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Paynesville Press - August 27, 2003

Young football team to face new playoff section

By Michael Jacobson

A year ago, the Paynesville football team had its entire starting backfield returning to the gridiron, but had lost virtually its entire offensive line to graduation.

Then, with a rebuilt line, the team broke five school offensive records last fall, including most rushing yards in a game (503 versus Morris).

Now, this fall, the Bulldogs return most of their offensive line - expected to be one of the strengths of the team - but lost all its backs, including Milan Virant, who set new school rushing records for a single game (310 yards), for a season (1,203 yards), and for a career (2,569 yards).

"This year, we've got our line back - four out of five starters - and not one backfield starter," said coach Kyle Nehowig.

Returning starters along the offensive line are junior left tackle Josh Binsfeld, junior left guard Justin Butkofski, senior right guard Jon Scheierl, and senior right tackle Derek Burris. The Bulldogs lost center Brad Person to graduation, with senior Bob O'Fallon and junior Cody Flanders expected to start in his place, said Nehowig.

The play of the offensive line was one of the highlights for the team at a preseason scrimmage at Benson on Saturday, where the Bulldogs played against KMS, MACCRAY, and Yellow Medicine East, said Nehowig.

The Bulldogs did stay healthy at the scrimmage, not sufffering an injury for the first time in several years, according to Nehowig. In 2002, injuries hit the Bulldogs hard. Four Bulldogs played quarterback at different points during the season.

Those injuries did provide an opportunity for some players to gain varsity experience last year. This year, the team should have depth, if not experience, at the skill positions, said Nehowig.

At quarterback, sophomore Jamie Paul is expected to start, and sophomore Sean Glenz is also expected to see action. While their experienced offensive line should help their running game, the team may look to throw the ball more this fall. "Every year, we say we're going to pass more and we struggle. But we've thrown better this year in practice," said Nehowig.

At running back, junior fullback Mike Mueller and junior tailback Brandon Berg saw some action last year with the varsity lineup. Other running backs are junior Eric Hansen, sophomore John Hemingson, and ninth grader Randy Leyendecker, who Nehowig said is the fastest player on the team.

Especially at the start of the season, the coaches plan to rotate backs, in part because these players are also going to have to play elsewhere, especially on defense, where the Bulldogs return only three starters: Burris at defensive tackle, Mueller at linebacker, and Berg at cornerback.

As inexperienced as the team is on offense, they are younger on defense, said Nehowig. The team has seven seniors and 33 players in grades 10-12, with the bulk being sophomores, who were undefeated in the conference last year as ninth graders.

While the coaches expect some growing pains with a young team, by the time the conference schedule and the section playoffs come around, they hope to be competitive and to win their share of games.

Their season starts on Friday with an afternoon game against St. Cloud Cathedral at the famed outdoor stadium (with new turf) at St. John's University. Then the Bulldogs play at New London-Spicer before hosting state-power Albany (who eliminated the Dogs from the section playoffs last year 35-0) on Friday, Sept. 12.

The Dogs' conference schedule starts on Friday, Sept. 19, at Montevideo. While Paynesville returns the fewest starters in their half of the conference (Benson, LPGE, Lac Qui Parle Valley, Montevideo, and Morris), the conference should be up for grabs, said Nehowig, who will be assisted once again by Ron Fuchs, Tim Woehler, and Jerry Hunt.

The Bulldogs used to have to face Albany, Melrose, and Sauk Centre in their conference, a prospect that would be daunting this year with only seven seniors and only a handful of returning starters. On top of that, the Dogs used to have to face those teams in the section playoffs, too, which made hosting a first-round game hard and winning even one game difficult.

This year, though, Paynesville has dropped to Class AA football, according to the enrollment cutoffs released last spring by the Minnesota State High School League. With 304 students in the top three grades, Paynesville is now in Class AA (212-325) instead of Class AAA (326-549).

Now, instead of being one of the smallest Class AAA schools in the state, Paynesville will be one of the bigger Class AA schools.

In football, the Bulldogs' new section is Section 5AA, which also includes ACGC, Eden Valley-Watkins, Holdingford, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Kimball, Maple Lake, and Norwood-Young America. In this section (where the Bulldogs will compete for at least the next two seasons), it should be possible to host a playoff game and make a serious run in the playoffs, said Nehowig.

Whether the young Bulldogs can do so this year remains to be seen and depends on how they improve during the course of their season.

Varsity Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 29 Cathedral at St. John's 1:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 at New London-Spicer 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12 Albany 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 19 at Montevideo 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 at Benson 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 LPGE 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 Lac Qui Parle Valley 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15 Morris 7:30 p.m.

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