Somerset football: From state champion to starting over
Winning the state championship in 2012 one of the greatest moments in Somerset football history.
But with one starter returning from the state championship team, there are no guarantees for the 2013 Spartans.
The challenge for the team is compounded by a grueling opening third of the schedule. Somerset opens the season this Friday at home against Bloomer, an opponent the Spartans beat on their way to the state championship game last season. Their second non-conference opponent is Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau, a consistent power from the Coulee region. The Spartans open the Middle Border Conference season in the third week against Osceola, who many coaches are picking as the favorite to win the conference title this season.
“Our first three games are pretty intense,” said Somerset coach Bruce Larson. “Most people think Bloomer is the best smaller school team in the area. We’ll get tested early and often. If we can survive the first three weeks, we’ll pick up the pieces and be respectable.”
Though the Spartans have just one starter returning, he’s one special returner. It’s easy to make the case that senior tight end Gaelin Elmore is the best returning player in the conference. The Minnesota Gophers certainly think so. Elmore was courted by a number of major college football programs in the off-season before accepting the scholarship offer from the Gophers.
Elmore was also a starter on defense last season, but he will move from middle linebacker to defensive end, which is a better fit for his skills.
Taking over at middle linebacker on defense is junior Max Praschak. Praschak will also take over one of the most important roles in the Spartan offense as the team’s fullback. Praschak has seen extensive playing time in both roles over the past two seasons.
The Spartan program has been successful for so long because there are always players groomed to take over positions when their opportunity comes. Quarterback is one of those positions. Senior Adam Marty and junior Reed Baillargeon have been understudies for several years. Marty has been getting the majority of the pre-season snaps, but Baillargeon has proven equally capable.
“I don’t think you can go wrong with either one,” Larson said. “They both listen. They’re both good leaders, both are captains.”
Sophomore Max Becher moves into the understudy role. Junior Jon Sullivan has also seen some time at quarterback, but the coaches are looking to move him to halfback or receiver to get his athletic ability on the field.
Praschak takes over at fullback, with Brody Penman as the second option. Fred Mangine, Harrison Kern and Jake Rosentreter make this a deep position.
There is also a great deal depth at halfback. Penman, Bailey White, Aaron Moore, Mitchell Foster, Dallas Johnson, Andrew King and Sam Schoenborn could play there. Coach Larson said the halfbacks right now are better at carrying the ball than blocking. The players who improve their blocking could see the most game time.
Rebuilding the offensive line will be a necessity for the team to reach its goals. Cole Martinson is the leading candidate to play center, with Ryan Miller, David Richard and Dalton LaVenture as other options.
There are three good options for the two starting guard positions with Richard, Colton Brown and Seth Hunt all showing they can handle the job. Reserves are Dalton Lyons, Mike Piletich and Joey Belisle.
Dalton Johnston has taken the lead in the competition for the left tackle position. Austin Harty and Henry Francis are battling for the right tackle job. Lyons and Andrew Thurmes are also options at tackle.
Elmore returns at one tight end. Tyler Lueck gives the Spartans another big option when they go to the two-tight end formation.
Billy Kieckhoefer has taken the lead for the split end position. Lueck is also pushing for time here. Sullivan, Heaven Hunt, Angel Perez and Marshall Rinartz are also possibilities. Grant Hecht missed the first two weeks of practice coming back from a broken arm.
The Spartans are running the same option-based offense they have in past years. They are also continuing the use of the flex-based defense.
Elmore will man one defensive end, with Johnston as the other end. They are part of a tall, rangy front wall for the Spartans. Martinson, Jake Sporleder, Belisle and Austin Grolieu are in reserve.
Richard, Lueck and Harty will rotate at the two flex positions in the line, with Lyons as their backup. Brown has been one of the surprises in winning the nose tackle job, with Francis also able to play there.
Praschak will see most of the time as the middle linebacker. Penman and Baillargeon have nailed down the outside linebacker positions, with Moore and White as their primary reserves. It’s another position where there’s good depth.
Hunt and White are competing for the free safety position. The coaches are having the linebackers and free safeties learning multiple positions to give the team more options.
Sullivan and Marty are the leading contenders for the two cornerback roles. Schoenborn could contend, but he’s been hampered by shin splints through most of the preseason.
Defensive coordinator Bob Seibel said his squad has excellent team speed and they pursue the ball well. His main concern is stopping teams that try to pound the ball between the tackles.
With such a major transition on both sides of the ball, Coach Larson is trying to keep his enthusiasm in check. He said he was pleased with how the team performed in last Friday’s scrimmage at Rice Lake.
“I didn’t know what to expect, we’re replacing so many guys,” Larson said. “For us to be where we are, we’ve done a good job.”
With 68 players out for the team, the Spartans sport one of the largest rosters in the conference. Still, Larson isn’t taking anything for granted in the race for the conference title.
“If we can finish in the top four (in the conference) and make the playoffs, that’ll be a good year,” Larson said.