By PATRICK SLACK
The Royalton football team enjoyed the first season of the Prairie Conference being split into two divisions a year ago, going 5-1 in its division, 6-2 overall.
To duplicate that success, the Royals will have to find a way to fill numerous holes left by graduation.
“We graduated a very loaded and talented senior class and will look to fill some big holes with some talented, but untested underclassmen,” Royalton head coach Jamie Morford said.
“We will be strong in the skill positions and solid up front,” he said. “We are going to need to stay healthy as we are young and a bit inexperienced, but the heart and drive of this group has already shown that they are willing to put in the work to be competitive in a very tough conference and section.”
Guiding the Royals, especially early in the season, will be a group of returning starters that includes seniors Tyler Hegna (running back/linebacker), Jack Fulford (offensive line/linebacker) and Corey Popp (offensive line/defensive line), juniors Cade Stang (running back/defensive back), Jesse Popp (wide receiver/defensive back) and Tony Gadacz (running back/linebacker) and sophomore Jake Wentland (tight end/defensive line).
New players expected to see increased playing time are senior Tyler Tiemann (offensive line/defensive line), juniors Caleb Jasmer (offensive line/defensive line), Austin Schmitt (offensive line/defensive line) and Nate Scofield (running back/defensive back) and sophomores Brady Moulzolf (quarterback/defensive back), Jordan Smieja (running back/linebacker) and Matt Fountain (offensive line/defensive line).
Seniors on this year’s roster include Luke Wentland, Logan Vannurden, Matt Presler, Andrew Kroll, Corey Popp, Mitch McCallson, Chris Eli, Hegna, Fulford and Tiemann.
Graduating from last year’s team were Andy Poster, Tyler Sieben, Mitch Zimmerman, Jeremy Grittner, Hunter Jasmer, Austin Hackett, J.D. Miller, Brandon Lattimer, Mitch Popp and Jon Echolds.
“We will need to get as a group rather quickly and realize that each and every week will be a battle to keep the rich tradition that is being built here in Royalton,” Morford said.
Morford expects reigning conference champion Browerville to be the favorite in the South Division, with Ottertail Central, New York Mills and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg also competing with Royalton to finish atop the conference.
The Royals move to Section 6A this season, which includes five of the six teams in the Prairie South, as well as Lake Park-Audubon, Pillager and Pine River-Backus.
Royalton opens the season at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Thursday.
The Royals’ home opener is against United North Central, Sept. 7.