This is the only class without a defending champ. Tea Area has moved up to 11AA and that means the title is up for grabs. The teams at the top are perennial contenders but this is how I see this competitive class playing out this season.
Jandy’s Preseason Top 5
The C-Hawks have been to the championship game two straight seasons and there’s no reason they should expect anything less this year. Ten players with starting experience are back on offense and eight on defense for Head Coach Rich Lundstrom. “We have several juniors and seniors who have started since they were freshmen (7). That experience should serve us well.”
For the first time in four years, it won’t be Seth Peterson taking snaps and for the first time since 2014 it won’t be anyone named Peterson. Look for Josh Merkle to take over at quarterback. This team has several guys who can carry the load in the running game. Payton Eben might be the biggest playmaker this year. On defense Marshall Baldwin and Avery Herting are among the best Canton has ever had. In addition to those already mentioned, the depth is strong with several experienced players going both ways for Canton including, Tadesse VanDeStroet, Luke Richardson, Matt Anderson, Jake VanDeWeerd, Beau Williams, Isaac Suter, Josh Kreber and Elijah Isais.
2. Dell Rapids
The Quarriers got off to a great start last year but hit a wall of tough teams down the stretch. They should be explosive on offense with seven starters back including their quarterback Austin Henry and one of the best backs in the state, Landon Ruesink. Head Coach Jordan Huska likes the way this team has come together, “We have experience in key positions on both sides of the ball. We have a group of guys working hard to take advantage of their opportunities.”
The line is the heart of this team. They return both tackles with Landon Hohn and Shane stone and both guards, Josh Deknikker and Ryler Evans. The line isn’t huge but it’s very athletic and they should be a strength of this team.
Madison went 6-5 a year ago after a strong 2-0 start, they’ll have to rebound in a big way to get back into contention for a state title. They bring back nine starters on offense and seven on defense to make that trek back to the elite. Head Coach Max Hodgen has been among the best coaches in the state over the last decade and likes the way the Bulldogs are put together this year, “We have a lot of returning starts who have worked hard all off-season,” said Hodgen. “It is always nice having a returning quarterback in our system.”
That quarterback is Nathan Ricke who played through several injuries but still rushed for 10 touchdowns and threw for 20 more last year. Mickale Dohrer should be his main target in the passing game along with Dillon Bickett. Trey Smith might be the toughest ball carrier to tackle in the class and the entire O-Line is back. Peyton Wolf and Mike Peters are very good defensive backs who set the tone on defense. Cam Buchholtz, Parker Johnson, Gabe Olson and Joe Gors all come back on defense this year as well.
4. West Central
The Trojans begin a new era after a strong two years under Head Coach Vince Benedetto who accepted a job at Sioux Falls Jefferson. Chris Hernandez steps in to lead West Central with seven returning staters on offense after a winning season. “Anytime there is a coaching change there are challenges,” said Hernandez. “Players need to learn a new system, they have to get to know the new coach, and building upon but also establishing a winning culture.”
The centerpiece of that winning culture could be Justin Zirpel. He’s a strong junior who ran for over 1,000 yards at quarterback last season. This year you could see him play split time at QB and running back. Gavin Koch could also step up throwing the ball. Four offensive linemen return which is always good news for moving the ball. On defense Braden Dierickx leads the secondary with Logan Maras and Mason Berens at linebacker and Tommy Berg in the trenches. West Central has been in the thick of the championship hunt the past few seasons, they should once again be within striking distance of getting to the dome.
5. Dakota Valley
The Panthers have a lot of question marks this year after losing a large number of impact players to graduation. The team returns just two starters, Jackson Strawn and Evan vanScoyk who are both offensive linemen. They hope to get significant contributions from Noah Preston, Brodey Ballinger and Ethan Anema on offense. “We were a senior heavy team last year so we will need to get things put together this summer so we can hit the ground running,” said Head Coach Jeff VanDenHul. “We will need players to step up and fill in quickly.”
The Bulldogs will have one of their best rosters they’ve had in years. Head Coach Brian Allmendinger “We have tremendous overall numbers and talent. We have very good team speed. The senior class has great the potential to be special in terms of skill and leadership.” Eight players return to the starting lineup on offense and 10 on defense. Kaden Krause returns at quarterback, Marshall Voeltz is back at running back and Bennett Schwenn also returns. Each are among the top players in the class. But the talent doesn’t stop there, Sawyer Gauer, Jace Rufer, Leyton Raffety, Connor Bender, Maddox Hanson, Aidan Foell, Karson Weber and Isaac Schulte give Milbank a well-rounded roster.
