All three defending champs in the three classes in 9-man football are locked in and ready to repeat. Here’s an overview of the 9-Man classes and how I voted in the pre-season rankings.
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Jandy's Preseason Top 5
The Cougars put it all together last year and marched their way to a gleaming 12-0 season and a championship. They return nine players with starting experience this year, so hopes remain high.
“We could actually be even better this year than we were last year if these young men stay focused and put the work in to be their best,” said Coach Rob Kessler.
Chase Mason may be the best quarterback in the state, and he has a full arsenal with Tate Kessler, Angel Johnson, Carter Gust, Hayden Gilbert, Gradee Sherman, Grant Mikkelsen and Calvin Rasmussen all back — plus Collin Graves, Ty Van Hull and Conner Kessler are all back up front.
The Cowboys came within six points of upsetting the eventual champs in the semifinal round last year, and they have their All-State playmaker Cody Thompson back to lead the way. He threw for 2,689 yards and 40 TDs last year and led the team in rushing as well. Their two top tacklers — Tell Mollman and Isaiah Portwood — and Jaden Kelley (6 INT) are back, too.
3. Bon Homme
The Cavaliers have been strong the last few seasons and should continue that trend this year. All-State lineman Kaleb Kubal leads a strong group of seniors.
Noah Heesch announced on twitter that he suffered an ACL injury and will be unable to play his senior year. That is a big blow to the offense. He would have been one of the top playmakers in the class. But there are some really good up and coming underclassmen ready to make their mark, including Riley Rothschadl. This will be a young group but one that could become really good by the end of the season.
Although just four starters are back from the Cardinals 9-2 team, there is hope that they can build an even stronger team this year. It all starts with senior running back Carter Hoffman. He averages 9.1 yards per carry in his career and has almost 3,000 yards. He’ll be joined with Layton Eide, Dalan Dahl and Tanner Preheim to return to the offensive attack.
“This team is a young and an excited group who is eager to have their opportunity to build upon our programs success,” said Coach Dustin Hourigan.
Are you looking for a surprise team in 9AA? It might be the Black Panthers. They went 4-6 a year ago and return seven key starters.
“This is our second year as a new coaching staff, so kids should have a better understanding of our system in year two,” said Coach Bruce Hanson.
They’ll rely on Kelby VanDerWerff to get them started at quarterback, and they have junior Grayson Hanson leading the way on defense.
Hamlin - This group could show big improvement. Xander Sheehan filled in at quarterback last year admirably and should take command as a junior this year. Jackson Noem is back as a senior and has Sam Grantham next to him to tote the ball. Four of their five leading tacklers are back, which should make for a stout defense.
Baltic - The Bulldogs should have a good defense this year lead by Alex Haagenson, Noah Swartwout, Easton Nordbye and Corbin Wirkus. Brenden Allen and Noah Swartwout are likely to get the ball on offense. If they win a few 50-50 games this year, they could be a top five team.
Preseason 9AA Player of the Year - Chase Mason, Viborg-Hurley
Mason put on a show all season long with a combined 45 touchdowns. But it seems everyone took notice when he blew up in the championship game. His 6-4 frame and laser arm have him on the top of college scouts' prospect lists, but he’s concerned with keeping his team at a championship level for one more season.
10 More Top Prospects in 9AA
- Riley Ferry, Hanson
- Grayson Hanson, Platte/Geddes
- Noah Heesch, Bon Homme
- Carter Hoffman, Deuel
- Angel Johnson, Viborg-Hurley
- Kaleb Kubal, Bon Homme
- Tell Mollman, Lemmon/McIntosh
- Jackson Noem, Hamlin
- Cody Thompson, Lemmon/McIntosh
- Kelby VanDerWerff, Platte-Geddes
Jandy's Preseason Top 5
The Pride beat out a very competitive 9A field last year. This season, they are the favorites with six starters and quite possibly the best running back in 9-man football. Tyce Ortman ran for 1,465 yards and 18 TDs last year and should improve on those numbers as a senior this year. They are led on defense by All-State lineman Clayton Smith, who had an astounding 19 tackles for loss last year.
The Tigers are a much more seasoned group with high expectations this year. “We have 16 seniors and juniors, so we have a very experienced team with a lot of multi-dimensional players,” said Coach Pat Ruml.
Howard went 8-2 last season and welcome back seven players with starting experience, including Riley Genzlinger and Jaxon Kampshoff, who earned All-State honorable mention last year. Tisyn Spader should take over the quarterback spot as the Tigers look to become an elite 9A team.
3. De Smet
The Bulldogs are another team that became much more seasoned this year. They have a small handful of seniors and a strong junior and sophomore class ready to show the class they’ve improved.
The Gorillas had a strong showing with a 9-2 mark last year. They lose three All-State players but return four starters as they try to regroup and make another run to state. Coy Determan is poised for a breakout year as a junior quarterback. Rhoss Oliver is a returning all-state lineman who leads on both sides of the ball.
“This group of young men bring a variety of individual talents and skills into our team philosophy. The football staff is looking forward to incorporating these talents into a team format,” said Coach John King.
The Monarchs played very well in the Lake Region Conference last year but need to take one more step up to be a state competitor. Warner has seven players with starting experience back, and Head Coach Kerwin Hoellein is ready to mold them into contention.
“We do return a number of veteran players. However, we will be starting a QB with no varsity experience," he said. "Having some returning starters around that individual will be very helpful.”
Look for Ty Cramer and Jackson McNeil to be one of the top running back combos around. Landon Leidholot is an All-State safety who picked off five passes last year and is back to man the defense.
Britton-Hecla - This team has been in title contention recently but has a lot to reload. They have Wyatt Bray who earned All-state honors back this year to hold the defense steady.
