It is hard to believe that high school football is here and we are playing a game this Friday.
The Winner Warriors open the season on Aug. 18 when they host Sioux Falls Christian, one of several new teams on the schedule this season. The game will be at Warrior field at 7 p.m.
The Warriors are coming off back to back state champions and are the defending Class 11B champions.
However, the Warriors lost 17 seniors who saw a lot of action in the four-year career at WHS.
This year there are 42 players on the team. This includes 10 seniors, 11 juniors, 10 sophomores and 11 freshmen.
Coach Dan Aaker says of the 22 starters Winner has lost 21 of them. The only returning starter on defense is Ty Bolton. There are no returning starters on offense.
Aaker says the two positives that come from this are that the current players got a fair amount of varsity action. But Aaker notes that most importantly, these athletes, who were the underclassmen, had to practice against that award winning team for two years. “This just makes the current players better.”
Returning lettermen on the team are Joren Bruun, Levi McClanahan, Oscar Pravecek, Nate Smither, Ty Bolton, Zach Lapsley, Trevor Peters, Phillip Jorgensen, Brandon Volmer, Carter Brickman, Matt Smither, Riley Calhoon, Nick Lantz, Loren Moeller, Ryder Mortenson, Ethan Velely, Kamerom Meiners, Trey Welch, Tyson Westendorf, Casey Stickland, Dalton Baker, Elijah Blare, Colton Schroeder, Justus Gregg, A. J. Roubideaux, Shea Connot, Logan Tunnissen, Jerry Long Crow, Jacob Clay and Nolan Sachtjen.
The coaching staff is trying to replace a lot of pieces on the team. “This is no surprise. We knew that at the end of last year. In the off season I was looking where our leadership will be,” said Aaker.
He has named captains Levi McClanahan, Riley Calhoon, Carter Brickman and Justus Gregg.
The coach noted this group of football players are excited as they want to show what they can do.
Brickman will be the starting quarterback for the Warriors. Backing up Brickman will be Volmer and freshman Brady Fritz can fit into this mix.
Bolton and Calhoon will return as running backs. Matt Smither and Phillip Jorgensen will fit into the running back rotation.
Up front on the offensive line, the Warriors will not be as big as they have been in the past two years. Serving on the line will be Gregg, McClanahan, Roubideaux, Connot, Blare, Schroeder and Oscar Pravecek.
Tight ends and wide receivers will be Nick Lantz and Nate Smither. Into this rotation will be Jerry Long Crow.
On the defensive side of the ball will be McClanahan who played a lot at linebacker last season. There are some returners in the secondary including Bolton, Calhoon, Brickman and Volmer.
Aaker added Jorgensen and Connot may also play linebacker.
Defensive tackles will be Gregg, Roubideaux along with Oscar Pravecek.
Defensive ends will be Nick Lantz, Elijah Blare and Jerry Long Crow.
Bolton, Roubideaux will be the kickers with help from Welch. Punters will be Jorgensen and Bolton.
As far as expectations, Aaker said the Warriors will be competitive. “But we have to be realistic. It is going to be a dog fight in some games and we are going to have to paly really well to compete at a higher level.”
A big change for the Warriors will be the schedule as Winner has several new teams and three of the them Warriors have never seen before.
Also, the Warriors will play in the SESD Conference which will be made up of Stanley County, Mt. Vernon/Plankinton, Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central, Winner, Chamberlain and Wagner.
“I wish we could have had this schedule the past two years,” said Aaker. “It is a really competitive schedule.”
The coach feels Class 11B will be balanced and he sees Bridgewater/Emery-Ethan as the pre-season favorite.
Assistant coaches will be Trent Olson, Kevin Keiser, Sam Olson and Glenn Carlson. Larry Aaker, who had been a full time assistant coach, is now the WHS boys golf coach. Aaker says Larry will help on some Fridays.
The Winner football schedule includes:
Aug. 18—Sioux Falls Christian, home
Aug. 25—Stanley County, there
Sept. 1—West Central, there
Sept. 15—Valentine, Neb., home
Sept. 22—Mt. Vernon/Plankinton, there
Sept. 29—Chamberlain, here, homecoming
Oct. 6—Wagner, home
Oct. 13—Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central in Wessington Springs
Oct. 19—First round of the playoffs
Oct. 26—Second round of the playoffs
Nov. 10—Championship in the Dome in Vermillion