Coming off a 4-5 season, the Marion High School football team has starters returning at nearly every position on both sides of the ball, making the Warriors’ collective experience level much greater than either the 2006 or 2007 teams.
Senior Mitchell Leppke, a three-year starter, was the team’s leading rusher a season ago and will shoulder a leadership burden at the quarterback position. Leppke accounted for 10 touchdowns a season ago, throwing for three and completing 25 of 62 attempts.
But Leppke’s running ability—he averaged 4.6 yards per carry with 558 yards and seven scores—makes possible the multi-faceted running attack the Warriors and head coach Grant Thierolf are known for.
“Mitch is our leading rusher and has developed as an option quarterback,” coach Thierolf said.
Thierolf will also have considerable speed to work with—a luxury not seen in Marion in recent years. The team will be particularly fast at the slot back positions, which will be filled by Drew Maddox, Adam Regnier, Tylor Neil and Marc Washington.
Two of the four will start, with Washington and Maddox—both juniors—seeming to have the inside track. Washington made his mark with multiple electrifying runs in the kick-return game while Maddox averaged 5.6 yards on 22 carries.
Junior running back Sheldon Boone anchors the fullback position, trailing only Leppke in carries (106) and touchdowns (six).
With three returners on the offensive line—including all-league senior tackle Matt Thierolf—the Warriors look to be strong in the trenches.
According to coach Thierolf, Matt Thierolf has, along with junior guards Parker Ash and Brian Fruechting, “gotten bigger and quicker over the last year.”
The remaining line positions will be filled by a competitive committee of Mark Kukuk, Doug Schroeder, James Wingfield, Sam Ehrlich and Lee Vogel.
“We look for them to add to our depth and provide some great competition to our team,” Thierolf said.
Schroeder, listed at 6-foot-2, 268 pounds, appears to have the early grip on the starting tackle job opposite Matt Thierolf, while Ehrlich aims to hold the starting job at center.
The Warrior receivers will make the ground game more dangerous. Thierolf notes the experience and blocking abilities of Luke Gordon, Eric Vogel, Nick Klenda and Brad Klenda as an offensive asset.
Thierolf also anticipates his receiving corps will have the ability to stretch the field by turning to Mitch Cady and Wil Case in the passing game.
“Our receivers are experienced blockers and we will use different combinations of them during the game,” Thierolf said.
Defensively, the Warriors’ experience is along the line and among the linebackers.
“Up front we return eight players who started or played significant amounts last year,” Thierolf said. “Our defense will be more experienced everywhere except the secondary.”
Mark Kukuk will anchor the interior line, but may be pushed for playing time during his senior season by Ash and Schroeder.
Vogel, a returning starter, will anchor one end, while the other is vied for by Nick Klenda, Gordon and Fruechting.
With Brad Klenda and Matt Thierolf returning as inside linebackers, each with three years of starting experience, and with four players vying for the two outside linebacker spots, the middle of the defense will be potent.
“Our linebacking corps will be the true strength of our defense, as we return five players who started at one time or another for us last year,” Thierolf said. “Finding starters from this group will be very interesting.”
Seven are competing for cornerback and safety jobs, as Leppke, Case, Maddox, Regnier, Cady, Washington, Randy Carlson and Dillon Wildin battle for playing time.
“We will be inexperienced in the secondary, but athletic and faster,” Thierolf said.
Not surprisingly, given the Warriors’ experience, Thierolf expects Marion’s special teams to be “in good shape.”
Fruechting and Gordon look to handle kicking duties, while Gordon or Nick Klenda will punt. With Washington, Boone and Maddox, the Warrior kick-return game may be a significant asset.
“They will provide us with a chance for great field position every change of possession,” Thierolf said.
Cady and Matt Sprowls are competing for the long-snapping role, and Thierolf believes either will do “a great job.”
With several new teams on the schedule, including new district opponents in Herington and Southeast of Saline, forecasting the season is uncertain at best. But given the depth, athleticism and experience the Warriors will field in 2008, prospects appear bright.
Without Hesston on the schedule, Wichita Collegiate shapes up to be one of the major challenges early in the season. The Warriors are learning to counter Collegiate’s “shotgun spread” attack.
“With the experience we have up front, we should be pretty good stopping the run,” Thierolf said. “We’ve got some work to do against the pass, as Remington showed us last year. Thankfully, we might not ever see a quarterback in our league like they had.”
Marion opens the season at Lyons Sept. 5 and hosts Collegiate the following week. The rivalry with Hillsboro will be on hold until the final week of district play, when Marion faces the Trojans Oct. 30 in Hillsboro.