By PATRICK SLACK
The Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) football team returns 12 starters after going 5-4 last season.
The Patriots will need that experience, as the Prairie Conference once again appears to be one of the toughest small-school leagues in the state.
USA brings back seven two-way starters and most of its contributors at the skill positions, led by senior quarterback Eric Frieler, who threw for 847 yards and rushed for 274 a year ago.
His favorite target, senior Garrett Wolf (wide receiver/defensive back) is back after accumulating 360 receiving yards, as are three of the teams top tacklers in seniors Alec Griffith (tackle/linebacker) and Avery Smieja (tackle/defensive end) and junior Mitch Lange (tailback/linebacker).
Other returning starters include seniors Austin Mollner (tailback/linebacker), Colten Kruzel (wide receiver/free safety), Tren Dinius (slot/linebacker), Andy Nelson (center), Brock Cichon (defensive tackle) and Nick Frieler (cornerback) and junior Andrew Vodak (guard).
Seniors expected to vie for playing time are Grant Allen (guard/defensive end), Austin Jorgenson (guard/defensive tackle), Trevor Loxterkamp (wide receiver/free safety), Cory Wensmann (guard/defensive tackle) and Sam Lange (offensive line/defensive line).
Graduating from last year’s team were Derek Pfeiffer, Andrew Dubois, Josh Kircher, Tyler Zehrer, Aaron Cheney and Darin Gerads.
The Patriots are looking to be competitive in each game in a very tough conference, head coach Jay Loven said, with Barnesville being a heavy favorite in the North Division and Pierz in the section.
USA opens the season with a home game against New York Mills, Thursday, in Swanville.