Warriors retool with young faces

These seniors will anchor the Marion football team this season: front row (from left), Braden Fahey, Adam Janzen, Dylan Carpenter, Seth Snelling; back row, Kyle Palic, Nathan Cyr, Brad Stone, Jacob Baldwin. Not pictured: Tyler Neufeld. Expectations look different for the 2014 Marion football team. Losing 10 seniors to graduation, and with three returning starters on offense and only one on defense, the Warriors will have many new faces in the starting lineup.

Coach Grant Thierolf, entering his 27th year, said he has a ?good group of kids,? albeit a slightly less experienced one.

?They?re fun to work with, and they are trying to get better every day, and that?s a big deal when they do that,? he said. ?It makes it a lot more enjoyable as a coach when kids are working hard to try to get better.?

With so much youth in the system, it may take time for the team to develop.

?Obviously, the key for the early part of the year is how fast we mature as a team and have the players ready to play at a varsity level,? Thierolf said. ?We will have pretty decent team speed, and our young guys will just have to grow up and play beyond their experience.?

Offensive weapons

The Warriors return three starters on offense, including senior all-league recipients Adam Janzen, a 5-foot, 9-inch, 193-pound running back named to the first team, and Jacob Baldwin, a 6-3, 192-pound tight end who received honorable mention. Senior Kyle Palic (6-3, 218) returns at guard.

Janzen rushed for 1,280 yards last season and will provide stability for the offense. He also will be expected to contribute at linebacker.

?It?ll be a little different for him playing both sides of the ball this year, but he?s come into camp in great shape, and he?s just a hard-nosed football player,? Thierolf said.

Also lining up in the backfield will be senior Seth Snelling (5-8, 152) and sophomore Peyton Heidebrecht (5-8, 192).

?We probably should?ve gotten (Seth) a lot more time last year than we did, but he?s a good football player and was on all our special teams last year,? Thierolf said.

?It?s (Peyton?s) first opportunity playing on the varsity side, and he?s a good strong kid. He?s learning a couple of different positions?fullback and tailback and even slot, so he?ll play a lot for us.?

Baldwin returns at tight end, and may be called to fill other roles as well.

?He can also play quarterback for us,? Thierolf said. ?He played a lot last year, so he knows what it?s like to be on a varsity football field.?

Calling signals this year will be freshman quarterback Jack Schneider (6-0, 155).

?He?s a good athlete; he?s fast,? Thierolf said. ?He?s pretty strong for a freshman. He and Coach (Shaun) Craft have been working hard all summer long, along with Adam Janzen. He?s doing a nice job, but he?ll only be as good as his offensive line lets him be, and he?ll only be as good as his fellow running backs are.?

The Warriors lost four starters on the offensive line, but Palic returns to solidify the front line at guard.

?(Kyle) was one of our starters last year and he?s improved himself physically,? Thierolf said.

Junior William Adame (5-8, 211) or sophomore Nathan Baldwin (6-0, 189) will battle to deliver the ball at center.

Also in the mix for playing time on the line are seniors Dylan Carpenter (5-11, 158), Braden Fahey (6-1, 168) and Nathan Cyr (6-0, 224); junior Adam Kjellin (6-7, 291); sophomore Cade Harms (5-9, 225) and freshman Tyler Palic (6-0, 174).

?It?ll be the first time really I think we?ve ever had the potential to start a freshman offensive lineman, but he?s getting better day by day,? Thierolf said of Tyler Palic.

Contributing at wide receiver will be senior Brad Stone (6-3, 160) and sophomores Mason Pedersen (6-0, 151) and Bryce Shults (5-9, 142).

?They?ve all got some speed, (and) they?ve all got good hands,? Thierolf said. ?They know (that) whoever blocks well is going to be the one who ends up playing?

Defensive threats

Kyle Palic will anchor the defense as the Warriors? sole returning starter. He was a first-team all-league selection at linebacker last season and is a third-year starter.

?Physically, (Kyle) is one of the better athletes in the state,? Thierolf said, noting his success in wrestling and track and field as well. ?He?s got the physical size to play well, and it?s his opportunity to be a leader out there and kind of take the defense on himself.?

Janzen will join Palic at linebacker.

?(Kyle) and Adam both are very exceptional, kind of instinctual, inside linebackers, and it?s nice to have that,? Thierolf said. ?But once again, they?re only going to be as good as our defensive line allows them to be.?

Also contributing at linebacker will be senior Tyler Neufeld (5-8, 159), Heide?brecht and freshman Corbin Wheeler (5-9, 143).

Thierolf said he expects to fill the defensive line by committee.

In the mix at defensive end are Fahey, Carpenter, Jacob Baldwin, Nathan Baldwin and junior Dylan Pippin (6-1, 179), while Adame, Harms, Cyr and Kjellin will vie for playing time at tackle.

In the secondary, Stone, Pedersen and Shults will be relied upon at cornerback.

?Those three guys right now will get the majority of the reps,? Thierolf said. ?They?re athletic and fast, so they have a chance to make plays. Then it?s just a matter of will they hit and will they do the techniques that they?re taught to do and do them consistently.?

On special teams, Marion will rely on Janzen to punt, while Kyle Palic will be the long snapper. In the running for kicking duties are Heide?brecht and freshman Austin Neufeld (5-7, 132).

Season outlook

Thierolf said Sedgwick and Hutchinson Trinity will be good in the Heart of America league this year; however, the Warriors will face only four league teams during the regular season: Moundridge, Hutchinson Trinity, Remington and Ell-Saline.

?There?s not going to be a league champion,? he said. ?We?re not going to worry about that. We?re just going to concentrate those first four games on really getting better.?

Seven of the nine HOA league schools with football programs are now in Class 2-1A.

Marion, Moundridge, Sedgwick and Remington all dropped from Class 3A this season, leaving Hutchinson Trinity as the sole HOA school in 3A.

Regardless of classification, Thierolf?s team goals remain the same: to rank high in the league, win district and play as deep into November as possible.

This year, the focus will be on constant improvement.

?The focus is just going to be on us more than anything, just doing the things that we can control and the things that we see on film that we need to get better at every day,? Thierolf said. ?This is a team that?s really going to play its best football toward the end of the year as opposed to early in the year.?

Marion will open the season Friday at Moundridge. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Warriors? home-opener will be Sept. 12 when Hutchinson Trinity comes to town.

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