Wall - The Eagles consistently have had a strong teams the past few seasons going 26-5 the last three years. They’ll reload with another strong cast under Lex Heathershaw. Bridger Amiotte and Tack Tines are back to produce yards. Blair Blasius and Burk Blasius are young but studs on defense.
“Our biggest challenge will be filling five offensive positions this year. We have players that can do it, but the key will be putting them in the right spots,” said Coach Heathershaw.
Preseason 9A Player of the Year - Tyce Ortman, Canistota/Freeman
Tyce ran for 1,465 yards and 18 TDs last season. I expect James Strang to feed what’s working - and Ortman was working. They have a quick and strong line, and Ortman’s combination of agility and power are unmatched in the class.
10 More Top Prospects in 9A
- Alex Braun, Warner
- Wyatt Bray, Britton-Hecla
- Coy Determan, Gregory
- Riley Genzlinger, Howard
- Jaxon Kampshoff, Howard
- Landon Leidholt, Warner
- Will Matson, Oldham-Ramona/Rutland
- Rhoss Oliver, Gregory
- Ty Cramer, Warner
- Clayton Smith, Canistota/Freeman
Jandy's Preseason Top 5
Every year, the Warbirds feature a steady diet of athletes and field a contender. This year, they have a chance to bounce all the way to the top.
Although the Warbirds must replace Skylar Zomer at QB, they have some candidates ready to carry the offense - starting with Eric Klanchnik, who finished his season with five straight 200+ yard rushing games. They also return their top two receivers, Tristan Abbott and Ethan Nelson. Corbin Haarmeyer is the likely quarterback. If he can develop a dual threat for the Warbirds, their offense will be putting up plenty of points.
Defensively, they’ll need to replace Brevan Hooks, but Jake Williams, Ethan Nelson, Corbin Haarmeyer and Marty Gohn are all improved.
Chad Williamson once again molded a winner at Colman-Egan. The Hawks went 12-0 on their way to another state title. This season, they have some challenges, but they also have a solid roster back to defend their title. Four starters return, including Ryker Hawkins and Ryan Voelker, who should get most of the load on offense. Kelby Voelker is one of the top blockers in the class at center.
Despite the lack of starting experience back, Coach Williamson likes the team’s makeup. “We will have a very upper classman dominated roster this season," he said. "They have worked very hard to reach the standard of excellence that is expected, and they know it is their job continue that throughout the season.”
3. Dell Rapids St. Mary
A loss to Herreid-Selby drowned out what was otherwise a very successful season for the Cardinals. St. Mary has five offensive starters and seven on defense to try to ramp up for a title run.
The offense is run by Connor Libis, who is a dual threat quarterback, accounting for 34 touchdowns as a junior. The entire line is back plus tight end Max Herber. Their defense is tidy with a ton of experience plus the addition of 11A Honorable Mention All-State player Ashaun Roach-Valandra. If the Cards find a couple new playmakers on offense, they could push for a chance to get to the championship.
4. Langford Area
The Lions haven’t been this good since their title in 2015. They have a big senior class with a lot of talent. Colin Frey goes into his fourth year at starting quarterback. He’s collected 45 TDs in his career so far. Hayden Reints is a bull at fullback and defensive tackle.
A lot of these guys have starterd for several seasons for Head Coach Paul Raasch. “We return a lot of experience and good numbers and are very versatile with a number of kids that can play a lot of different positions," he said. "We have decent team speed and should be able to play a physical style as well.”
The Cubs return seven starters as they try to crack into the group of contenders in Class 9B this year. They’ll look to senior leadership from Jaxon Doering, Logan Serck and Alex Winquist to power the offense. Doering earned All-State last year on defense and should be on of the toughest playmakers in the class.
Head Coach Brian Haak wants his team to step up their toughness this year. “We need to play a more physical brand of football, especially on defense," he said. "You need to stop the run to be successful in the Great Plain Conference.”
Herreid-Selby - The Wolverines put everything together last year and made a magical run to the state championship stage. Although they’ll miss a few key pieces to their team, they have six returning starters on offense and seven more on defense. The Wolverines are strong up front, led by Chance Gregg, but need to find some quality skill guys to step up. They’ll look to Tray Hettick at quarterback and Trey Sayler, Carter Tisdall and Colton Schumacher to get the job done.
Faulkton Area - Parker Geditz stepped in at quarterback last year and showed some signs that he could be very good. He and fellow juniors Leighton Weber and Simon Bowar will have a chance to revitalize this offense. Nick Schlechter and Hunter Neiderbaumer will play a critical role on defense.
Kadoka Area - TJ Hamar, Gaven Sudbeck, Jackson Grimes and Hudson Johnson lead a very solid group of seniors for the Kiotes. Last season, Kadoka won four games, with almost all their work getting done by underclassmen.
Preseason 9B Player of the Year - Eric Klanchnik, Wolsey-Wessington
Eric didn’t start the year as one of the best players in the class but finished very strong. He ended up gaining 1,159 yards and 17 TDs even though he didn’t become a key player until midway through the year. He also made 100 tackles on defense. As a junior this year, Klanchnik should be the player to watch in 9B.
10 More Top Prospects in 9B
- Tristan Abbott, Wolsey-Wessington
- Jaxon Doering, Alcester-Hudson
- Colin Frey, Langford Area
- Chance Gregg, Herreid/Selby Area
- Ryker Hawkins, Colman-Egan
- Max Herber, Dell Rapids St. Mary
- Connor Libis, Dell Rapids St. Mary
- Hayden Reints, Langford Area
- Ashaun Roach-Valandra, Dell Rapids St. Mary
- Gavin Spurrell, Irene-Wakonda