With four starters returning to man the offensive line after helping power the Marion High School football team to six victories last year, coach Grant Thierolf again has the personnel to execute the multi-headed rushing offense the Warriors are known for throughout the Mid-Central Activities Association.
Thierolf has posted a 128-73 record in 22 years at Marion and went 5-2 in league play last year. He guided the Warriors to within one defensive stop of a berth in bi-district play. But on the strength of a successful 2-point conversion, Hillsboro advanced as the winner of an overtime thriller on what became the final night of Marion?s 2008 season.
That experience sits alongside another hard-earned stripe the Warriors gained last year: winning a 6-0 slugfest against Hoisington, the Mid Division tri-champion with Marion and Hillsboro.
At the outset of 2009, Marion looks to returning starters to fill 17 positions?eight on offense, nine on defense.
Chief among the veterans are three all-MCAA honorees: second-team running back Sheldon Boone, honorable-mention offensive tackle Parker Ash and second-team defensive end Nick Klenda.
?Obviously, these three players are guys who have a great deal of natural ability and they have combined that with very good work ethics that have allowed them to excel at their positions,? Thierolf said. ?Each is counted on to provide leadership at their positions and for the team.?
The look on defense
Defensively, the Warriors graduated four senior linebackers, including four-year starters Brad Klenda and Matt Thierolf, but also welcome back eight major contributors to their defensive front.
Defensive tackles Parker Ash and Doug Schroeder ?will have to play well for us and shut down the run game of the opponents,? Thierolf said. ?Tim Costello, Sam Ehrlich and Colton Olsen will rotate in and provide great depth.?
Eric Vogel and Nick Klenda are returning starters at the defensive end positions.
?Nick is very athletic for a big man and plays smart,? Thierolf said. ?The defensive line should be a strength of our team.?
Brian Fruechting and Dakin Ledford will provide rotation depth at end.
At linebacker, seniors Sheldon Boone and Tylor Neil will provide leadership to a group that includes Connor Thierolf, Adam Cope, Colten Johnson and Les Riggs.
Neil and Boone ?will anchor our linebacking corps and are very good players,? Thierolf said.
The secondary will be composed of senior corners Mitch Cady and Randy Carlson and a combination of Drew Maddox, Jordan Versch, Randy Regnier and Abe Eldridge.
?We should be very solid in the secondary this year,? Thierolf said.
Thierolf also has proven players at key special teams positions: Fruechting at kicker, and Klenda or Dillon Richmond at punter.
?Boone and Maddox will handle return duties for us and will provide us with a chance for great field position every change of possession,? Thierolf said.
Cady or Matt Sprowls are possible long snappers and ?either will do a great job,? Thierolf said. ?Our special teams will be in good shape.?
The look on offense
Sprowls, with two pass attempts last year, is one of Marion?s options at quarterback; Dillon Richmond is the other.
?Both run the option well and are solid in their fundamentals,? Thierolf said.
As in previous years, Marion?s passing game will be geared to take advantage of defenses that commit too many players to slowing the Warrior running backs.
Thierolf expects receivers Vogel, Klenda, Cady, Versch and Ledford to be solid blockers with the ability ?to stretch the field in the passing game.?
?Our receivers are experienced blockers,? he said. ?We will use different combinations of them during the game.?
Vogel, Maddox and Klenda combined to total 219 receiving yards on 12 catches last year.
But Marion?s chances of making the playoffs for the first time since 2003 hinge on the success of its running attack.
Boone averaged 4.9 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns, earned all-league recognition and returns at fullback.
He is ?looking forward to a great season,? Thierolf said. ?Sheldon has very good vision and balance? and ?is bigger and faster than last year and has improved immensely.?
Boone will have help.
Maddox averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns out of the slot-back position and, Thierolf said, ?will have to carry much of the load this year.?
Eldridge, Riggs, Johnson and Regnier will rotate at the other slot-back spot.
They will run behind Ash, Fruechting, Neil and Ehrlich?a group Thierolf cited as ?the strength of our team.?
?They are all better physically than they were last season,? he said. ?Parker is a very good athlete who plays on the offensive line.?
The Warriors have three players competing for the fifth offensive line position: Costello, Thierolf and Adam Cope.
?We will be good there as well,? Thierolf said.
With strength in the trenches and the marks to prove they have seen what it takes to win close games, Marion may again be a force to be reckoned with in the final year of the MCAA.
The Warriors season begins at home Friday night against Lyons.