The Orioles won just two games last year but feel like they can compete with anyone on their schedule with seven returning starters. Head Coach Matthew Luze wants to get the team back into contention, “This team has lots of returning experience and they are excited to compete. They want to push themselves to be the very best they can be.” The group of receivers on this team is special with Steven Christion, Carter Van Houten and their leading receiver Jackson Arlt all back. More than likely Braeden Wulf will be the quarterback in this balanced system.
The Tanagers went 1-7 last year but fought hard in every game. This year Tom O’Boyle will be the head coach and hopes to keep moving them up the ladder in Class 11A, “We will need to quickly adapt to new offensive and defensive schemes to be successful,” said O’Boyle. They have five starters back on offense and six more on defense. Jack Kratz or Ty Hertz are likely going to play quarterback. Veterans like Zach Brady, Nick Sorenson, Clayton Sorenson and Jeremy Crowe, will play a big part in Vermillion’s chances for success.
Sioux Falls Christian
The Chargers haven’t enjoyed the same success in 11A as they did in 11B but there’s reason to believe that they could get back into contention this year. They have a strong quarterback returning in Brooks Nelson with Mitchell Nelson blocking up front again. Isaiah Young was an honorable mention All-State player at running back last year and could have a breakout year. Jaden Witte and Carter VanDonge are both excellent pass-catchers. Six players are back to start on D with Jaden Witte leading the way alongside Wyatt Markle, Max Kaare and Tate Snyder. Head Coach Jared Smith has a good group but still needs to see his line improve, “Our biggest focus will be developing linemen on both offense and defense. We really struggled in the red zone on both sides of the ball last year. Being able to run and stop the run in the red zone will be a priority.”
Head Coach Scott Slotten continues to make a push with this team. Last year they won three games and this year they have a good foundation of five starters on offense and six on defense back. Look for Anthony Budmayr to start at quarterback with Devin Nowowiejski to see major carries at running back. “I feel the Broncs can be competitive out west as long as we can stay healthy,” said Coach Slotten. “We will need to be better in the passing game and more consistent tacklers. Our senior group is full of leaders that work hard.”
The Cubs move up from 11B under head coach Jeff Rademacher. “There will be a learning curve this year for several positions and a young quarterback taking the lead role on offense,” said Rademacher. “Also moving up to class 11A this season will present some long road trips as well as tougher competition.” Cruz Soulek started at QB as a freshman last year. He has put a lot of work in and should be a much-improved leader. Look for Sellyck McManus to be one of his top receiving threats. Noah Hutmacher led the team in tackles last year at linebacker and is one of four guys back to start this season.
The Wildcats are short on numbers but have good talent. It starts with USD recruit Gage Tennyson will be a fourth-year starter who is versatile on offense. He’s played receiver in the past but may play running back as well. Sterling Sword is also back as a four-year starter at quarterback. Head Coach David Williams is banking on a strong number of newcomers to make an impact, “Our young guys stepping up to fill some major holes in the offense and defense that was left from the senior class graduating. We have a great group of 9th graders coming up to varsity and with some off-season work and weight room participation they will be successful in the coming years.”
Preseason Player of the Year
Landon Ruesink, Dell Rapids
Ruesink is a powerful back with deceptive speed. He’s a two year starter on offense and three-year starter on defense. He recorded the fastest time of any South Dakotan in the 40-yard sprint amongst defensive backs at the Riggs combine. But it’s his quickness that sets him apart. He is explosive and powerful with very little room to work. He is primed for a terrific senior season for the Quarriers.
Next 10 in 11A
- Jackson Arlt, Lennox
- Marshall Baldwin, Canton
- Zach Brady, Vermillion
- Payton Eben, Canton
- Avery Herting, Canton
- Trey Smith, Madison
- Gage Tennyson, Custer
- Marshall Voeltz, Milbank
- Isaiah Young, SF Christian
- Justin Zirpel, West Central
- More Big-Time Players in 11A
- Bennett Schwenn, Milbank
- Kaden Krause, Milbank
- Gabe Olson, Madison
- Nathan Ricke, Madison
- Austin Henry, Dell Rapids
- Jaden Witte, SF Christian
- Brooks Nelson, SF Christian
- Jase Langbehn, Lennox
- Jackson Strawn, Dakota Valley
- Sellyck McManus, Chamberlain