Posted On: 08/28/18 3:40 AM

(Cover Photo: Jerry Holt/Minneapolis StarTribune)

1. Caledonia
2017 Record: 13-0, won Prep Bowl
Returning Starters: 7 (3 O, 4 D)

Caledonia has a chance to make history this season with another Class AA title. The Warriors would join Mahnomen (1990-93) and Eden Prairie (2011-14) as the only programs to win four-consecutive state championships in 11-man football.

The road to history at U.S. Bank Stadium will be much tougher than in recent seasons. The Warriors return just seven total starters from last year’s crew and one of them isn’t Owen King, who went undefeated as a starting quarterback (41-0).  King’s younger brother, Noah, takes over under center and Carl Fruechte said, “he looks good, great leadership.”

RB/LB Nick McCabe and WR/LB Tate Meiners will be the best playmakers on both sides of the ball, but line play is a concern entering the season. Will the younger King, McCabe and others be able to keep Caledonia at the top?

2. Minneapolis North
2017 Record: 10-1, lost in State Quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 11 (7 O, 4 D)

The high-flying Polars will be lighting up scoreboard across the state again this fall. They return seven starters from an offense that averaged almost 43 points per game, led by Omar Brown and Nasir El-Amin — two of the best skill players in the state. Both earned All-Twin City District honors in 2017.

Quarterback Ar’mon Dalton and running back Kehyan Porter also return, along with two offensive linemen.

Charles Adams’ defense will be a little less experienced, but still extremely stingy. Brown, El-Amin and Porter will starter in the back seven on that side of the ball, while Jeremiah Stewart is the lone returning player in the trenches.

3. Pipestone Area
2017 Record: 12-2, lost in Prep Bowl
Returning Starters: 16 (8 O, 8 D)

With multiple All-District players returning on both sides of the ball, the Arrows have a great chance to return to the Prep Bowl this season.

Quarterback Cody Thompson is back after tossing 23 touchdowns. Two of his main, and speedy, targets return as well in Braeden Rieck (41 receptions) and Carter Nesvold (21.6 yards per catch in 2017). Tight end Chris Najera will move inside to guard to bolster the offensive line, while one of last year’s linemen, Matt Enger, moves to running back.

Najera and Enger will anchor the front seven defensively from the linebacker and tackle positions, respectively, while Rieck will be the leader in the secondary after grabbing 10 interceptions last fall. Is this the group that finally gets Clay Anderson his first state championship?

4. Hawley
2017 Record: 10-1, lost in Section Finals
Returning Starters: 13 (7 O, 6 D)

The Nuggets were poised to get back to the state tournament last season, starting with 10 straight wins, but were upset by Barnesville in an epic section final. Needless to say, there’s some unfinished business off Highway 10 in Hawley.

13 starters are back from last fall, including signal caller Jacob Vetter, who holds multiple Division-II scholarship offers. Vetter was injured in that section final loss and will not start the season at quarterback. Senior Chase Libak moves into the position from receiver for at least the first couple weeks, which shouldn’t hurt anything but the offensive depth.

Noah Glad will be the top receiver until Libak returns to the receiving corp and junior tight end Matt Thompson is also a pass-catching threat. On defense, linebacker Gunnar Larson is the team’s top returning tackler.

5. Paynesville Area
2017 Record: 9-3, lost in State Semifinals
Returning Starters: 12 (6 O, 6 D)

It was feast or famine for the Bulldogs last year and with a dozen starters returning, it could be more of the same in 2018. They didn’t play a game that was decided by less than 10 points last season and played in only one that was within 20 at the final whistle. Their three losses were by a combined 112 points, two of which came to eventual state champions Pierz and Caledonia … strange to say the least.

What wasn’t strange? The production of Zach Schroeder. Schroeder averaged 125 combined yards of rushing and receiving in his junior season – one that ended with him being named the Mid-State Subdistrict Receiver of the Year. He should excel again with All-District quarterback Max Weidner under center.

Schroeder will lead the Paynesville defense too after posting 90 tackles last fall. Senior lineman Trevor Hemmesch will pace the unit up front.