2012 record: 8-2
By PATRICK SLACK
The Pierz football team will have to overcome a couple of new numbers this fall.
One will be a new section alignment, as the Pioneers move up from the class they won the 2004 state championship in to Class AAA.
Another number, though, looms much larger: 3,100.
That number, the career rushing total departed All-State running back Josh Lanners surpassed, represents a massive hole to fill if the Pierz offense is to continue its tradition of rushing prowess coming off an 8-2 season.
“It’s tough, no doubt about it,” head coach Leo Pohlkamp said. “We always say, ‘You can’t look back, you can’t redshirt them.’ We’re replacing some good linemen too.”
Pierz won’t look to try to close the gap with just one primary back, rather rotating in three experienced ball carriers.
“We have some capable backs – (senior) Tyler Millner, (senior) Nathan Athman and (junior) Robbie Skiba are all capable,” Pohlkamp said. “We always hope to establish the running game first and then we go from there.
“Teams that go far in the playoffs are teams that can run the ball first and then be able to throw the ball when you want to, not need to,” he said. “We’re not a team that’s going to come out and throw the ball 40 times a game. That’s just not Pierz football.”
Pierz has to replace last year’s starting quarterback Ben Boser as well, with senior Mackenzie Gruber and junior Ethan Lochner each getting a look at the spot.
While the Pioneers offense leans heavily on the run, it also relies on mixing in occasional play-action passes to take advantage of opponents that crowd the box defensively.
“We’ve been very successful with play-action passes,” Pohlkamp said. “You get the running game going, that opens up receivers. That’s our philosophy in Pierz: you have to be able to run the ball and then mix in the pass to be successful.”
As far as its own defense is concerned, Pierz will turn to senior Andy Kapsner with Lanners no longer in the mix at middle linebacker.
“People don’t realize, as good as (Lanners) was on offense, he was a tremendous tackler,” Pohlkamp said. “He was our defensive leader. The other guy with him was Andy Kapsner. Now he’s a senior and has some experience. Hopefully we’ll look to him to be a guy who is going to step up and make plays for us.”
In addition to lining up in the backfield on offense, Millner and Skiba return as starting defensive backs, and Athman will again start on the interior of the defensive line.
Senior Curtis Brisk (offensive/defensive line) and Gruber (linebacker) also started for the Pioneers a year ago.
Looking to fill the gaps left by last year’s 14 graduates are seniors Ryley Smude (center/defensive tackle), Austin Hoheisel (guard/defensive end), Andy Charnley (offensive tackle/defensive tackle), Chris Ortman (wide receiver/defensive back) and Evan Woitalla (wide receiver/defensive back) and juniors Beau Winscher (tight end/linebacker), Austin Gall (tight end/defensive end) and Lochner (quarterback/defensive end).
Pierz will need all of the depth it can get as it embarks upon its first season as one of the smallest schools in Class AAA.
“We’ve competed in AA all these years and we were kind of surprised,” Pohlkamp said. “We’re going to be a small AAA, but if we can do what we’re capable of doing, I think we can compete at AAA. There were a lot of times that we felt we could’ve played in AAA and made it to state too.”
First things first, Pierz will try to reclaim its perch atop the Central Minnesota Conference, a spot it relinquished last year to Holdingford.
Then it will be time to focus on a new array of section foes, which will include Aitkin, Foley, Milaca, Mora, Pine City and St. Cloud Cathedral.
“Foley has a lot of good kids coming back, (St. Cloud) Cathedral’s got a good quarterback coming back, (Jeff) Fasching, so they’re going to be good too,” Pohlkamp said. “We hope we’re going to be in the mix with them at the end of the year, we’ve just got to get some experience for these kids.”
“We’re excited about what we have here and the attitude of the kids is good,” he said. “These kids have been waiting for their turn and now we’re going to step in and hopefully do well.”
Pierz opens the season at home against Milaca, Thursday.