Evergreens begin season with new coach, young roster
For the third time in three years, the Northwood-Solon Springs football team is starting the season with a new coach.
Matt Hager takes over the reins this year after serving as an assistant coach last season under Brian Amys.
“I’m excited to get this opportunity,” Hager said. “I’ve known these kids for a year now and it’s really cool to see them develop.”
Northwood-Solon Springs saw a small increase in player turnout with 29 players on the roster this year. The team remains very young, but Hager sees a bright future ahead.
“The thing I’m really impressed with is a nice-sized freshman class that we’re going to be able to develop,” Hager said.
The team also has good numbers in the junior and sophomore class, Hager said, which will help the Evergreens as they look to move up in the Lakeland 8-Man Conference.
With only four seniors on the 2014 roster, the Evergreens are very young again this year.
They’ll be even younger for the first few weeks of the season as they wait for running back Mason Barth to recover from an injury.
“It’s actually still a basketball injury where he broke his foot, and things kind of flared up again in the summer after playing baseball,” Hager said. “He’ll be playing tailback for us once he gets healed up a little bit.”
Barth, a senior, was Northwood-Solon Springs’ top rusher last season with 1,203 yards. He missed the last game of the football season with a leg injury and then suffered a foot injury during the winter that kept him sidelined for most of the basketball season.
“He’s injury prone,” joked Kacey Block, returning at fullback. “But he’ll be back, maybe mid-September.”
Rounding out the senior class with Block and Barth are lineman Ethan Luedtke and wide receiver Brady Vig.
Junior Matt Benson returns at quarterback, and a trio of sophomores are expected to make an impact — Walker Grenier and Randy Fosberg at running back and Dustin Sohn at tight end. On the line, junior Ryan Hill will take over at center.
“We’ve got a lot of team speed and a lot of good athleticism, but unlike other teams in the conference we kind of lack the size,” Hager said. “So we’ll be trying to exploit our speed, exploit our athleticism rather than trying to ground and pound.”
To take advantage of their strong points, the Evergreens are introducing a new offense this season. It will feature significantly more passing and fewer option plays.
“Last year we were an option-run team, this year we’re more shotgun,” Benson said.
“It was tighter last year because we had bigger guys for blocking and running,” Vig said. “Now we’ve got it kind of spread out.”
Conditioning will also be a key to success for Northwood-Solon Springs.
Luedtke said the team has been working hard in practice to build stamina and hopes to see a payoff when the season starts.
“We have to make it into the fourth quarter; we have to play an entire game this year,” he said.
“When someone breaks your line in eight-man, there’s not a whole lot of second level,” Hager said.
That led to some very high-scoring games for Northwood-Solon Springs last season, but this year the Evergreens are making some changes.
Hager said the team has abandoned last year’s defensive scheme — a 3-4 setup with a corner. Instead, the Evergreen are going with a 3-3-1-1 set, adding a safety as a last line of defense.
“There still might be those big plays, but instead of them going for a touchdown, can we stop them for a gain of 20 or a gain of 30?” Hager said. “And what we’re really emphasizing in practice right now is trying to create turnovers.”
The Lakeland 8-Man Conference has a new member this year with Mellen, but last year’s favorites — Prairie Farm and Luck — are expected to dominate once again.
“Last year we were kind of that bottom middle,” Hager said. “We had some really good games but then there was the Lucks and the Prairie Farms that really kind of handed it to us.
“Obviously teams like Luck and Prairie Farm have a huge buy in and they have stability there, and I think that’s part of the importance of it.”
But both teams did lose key seniors, Hager said, which could open the door for teams like Northwood-Solon Springs.
“We’ve got a senior class and a group of young guys who have game experience, so it’s tough for me to put a gauge on things, but I’m pretty optimistic about what we can do this year.”
2014 Football Roster
4. Brandon Daleiden QB/DB
9. Randy Fosberg RB/WR/DB
10. Kacey Block RB/LB
11/1. Mason Barth RB/DB
12. Matt Benson QB/DB
20. Hunter Almer RB/LB
22. Travis Rosin TE/LB
23. Tommy Androsky RB/DB
27. Lucas Conner RB/TE/LB
30. James Downs RB/TE/LB
32. Walker Grenier RB/DL/LB
33. Brady Vig WR/DB
37. Elijah Volz RB/LB
39/21. Corey Pajtash RB/WR/DB
40. Evyn Volz OL/LB
53. Jacob Gabriel TE/DL
49. Ryan Hill OL/DL
52. Brody Waggoner TE/LB
56. Noah Miller OL/LB
57. Connor WR/DB
62. Elliot Luedtke WR/LB
63. Derek Fouks OL/DL
64. Randall Mays OL/DL
65. Ethan Skaggs OL/DL
66. Luke Nickell OL/DL
76/72. Ryan Volz OL/DL
77. Ethan Luedtke OL/DL
82. Jase Kuffel RB/WR/LB
83. Dustin Sohn TE/DL
Sat., Aug. 23 home vs. Prairie Farm (at Rice Lake), 1 p.m.
Fri., Aug. 29 at New Auburn, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 5 home vs. Mellen, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 12 at Winter, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 19 home vs. Bruce, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 26 at Siren, 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 4 at Mesabi Academy (at Buhl, Minn.), 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 home vs. Luck, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 17 at Birchwood, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24—vs. Luck (NC) L, 64-14
Aug. 30— vs. Mesabi Acad. W, 66-24
Sept. 6— vs. Prairie Farm. L, 86-12
Sept. 13— vs. Winter W, 48-8
Sept. 20—at Siren L, 56-18
Sept. 27—vs. New Auburn L, 58-44
Oct. 4—at Bruce L, 61-28
Oct. 11— vs. Birchwood W, 62-40
Oct. 18—at Luck L, 64-22
Lakeland 8-Man Conference
2013 Regular Season Results
Prairie Farm (8-0) 7-0
Luck (7-2) 6-1
Bruce (7-2) 5-2
Siren (5-4) 4-3
New Auburn (4-4) 3-4
Northwood (3-6) 2-5
Birchwood (2-7) 1-6
Winter (1-8) 0-7