Posted On: 08/22/18 10:40 PM

(Cover Photo: Matt Kane/Delano Herald-Journal)

1. Delano
2017 Record: 7-2, lost in Section Semifinal
Returning Starters: 13 (7 O, 6 D)

The Tigers are well-positioned for their first state tournament appearance since 2013 and first Prep Bowl berth in 15 years. Long-time coach Merrill Pavlovich welcomes back all five offensive linemen and leading rusher Sam Kern from last season’s 7-2 squad. Replacing the Mike Shoutz to-Calvin Wishart aerial connection will be difficult, but the talent at other position will keep Delano’s offense humming.

Six starters return on defense. Senior linebacker Caden Link and senior safety Ethan Quast are two players who will be counted on for production after the loss of standout linebacker Steve Hajas.

2. Orono
2017 Record: 6-5, lost in Section Final
Returning Starters: 11 (6 O, 5 D)

With one of the toughest schedules in Class AAAA, Orono won’t make it through the 2018 regular season without a loss. The Spartans will definitely be in the state tournament discussion in November, however, with a veteran offensive line and three-year starter under center.

Nick Prentice is the catalyst for the Spartans attack. The senior signalcaller has already thrown for around 3,894 yards and 26 touchdowns in his varsity career, earning All-District honors last fall.

Orono’s defense returns five starters, including three talented linebackers. Senior Sam Wagner-Lund was an All-Suburban District honorable mention player last season, while junior Bobby Striggow was the leading tackler. Senior Chad Mrachek (47 tackles, two TFL) is the other player in the strong trio at linebacker.

3. Becker
2017 Record: 7-5, lost in State Quarterfinal
Returning Starters: 13 (6 O, 7 D)

The Bulldogs were consistently inconsistent last fall, but 13 returning starters have Dwight Lundeen hoping there are fewer peaks-and-valleys in 2018.

Quarterback Josh Fobbe and lineman Brandon Gustafson are the big names on the Becker offense. Fobbe, a junior, is already entering his third year as varsity starter, while Gustafson is a highly-touted offensive line prospect at the Division-II level.

Becker’s defense welcomes back seven of 11 starters, including three underclassmen (Brayden Weber, Michael James, Austin Berning) who all averaged more than five tackles per game last season. Replacing Lucas Dertinger, who did a little bit of everything at linebacker, is the top priority entering the year.

4. Rocori
2017 Record: 10-1, lost in State Quarterfinal
Returning Starters: 6 (3 O, 3 D)

The Spartans were tasked with replacing a strong senior class and their head coach this offseason. Time will tell how the newcomers fare, but four-straight state tournament appearances have established Rocori as a force in Class AAAA.

Senior Matt Koshiol will lead the offense. The future North Dakota Fighting Hawk is entering his third year as a starter after gaining more than 2,000 rushing yards combined the past two seasons. Jack Steil is also back after platooning at quarterback for most of last season.

Steil is one of the few faces returning on defense too. Look for defensive lineman Isaac Massmann to help pick up the slack after losing a majority of the unit to graduation.

5. Hutchinson
2017 Record: 7-3, lost in Section Semifinals
Returning Starters: 12 (7 O, 5 D)

Hutch might have the most balanced lineup on both sides of the ball in the entire class.

The Tigers have an experienced quarterback (Lane Glaser), multiple returning offensive lineman including Brandon Yira and a work-horse running back (Josiah Nelson) on offense. The other side of the ball is made up of the 2017 leading tackler (Christian Kurth), a havoc-causing, LB/DE hybrid (Russell Corrigan) and defensive backs with good ball skills.

For the first time in three seasons, though, the Tigers are without Maguire Petersen. Petersen was their playmaker on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting to see if the collective sum will be greater than the parts this season. If it is, then don’t be surprised to see Hutchinson at U.S. Bank Stadium in November.