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2018 Preview: Is Somerset football the mystery team in the MBC?

Senior defensive end Nick Bushinger works on making a quick charge upfield in a drill during a Somerset football practice last week.1 / 2
Sophomore Tate Pitcher (24) is one of the halfbacks who is pushing for playing time this season.2 / 2

Everyone knows Jack Peterson.

But the rest of the Somerset football roster is something of a mystery to the Spartans’ Middle Border Conference opponents and the 2018 Spartans are just fine with that.

The Spartans are coming off of a 2-5 performance in the MBC last season. After the Spartans’ performance in their scrimmage last Friday at Rice Lake, Somerset’s coaches sound confident that Somerset can be a contender for a playoff berth this season.

If there’s one thing that’s immediately noticeable with the Spartans this season, it’s team speed. Hard work in the weight room and an infusion of younger talent has the Spartans looking like a faster, more aggressive team.

Peterson rushed for 1,378 yards from his fullback position last season, averaging 153 yards per game. He was also Somerset’s leading tackler. As a middle linebacker, there are few better at covering ground sideline-to-sideline.

Long-time Somerset coach Bruce Larson said that’s one of the strengths throughout the Spartan defense.

“Laterally we played well, even against Rice Lake,” he said. “We got good movement, but I think we can play even faster. It was a good starting point. The effort was really good.”

Larson said the other Spartans can’t expect Peterson to make all the plays, especially on defense. He said tackling still needs to improve, and the Spartans need a gang-tackling mentality to make sure they cut down on big plays. The 2017 Somerset defense was scorched by big plays. If the Spartans want to improve, taking away the big play is a quick start in that direction.

Joe Hutter takes over as defensive coordinator after Bob Seibel’s retirement. He echoed Larson’s plan for the defense.

“We’re going to play 100 miles per hour,” Hutter said. He said the team will continue to play the same double-flex defensive style, but Hutter hopes to run a few more stunts up front in hopes of disorienting the offensive line.

The defense is built for the linebackers to make tackles. That starts with Peterson, who is backed by sophomore Jack Gazdik and freshman Jack Casey. They’ve changed the name of the position from Mike linebacker to Jack linebacker.

Hunter Young and Caleb Getschel will see the majority of the time at noseguard, with Zach Lustig and Andrew Smith also in the mix. Ethan Wegscheider and Hayden Kelly will start as the flexes, with Mason Cook, Dylan Sayers and Jeremiah Richard as reserves. The Spartans will use a trio to handle the defensive end roles, between Nick Bushinger, Bailey Mullenberg and Cole Erickson.

Jared Grahovac will start at rover, backed by Riley McGurran. Spencer Sindt and Tate Pitcher are good options at strong safety. Will Piletich is back at free safety, backed by Jackson Cook and Carson Peterson.

The coaches are still trying to decide on who will be the cornerbacks. Ryan Kelly, David Ortega, Liam Salmon and Roy Hale are all under consideration.

Hutter said one of the things the coaches have been stressing on defense is communication.

Many of the players who hold key roles on the defense do the same on offense. Piletich saw extensive time at quarterback last season, ranking third on the team with 346 yards rushing. He’ll be backed by Ryan Kelly, Salmon and Trae Kreibich.

Peterson and Gazdik will be the fullbacks. Grahovac, Pitcher, Peterson, Hale, Sindt and McGurran make halfback a deep position. The outside receivers will be Ortega, Kreibich, Noah Sutherland and Henry Dendinger.

Young leads the offensive line, returning at center. Erickson and Getschel have taken hold of the guard positions, backed by Hayden Kelly and Smith. Wegscheider and Mullenberg are the starting tackles, with Tysen Wink, Mason Cook and Richard as other options. Bushinger and Sayers will handle tight end.

Coach Larson said the depth this year is much stronger, with the Spartans able to play 28 players in the scrimmage with little drop off in effectiveness.

Larson sounded optimistic that the Spartans can be more of a factor in the Middle Border Conference this season.

“(St. Croix) Central and New Richmond look good. Osceola has won conference the last three years. After that, it’s pretty much open to anybody,” Larson said.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

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