayton Smith and Micah Swensen lead a veteran group of players.
The expectations are back in full capacity for Canisota/Freeman. They have a challenging schedule that culminates with their toughest test on October 11 in Tyndall against Bon Homme. This team has a nice balance of blocking, tackling and playmaking. This may be one of the most balanced teams in 9-man football.
There will be a new era beginning in Gregory with new Head Coach John King, but they hope to remain a 9-man powerhouse despite the change. The Gorillas also have moved down to Class 9A, which gives them a new look at their competition come playoff time.
Grant Thomas and Evan Juracek make up one of the toughest passer-catcher combos in 9-man football. The backfield lost a few playmakers, but the Gorillas are hoping to plug those holes starting with Luke Murray and other underclassmen.
The Gorilla schedule is a little different than usual. They have a few difficult games on the road in the second half of the season, but Coach King hopes to have his team gelling by October. If they can establish a running game they’ll be in good shape with a nasty defense as usual.
Since Head Coach Lex Heathershaw took over in Wall, the Eagles have shown some potential and keep advancing further and further into the post-season. This year, they have a lot of positions to fill, but they also move a class to Class 9A. The Eagles do return four offensive starters and five on defense, and most of that talent is up front.
Coach Heathershaw is hoping to keep the momentum in Wall rolling. “We are excited about our upcoming season," he said. "We return four solid starters offensively and have a lot of speed coming back. We feel that if we can fill in some pieces with new talent that we can remain competitive while bumping up to class 9A.”
Enoch Cuny enters his senior season ready to sling the ball at QB. Cuny replaces Jacob Bielmaier, who had an outstanding career throwing the ball at Wall. Look for Bridger Amiotte and Tack Tines to make plays for Cuny while Kole Gallino and Gavin Sandal anchor the line.
Wall’s seniors have only lost two regular season games in the last two years and are ready to continue this new tradition. They will have some new names stepping up to make plays, but they are a very quick and athletic group that can hang with the best in this new class.
Others to watch
Kaden Eng is one of the top players in the state. He’ll make this team go with junior Garret Kerkvliet taking over at QB. Kevin Munoz could emerge as one of the top players on defense this season. They move up from 9B but should find the same kind of success they’ve had in recent years.
It depends on how much improvement they get from their sophomore quarterback Grant Luikens, but if he continues his rise, the Battlers could be a contender. Joey Wheeler could be an all-state level players as well.
Co-Coaches Dan Wilkinson and Wes Clubb have a very young but very talented group coming up. If they mature and gel this year, they could surprise a lot of people.
As usual, Warner will have a say in how Class 9A shapes up. Their extremely tough schedule should have them playoff ready under Kerwin Hoellein. They have some backs to replace, but look for another strong group with solid numbers to be competitive
The WildKats got to the title game last year with a very senior dominant group, but the cupboard isn’t bare for KWL. Kenny Huether takes over as their head coach for Dale Taylor, and he’ll have a good young core to work with, including Caden Lenz at running back, Justin Becker at end and Rafe Kiehn, who is an outstanding linebacker.
Chad Williamson has the Hawks in contention once again. Last season, they dropped just two regular season games, despite going through a big rebuilding year. They return seven starters on offense and nine different players with starting experience on defense.
Nate Tolley started at QB for the first time last year, so he comes back this year with experience under his belt. Eli Bowen and Ryder Hawkins both had a chance to carry the ball last year and will be a dynamite combo for the Hawks – especially Bowen, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last year. Dalton Voelker is the one player who played a major role on the championship teams in ’16 and ’17. Voelker is a big tight end and dominant defensive end. Ty Hiller recorded 12 sacks as a junior last season and will be one of the top defenders in the state again this year.
Not many teams have the experience that the Hawks do. They’ll be very good on defense and can ride some talent in the offensive backfield too. Look for the Hawks to jump back into title contention this season.
The Warbirds seem to have big-time talent every year. They’re coming off of a 10-1 season but are in the unusual place of having some big holes to fill.
Coach Gordon Hooks still is optimistic. “After losing a lot of experienced players last year our expectations are still very high," he said. "We still come into the season with a lot of talented players who look will to prove themselves at the varsity level.”
Wolsey-Wessington starts in a very good place with their talent. Their quarterback Skylar Zomer is a talented passer and runner. They also have a big-time player on defense in Brevan Hooks who has a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. But after that the Warbirds need to develop their talent to match Zomer and Hooks’ level. Tanner Horn and Tristin Abbott are talented. They’ll try to develop Quinsten Luellman, Marty Gohn and other underclassmen into big contributors.
If anyone can develop talent it’s the Wolsey-Wessington coaching staff. If they can find their next star in the backfield they’ll be in good shape. Zomer will allow them to pass more than they have in recent years. Plus they move all the way from 9AA to 9B this year which should make them a contender in late October.
