Marion preparing to defend its MCAA divisional title

Nine seniors and letter-winners will form the nucleus of this year’s Marion Warrior football team. Pictured are: back row (from left), Thomas Schaffrath, Dusty Britton, Emmanuel Jackson, Chase Williams, John Barr III; front row, Clay Riggs, Jason Hett, Riley Ross and Kyle Hett. The defending Mid Division champions of the MCAA will open play Friday at Warrior Stadium against Halstead.

As the 2006 Marion Warriors football team moves toward a new season, coach Grant Thierolf’s sights remain set on the playoffs.

“We had a real good team last year,” Thierolf said. “But winning our league and making the post-season is our goal every year.”

Marion went undefeated in the Mid Division of the Mid-Central Activities Association, but losses against district opponents Hesston and Southeast of Saline denied the Warriors a trip to the playoffs.

The Warriors’ rushing attack was potent in 2005, gaining more than 1,700 yards.

Thierolf’s team ran for 65 of its 87 total first downs and scored 26 of its 36 touchdowns on the ground.

The team graduated 10 players during the offseason, leaving two returning starters on each side of the ball, and Marion expects large contributions from the team’s remaining veterans.

As an All-MCAA receiver, Jason Hett averaged 27 yards per catch on 12 receptions last fall, but will start at quarterback this season.

He will be joined in the offensive backfield by senior running back Kyle Hett.

Returning 6-foot-2, 229-pound senior tackle Chase Williams will anchor an offensive line that includes juniors Jake Czarnowsky (5-11, 176), Hank Collett (5-7,146), Brett Billings (5-11, 165) and sophomore standout Matt Thierolf (5-11, 195).

The Warriors attempted only 85 passes all of last season but gained more than 700 receiving yards-an average of more than eight yards per pass play and 21 yards per catch.

To provide explosiveness in the passing game, senior wideout Riley Ross (5-8, 145) will be one option at receiver; junior Chase Carlson (5-7, 132) will be another.

The other starters in Thierolf’s base offense will be junior Calvin Jeffrey (5-7, 153) and senior John Barr III (5-11, 173).

Junior Justin Heidebrecht (6-1,165) and senior Emmanuel Jackson (6-0, 172) will come off the bench to give Jason Hett (6-1, 165) two more targets to throw to.

When the opposition’s offense comes in, most of Marion’s starters will stay on the field.

Defensive ends Barr and Jackson, the two returning starters on that side of the ball, will be joined on the line by Williams and Billings.

As an end, Jackson earned All-MCAA honors last year while leading the Warriors in sacks and tackles for loss.

Collett, Ross, Jeffrey and Hett will play in the defensive secondary.

Jackson and sophomore linebackers Derek Riggs (5-8, 225) and Brad Klenda (6-0, 175) are the only defensive starters without starting roles on offense.

Last fall, with elite players in for nearly every snap, Thierolf’s defense forced 19 turnovers while holding the opposition to 144 points-102 fewer than the Warrior offense scored.

“We will be very competitive this year by playing hard and being disciplined,” Thierolf said. “Our discipline will have to be a strength for us this year, because we don’t have a whole lot of size.”

Marion last made the playoffs in 2003.

The Warriors will open their season Friday with a home game against Halstead in an MCAA divisional contest. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The following week, Sept. 8, Marion plays at home against another divisional foe, Ellinwood.

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