The Marion football team is once again young this year. Only three seniors grace the 35-man roster, and 28th-year coach Grant Thierolf said the team is in the process of developing depth.
With a smaller team, Thierolf said he and his staff have attempted to cross-train as many athletes as possible to be ready to contribute in multiple positions.
The Warriors enter the 2015 season ranked fifth in Class 2-1A after a 6-4 campaign a year ago. Marion went 2-2 in the Heart of America league to finish fourth before going undefeated in district play to advance to the Class 2-1A playoffs. There, the Warriors met their match in a regional loss to Lyndon.
The season saw starting quarterback Jack Schneider succumb to a shoulder injury five games in. Backup Jacob Baldwin completed the year under center.
Marion boasts 12 returning starters from last year?s team, six on offense and six on defense. Despite not having an abundance of seniors, Thierolf said lack of leadership is not a concern.
?Leadership doesn?t mean what class you?re in,? he said. ?Leadership just means, are you responsible to your teammates and do you do everything the way it?s supposed to be done. We?ve got a lot of kids who do that.?
A healthy Schneider returns to direct the offense as quarterback.
?Jack is healthy right now,? Thierolf said. ?He?s got another year in the offense, which is always good.?
Before his injury, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 171-pound sophomore rolled up 326 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries. He added another 324 yards and four touchdowns through the air on 30-for-48 passing.
Despite the graduation of Baldwin, who tallied 413 rushing yards on 57 carries and completed 28 of 43 passes for 666 yards as backup, Thierolf said he does have options when it comes to depth at the quarterback position.
?Our freshman quarterback, Chase Stringer, is going to be a good quarterback for us,? he said. ?He?s got a nice arm on him and he?s doing a good job of running the offense on the JV level right now.?
The Warriors will need to replace last year?s leading rusher, Adam Janzen, who accounted for more than half of Marion?s 2,525 rushing yards. Janzen rumbled to 1,293 yards and 22 touchdowns on 179 carries, averaging 7.2 yards per play.
Thierolf is confident he has the talent to fill the void. Look for junior Aaron Riggs (5-10, 198) to contribute at fullback. Last season, Riggs carried the ball 13 times for 75 yards and one score.
?It?s hard to replace an Adam Janzen,? Thierolf said. ?But Aaron Riggs has worked his tail end off to become a varsity football player. He?s going to be OK.?
Additional contributors include sophomore Corbin Wheeler (5-10, 155) at tailback, and junior Peyton Heidebrecht (5-8, 205). Wheeler totaled 92 yards on 16 carries in 2014, while Heidebrecht totaled 7 yards on five carries.
Baldwin and Schneider shared 990 passing yards between six targets last season.
Marion returns junior Mason Pedersen (6-0, 153), a second-team all-league wide receiver selection last season who hauled in 20 receptions for 371 yards and nine touchdowns.
?(Mason) was one of the top receivers in the league last year,? Thierolf said. ?He?s very skilled, and we have to take advantage of that. We don?t want him just out there, we want to get the ball to him in any way we can. He?s going to be a great asset to our offense.?
Thierolf said he has a number of weapons in addition to Pedersen, including senior Dylan Pippin (6-1, 187), Peyton Heidebrecht, Hoffner, Wheeler, sophomore Zachary Stuchlik (5-11, 148) and junior Bryce Shults (5-11, 155).
?We?ve got a number of guys who can run and catch a ball, so we?ve got to take advantage of that, but we?re always going to run the ball first,? Thierolf said. ?That?s no secret to anybody that knows us.?
Returning to anchor the front line are starting tackle Adam Kjellin (6-7, 287), a senior who earned honorable mention last year, and junior Cade Harms (6-0, 243) at guard, whom Thierolf said ?very easily could?ve been an all-league player last year.?
Joining them is senior William Adame (5-10, 229) at tackle and sophomore Tyler Palic (6-1, 193) at guard.
The Warriors will play without last year?s center, Nathan Baldwin, who is out for the season with a back injury, Thierolf said. Sopho?more Jarret McLinden (6-3, 275) will likely be asked to fill in, although Thierolf said he has other options.
Pippin returns at tight end, while Hoffner will provide depth. Pippin stepped into the starting role when last year?s starter, Jacob Baldwin, took over the reigns at quarterback.
Marion sustained some significant losses on defense, but does return six starters.
The Warriors lost two all-league players up front, including first-team pick Jacob Baldwin and honorable-mention selection Nathan Cyr.
However, the Warriors do return two starters on the line: Pippin at defensive end and Harms at tackle. Joining them will be junior Jeremy Hett (5-11, 225) and Kjellin.
?I think our D tackles will be very good,? Thierolf said. ?It?ll be by committee for the most part. D ends will be a little bit by committee.?
With the loss of first-team all-league linebacker Kyle Palic and honorable mention recipient Janzen?the pair combined for 116 unassisted tackles last season?the Warriors will be somewhat young at linebacker.
Peyton Heidebrecht returns with starting experience (29 unassisted tackles last year), and Tyler Palic, Riggs and Hoffner are also expected to contribute.
?Linebackers will be a little young,? Thierolf said. ?We?re just going to have to rotate a lot of kids through and try to keep some kids fresh.?
While the Warriors will play without first-team pick Seth Snelling (52 unassisted tackles) and honorable-mention selection Brad Stone (20 unassisted tackles) in the defensive backfield, Peder?sen and Shults bring returning starting experience to the secondary at corner.
?We expect our young kids that are in those positions now to be really good,? Thierolf. ?They?re athletic, they?re fast. It?s a matter of them reading what they?re supposed to read and getting to the ball, but they have an opportunity to be pretty good.?
Thierolf is hopeful for the year ahead, saying he expects continual improvement from his young team as the season progresses.
?I think by the end of the year, (if) we stay healthy, we?ll be playing pretty well I hope,? he said. ?I really like the makeup of the team. They?re a focused group and they practice hard every day for the most part. I really expect them to get better as the year goes on.?
Marion will welcome Moundridge to town Friday to kick off the season.