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Prep football: Hawks' goal is to capture section title

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Sixteen Hermantown seniors lift the school's original goalpost from 1941 and carry it to be placed in front of Centricity Stadium/Corey Veech Field on Friday. "This is kind of the bridging of the old to the new," head coach Mike Zagelmeyer said. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Hermantown football seniors experienced a sense of nostalgia last week when, as a team bonding exercise, they transported goalposts used during the 1941 season from the practice field to the entrance of Centricity Stadium/Corey Veech Field.

One thing the Hawks don’t have nostalgic memories of is last season’s 5-5 record.

So when the Minnesota State High School League originally ruled in August to move football to the spring, it appeared those returning players would have to wait an extra six months for their chance at redemption.

Now, after the MSHSL reversed course and approved a six-game fall regular season and two weeks of playoffs, the Hawks can’t wait to venture onto their new artificial turf field to begin anew.

“We knew we weren’t a .500 team — we were better than that, but just had off games — so we are working this year on being more consistent every game,” fullback and defensive tackle Robbie Thorsten said. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior is a co-captain who helped teammates get prepared to play in advance of the MSHSL announcement. “We wanted to always be ready to go no matter when we were going to have the season. All that work paid off and we’re ready to go.”

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Hawks coach Mike Zagelmeyer says his players were even more excited than he was not to have to deal with a spring season.

“The seniors, who were juniors last year, know the angst that (last year’s seniors) had when they lost their baseball and track seasons,” Zagelmeyer said of the canceled spring season. “They are fired up and ready to play.”

Among the returners the Hawks are counting on are Thorsten, an all-section performer who totaled 332 yards rushing on offense and 68 tackles on defense in 2019, senior halfback and linebacker Luke Lind (373 yards rushing), senior wide receiver and defensive end Daniel Walsh and senior lineman Jackson Savre. Junior Michael Lau, who spent his fall as the soccer goalkeeper, takes over at quarterback.

“The senior group has high expectations,” Walsh said. “We put a lot of weight on our shoulders.”

That means better than .500 this time around and a return trip to the Section 7AAAA title game. Only this time, win the championship.

“That’s our goal,” Zagelmeyer said. “They know there won’t be a state quarterfinal, so the goal is out there, they know what it is and they want to go get it. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

The Hawks will be shooting for it on brand-new turf. The old grass field was bulldozed, leaving behind two goalposts that were put on the practice field. That left nowhere to put the antiquated goalpost that predates Pearl Harbor.

“We weren’t going to throw it away because it’s a piece of Hermantown football history,” Zagelmeyer said Friday before the post was installed at the stadium entrance, where fans will walk underneath it to enter the game. “It’s a connection between the old and the new. We didn’t want this to get lost in the shuffle.”

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Elsewhere in Section 7AAAA:

Cloquet ripped through a 7-1 regular season last year en route to the top seed in the 7AAAA playoffs, but a 14-0 loss to Chisago Lakes Area in the semifinals left a sour taste in the Lumberjacks’ mouths.

Cloquet graduated its entire starting backfield, including All-State RB Markus Pokornowski, and turns to a crop of talented juniors in QB/DB Alec Turnbull, FB Marshall Hayes, TE/DE Will Turnbull and OG/DT Reese Turnbull to lead the offense.

Seniors Cody Tibbetts (OT), Reese Kolodge (OT) and Mason Erickson (C/DT) man the front lines.

Duluth Denfeld seeks to rebound from a winless season that saw the Hunters get shut out four times and score over eight points only once.

Included among the returnees: senior Keyshawn Beckom, a 2019 all-district performer who led the Hunters in rushing; senior OL/DL Jacob Plunkett, a three-year starter; senior LB/OL Jayden Hester, who was second on the team in tackles; and junior OL/DL Raymond Bandy, who starts on both sides of the ball.

Hibbing returns several players from a 1-8 squad a year ago. Senior WR/LB Eli Erickson was named to the All-Section 7AAAA team and is rejoined by fellow seniors RB/DB Connor Marschalk, WR/DB Isaac Erickson and RB/LB Hunter Sayre and juniors RB/LB Josh Kivela, WR/DB Amari Manning and WR/LB Hayden Verhel.

Seniors Matthew Osterhoudt and Mauricio Fridlund head up the Bluejackets’ offensive line.

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SECTION 7AAAAA

East bigger and better?

Duluth East will start with a rotation at QB, rely on plenty of depth at running back and utilize much bigger offensive and defensive lines than last year’s 5-4 team.

Seniors Simon Randorf (TE/LB), Jaydan Mueller (WR/DB), Aaron DeBeir (RB), Tanek Kittilson (LB/QB) and Beau Sward (OG/DE), along with juniors Connery Weicks (CB/WR) and Parker Anderson (OG/DT) return from the 2019 squad that put together a five-game winning streak before losing its final three games.

Kittilson and junior Dean Hudoba are expected to share the role of signal-caller, while seniors Aaron Debeir and Donavin Fuller, junior Antonio Michelizzia and sophomores Austan Orvedahl and Michael Kastelic will divvy up carries in the backfield.

SECTION 8AAAA

Rapids has experience

Grand Rapids is loaded in the offensive backfield with senior QB Trent Johnson (624 yards passing, 7 TDs), senior RB Caden Hofstad (649 yards rushing, 8 TDs, 36.8 yards per kick return) and senior RB John Bonner (255 yards rushing) all back from a 6-3 team that obliterated Duluth East 40-0 and lost to eventual Class AAAA state champion Rocori in the 8AAAA playoffs.

The offensive line of seniors Noah Schmoll, Kale Florek, Nick Dunnell and Nate Roberts and junior Jackson Weston returns intact.

Seniors Dane Kennedy, Grant Giffen and Karter Olson and junior Andy Thomsen join Bonner and Schmoll among key returnees on defense for the Thunderhawks, who will play for the first time on artificial turf at Noble Hall Field.

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