3. Faulkton Area
Head Coach Shayne Geditz once again has a roster full of talent at Faulkton. The Trojans return four starters to try to replace some stellar graduated players.
“We are excited about the season," he said. "We expect to be competitive in all of our games. We want to get better each week and peak as the playoffs roll around.”
Derek Heitman will be one of the top QBs in the class. He threw for 866 yards and rushed for another 620 as a junior last year. Gage Martinmaas should be featured more as a ball carrier this year. Last season he had just 40 carries but averaged 9.2 YPC. Nick Schlechter is a beast on defense and will try to lead by example.
The Trojans are once again being mentioned as one of the top teams in 9B. They have been knocking on the door the past couple of years but haven’t quite been able to be an elite team in the class. If Heitman takes that step to become one of the best in the class and they get some underclassmen to step up, the Trojans have a legit chance to get to the semis and maybe beyond.
4. Harding County
The Ranchers had a down season according to their standard, going 7-2 last year. This year, they welcome back five starters who are zeroed in on getting back to the top of the class.
“We will have a very balanced attack and will be hard to stop,” commented Coach Jay Wammen. “We have a very good combination of running and passing. Defensively, I like our attacking style and our team defensive speed.”
Camden Hett goes into his senior season with two years of starting experience. He’ll build on his 1,400 yard passing season last year with his favorite target back, All-Stater Zack Anders. Sam Adams and Robert Hansen are back in the backfield, which gives them the most physical tandem around. Jaxon Klempel is one of the top linemen in the class and is back for his third year as a starter.
The Ranchers will be much more skilled this year. If they can stay away from injuries (unlike last year), they should return to be an elite team in the class. The Hett to Anders combination is lethal and could take the class by storm this year.
5. DR St. Mary
Ross Flemmer’s squad is one of the smallest in the state. But they have some consistency and experience back this year. They’re coming off of a 3-6 season last year but have reason to believe they’ll be improved – they lose just one senior from last year’s team.
Connor Libis is back at quarterback, with Weston Geraets toting the rock. Defense looks strong with Ryan Eining, Eli Longville and Max Herber leading the way.
Class 9B is wide open this year. If St. Mary can limit injuries and compete on the line, they have the playmakers to make a big jump this year.
Others to Watch
The Lions have been down for a couple of years but show signs of moving back up the ranks this year. Senior Jacob Punt is back making plays on defense, and Colin Frey is a talented junior quarterback. The rest of the junior class is deep, and if they mature, could make a playoff push this year.
The Cowboys welcome Gene Bertram as the new head coach. He’ll have the daunting task of rebuilding the defending state champs. They lose most of their playmakers who have been a big part of the team for years. They’ll look to Riley Shippy to step up as a sophomore and make some plays. But they’ll need more underclassmen to fill in on the line and regroup. Cailob Week, Rhet Bertram and Michael Supik will have to come up big on the defensive side. Colome always seems to find a way to be competitive despite their lack of experience.
After a 0-3 start, the Longhorns put together a string of four wins in six games to finish last year. They have Treyton Bushong back at QB after throwing for nearly 150 yards per game last year. Plus with Harland Groves, Tyson Selby, Gabe Bushong, Joel Gifford and Josh Jones all returning on defense, they’ll be much improved at stopping other teams. Faith could be a surprise team in Class 9B this year.
Top Players in 9-Man
- Jett Lamb, Sully Buttes
- Stanley Haskins Jr., Britton-Hecla
- Kaden Eng, Castlewood
- Josh Crownover, Bon Homme
- Nick Wittler, Sully Buttes
- Gavin Holland, Arlington/Lake Preston
- Brevan Hooks, Wolsey-Wessington
- Carter Hoffman, Deuel
- Nash Grantham, Hamlin
Others to Watch
It’s hard to limit this list to the top nine player with so many teams in 9-Man football. Here are many more players to watch that could be among the best in the state.
- Matt Amdahl, Dakota Hills
- Bridger Amiotte, Wall
- Zack Anders, Harding County
- Shane Andersen, Viborg-Hurley
- Cole Bares, Bon Homme
- Stone Burke, Clark/Willow Lake
- Eli Bowen, Colman-Egan
- Treyton Bushong, Faith
- Payton Gassman, Florence-Henry
- Derek Heitman, Faulkton
- Camden Hett, Harding County
- Grant Johnson, Sully Buttes
- Nick Nelson, Britton-Hecla
- Trey Ortman, Canistota/Freeman
- Zach Polzin, Baltic
- Bailey Sage, Canistota/Freeman
- Cody Thompson, Lemmon/McIntosh
- Dalton Voelker, Colman-Egan
- Skylar Zomer, Wolsey-Wessington
- Trevor Zuehlke, Britton-Hecla