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Small-school prep football preview: Proctor grew during emotional season

The tears Proctor players and coaches shed in their St. Cloud State locker room at the close of last season weren't as the result of the team's 61-0 drubbing to New London-Spicer in a Class AAA state tournament quarterfinal.

Proctor football
Proctor returns five starters entering the 2009 season. (News Tribune)

The tears Proctor players and coaches shed in their St. Cloud State locker room at the close of last season weren't as the result of the team's 61-0 drubbing to New London-Spicer in a Class AAA state tournament quarterfinal.

Emotions flowed freely because that was the first time the Rails could allow themselves to feel the full impact of losing longtime coach Dave Hylla to a heart attack just before the season.

But something happened to the team in between burying the program's patriarch and starting the season 0-2 and finishing with a third consecutive Section 7AAA title: a lifelong bond was formed.

"It was really hard to overcome losing our head coach that close to the season -- everyone all over the state knew who Dave Hylla was," senior tight end Reed Olson said. "It was tough going to St. Cloud and to his gravesite [in nearby Holdingford] before the game and seeing everyone crying.

"But it turned the team into more of a family. We could have completely shut down, but we focused and made it all the way to state. It definitely brought us together."

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Derek Parendo, who took over after Hylla's death, says the experience helped a lot of teenagers grow into adulthood.

"At the end of last year, our guys learned a lot more than just football," he said. "It's going to help us be better people and appreciate what time you have on the football field."

Proctor returns only five starters -- Olson, senior running back-linebacker Jordy Carlson, senior linemen Lucas McCarthy and Ryan Rands and senior tight end Andrew Michalski -- so Parendo says he expects to see mistakes early in the season.

Two Harbors coach Tom Nelson always has liked running the football, so he's pleased to have a pair of veterans in the backfield.

Seniors Ryan Guentzel (1,200-plus yards, 25 touchdowns) and Scott Comrie (1,000-plus yards) start at running back and linebacker and key the Agates' chances of returning to the section final. Senior lineman Tony Ankley and senior linebacker Matt Conrow are part of a very athletic team that will use plenty of two-way players.

Greenway's football team is paired with Nashwauk-Keewatin this year so the Raiders will move up to the 7AAA playoffs.

Moose Lake-Willow River

eyes another trip to Dome

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Moose Lake-Willow River has put together several outstanding current win streaks: 22 straight in the regular season, 19 in a row on the road and 17 consecutive home victories.

But one streak the Rebels would like to halt is their 0-3 record at the Metrodome in the Class AA state tournament semifinals.

To get back to the Dome, the Rebels must replace, among others, two-time News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Nate Zuk at running back and linebacker, Joey Bohaty at quarterback and all-time interception leader Dan Anderson from a team that went 12-1.

Senior running back Austin Jacobson, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008, should help ease the transition.

A 4-0 start quickly turned sour with five straight losses at Esko, only the second time Bill Hudspith suffered through a losing season in 19 years as coach at the school.

The Eskomos are young and not very deep, leading Hudspith to perhaps alter his complex offensive playbook.

Wide receivers Cody Townsend and Richard Jubie, two-way linemen Cody Salo and Ryan Tollerud, cornerback Seth Haapanen and halfback Phil Wirtz head up the senior class.

Duluth Marshall fields only 30 players in grades 9-12, but Hilltoppers coach Dave Homstad tells his players not to worry about a lack of depth.

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"I tell them, 'They can only put 11 out on the field. I don't care about how many they have on the sideline,'" Homstad said.

Homstad hopes to avoid injuries, which sidelined five players in the opening two games last season en route to an 0-9 record.

Seniors England McDaniels (halfback), Josh Serre (wingback), Ike Serre (fullback) and linemen Lucas Lindquist and Gus Nelson are the key returnees.

Cook County, Chisholm

must replace top players

Cook County is minus several players who contributed for several years -- Miles Drake, Sammy Warren and Brennan Hawkins were among those who graduated -- but the Vikings return a solid backfield of Brock Hommerding, James Groth, Jacob Rude and Kipp Sande.

After once dominating the section, Cook County has qualified for the state tournament only once the past six years. The Vikings, due to declining enrollment, are faced with dropping down to nine-man football in 2011.

Chisholm went 10-2 and beat East Central for the section crown a year ago, but the Bluestreaks lost several key performers to graduation. Returning quarterback Erik Paine and backfield mates Tyler Simonson and Spencer Peratalo should keep Chisholm in the running with Cook County and Barnum in the Great Polar Alliance Red Division.

Scott Battaglia takes over for his uncle, Dave Battaglia, as coach at Carlton. The Bulldogs only went 2-7 in 2008 and field a small, athletic team this fall. Lineman Greg Emerson, quarterback Alan Davis, tight end-linebacker Chad Laine and fullback-linebacker Jake Gran head up the senior class.

Backfield experience highlights

AlBrook's chances in Section 5

AlBrook returns its entire backfield from a 7-2 team that won the St. Louis County Conference South Division, but they will be running behind a revamped line.

Quarterback Cody Anderson and fellow seniors halfbacks Josh Johnson and Tony Williams, fullback DeMondtaye Gaines and wideouts Kolten Karppinen and Lance Luomala should keep the Falcons' explosive offense going strong, but an inexperienced defensive front means it's not likely AlBrook will equal the four shutouts it posted last season.

With games against Littlefork-Big Falls (11-1), Mountain Iron-Buhl (7-4) and Cherry (6-4) in the first few weeks, the Falcons will find out where they stand in a hurry.

AlBrook coach Larry Anderson, who is entering his 10th season, plans on stepping down after the year to concentrate on his job as president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Wrenshall graduated five seniors, including running back Jordan Berglund (1,200 yards, 17 TDs), leaving the team with only 14 players in grades 9-12. Coach Jeremy Zywicki plans on playing eight freshmen.

"I thought last year was a rebuilding year, but this is definitely a rebuilding year," Zywicki said. "It's going to be a test this year."

The Wrens' lone seniors are Aaron Gustafson, an all-conference guard last year, guard Alex Laveau and David Connor, who hasn't played since his freshman year.

Cromwell and McGregor each lost to Northland-Remer in the Section 5 playoffs but with the Eagles now playing in Section 6, the Cardinals and Mercuries should do battle again for a state tournament berth.

Littlefork-Big Falls is favored to win a third consecutive Section 7 title.

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