All-area football team dominated with linemen, seniors
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
For the Spartans, Tigers and Evergreens, the 2011 football season was one to remember.
The Tigers started out their season hampered by injuries but then finished out their conference schedule with three straight wins to qualify for the playoff for the third straight year.
Superior got off to its best start since 2007 by opening the season with three straight wins, and the Spartans return a strong junior class looking to add even more wins next season.
The Evergreens had their best season since 1981, when the team won the Lakeland Conference title. Northwood-Solon Springs finished with an 8-2 record this year, rushing for 3,599 yards as a team and holding opponents to an average of 11.4 points per game.
The Tigers and Evergreens also saw a few individual record-setting performances.
Justin Alexson set two new offensive marks at Northwestern High School, despite starting the year with a focus on defense.
Phil Larson set a new single-game touchdown record for the Evergreens, and he and fellow senior Josh Malone became the first two players in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
“In an offense that uses four running backs very heavily, Josh and Phil could have run for more,” Evergreen coach Brian Trettin said. “But in our scheme they were phenomenal. It was hard for a defense to key just on one guy.”
Joining Player of the Year Justin Alexson on this year’s Superior Telegram All-Area Football team are four Evergreens, four Spartans and three Tigers.
Also nominated were Northwood-Solon Springs seniors Brian Flamang and Leonardo Alcantar; Superior seniors Garrett Franik and Colton Lorenz; and Northwestern junior Johnny Parkins.
Ben Erickson knows where the weight room is, and the junior made good use of his strength training on defense for the Spartans this year.
“Ben is a throwback type player who plays every play like it’s his last,” said Spartan coach Bob DeMeyer.
Erickson, a junior, led Superior in tackles this season with 82 total. He also had two tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one interception.
“Ben is a ball hawk, playing from sideline to sideline and making tackles at the line of scrimmage,” DeMeyer said. “With his physical style of play, toughness and intensity, he was the leader of our defense. His teammates have tremendous respect for him because of his dedication and effort and helping his team succeed.”
Erickson started at safety for the Spartans for the second straight season and earned second team Lake Superior Conference All-Conference honors.
Northwood-Solon Springs will lose an amazingly strong senior class this season, but the Evergreens are counting on juniors like Gage Harwick to keep the team afloat next year.
“Gage is one of the smartest offensive linemen I have had the privilege of being around,” Trettin said. “He made a lot of our calls with Mike Meyer.”
Harwick was honorable mention as both an offensive and defensive lineman this year on the Small Lakeland All-Conference team.
He averaged 2.7 pancake blocks per game on offense.
Defensively, Harwick had 42 total tackles — 15 solo, 27 assists — one batted ball and one forced fumble.
“Gage drew a lot of doubles teams this year that allowed our linebackers to make a lot of plays,” Trettin said. “Gage has a football mind, and a football body. Gage is a one-man wrecking crew.”
Trettin said Harwick has the potential to draw interest from Division II schools, and the first-year coach looks forward to having Harwick back with the Evergreens next year.
At the start of the season, NHS coach Dennis Scherz talked about the work his players had done in the weight room. A number of Tigers had made their way into Northwestern’s 1,000 pound club, including senior Paul Langford.
“He is a very smart young man,” Scherz said. “A great combination for a great offensive line — smart and athletic.”
Langford, an offensive guard and linebacker, was named to the Heart O’ North All-Conference second team this year on offense and received the Tigers “Bandit of the Year” award. He also acted as one of Northwestern’s team captains this season.
Scherz called Langford a “very athletic pulling guard,” and said the senior’s efforts on the offensive line were one reason Northwestern was able to rush for 3,000 yards this season.
Whenever the Evergreens needed a breakaway run or just a few yards for a first down, quarterback Phil Larson was always happy to oblige.
“Phil was always first in line no matter what the situation was,” Trettin said. “He is exactly what a coach is looking for in a captain.”
Larson never missed a weight lifting session, team camp day or a practice, Trettin said, and the senior was on the field for nearly every play.
At quarterback, Larson was 20-of-35 for 345 yards and seven touchdowns. He was second on the team in rushing with 1,055 yards on 121 attempts. Larson also set a new school record for single-game rushing touchdowns with six and finished the year with 17 rushing TDs.
“It is hard to pick up on the option in your first year, and Phil did a great job of learning our scheme,” Trettin said. “He is an extremely gifted athlete, but even a better person.”
Larson also split time as the team’s extra-point kicker and regular kickoff guy, finishing with seven extra-point kicks.
On defense, Larson had 40.5 total tackles, five interceptions, eight batted balls, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Larson was named to the Small Lakeland All-Conference first team offense as a quarterback and first team defense as a defensive back.
On both sides of the ball, Josh Malone was a leader for the Evergreens.
He led the team in yards rushing on offense, and on defense he ranked first in total tackles.
“Josh is a very talented football player, but he is also one of the hardest working kids I have ever been around,” Trettin said. “He never missed a summer weight-lifting session, team camp day or a practice all year. He was always there to encourage his teammates to get better.”
Malone, a team captain, finished the year with 1,313 yards rushing on 111 attempts at running back. He had 13 rushing touchdowns and added four more receiving. He also ran back one kickoff return for a touchdown.
On defense, Malone was the player to take down an opponent more often than not.
He had 111.5 total tackle — 94 solo, 17.5 assists — 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Malone also added five batted passes, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
“He was the most explosive and hardest hitter in our conference,” Trettin said.
Malone earned Small Lakeland All-Conference first team honors on both defense and offense, making the cut at both running back and linebacker.
As a lineman, Mike Meyer did a lot of work with very little glory this year.
Trettin said Meyer played with a “Brian Urlacher mentality” and showed up for every practice ready to work.
The senior captain moved from tackle to center and anchored an offensive line that opened holes for a team that rushed for 3,599 yards and scored 314 points. Trettin said Meyer set the Evergreens’ offensive blocking scheme calls on every play and averaged five pancake blocks on offense.
“Mike is a four-year starter and letter-winner for the Evergreens,” Trettin said. “Mike put in a ton of time in the weight room to get stronger and faster this summer.”
Defensively, Meyer was third on the team in total tackles with 45.5 — 30 solo, 15.5 assists. He finished the season with three sacks, eight tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“He played on the opponents strong side the majority of the time,” Trettin said.
Meyer was named Small Lakeland All-Conference first team as both an offensive and a defensive lineman.
He also served as the Evergreens’ punter and averaged 54.6 yards per punt.
Jake Moniot was the Tigers big man on the line this year.
Coach Scherz said the offensive lineman was affectionately known as “Big Country” and put up a block that left opponents flummoxed.
“Jake is very athletic for a big guy,” Scherz said. “He worked hard for four years to become an outstanding lineman.”
Moniot’s work in the weight room earned him recognition in the Tigers’ 1,000-pound club and he also earned the team’s outstanding lineman award.
The senior was named to the HON All-Conference team as an honorable mention selection.
Like his other senior teammates on the offensive line, Jake Nelson gave the Tigers a chance to start their offense thanks to his physical play and ability to open holes in the defense.
“Jake is quick and strong — a very explosive offensive lineman,” Scherz said.
Nelson received the Tigers’ outstanding lineman award and was named to the HON All-Conference first team as an offensive guard. He was also member to the 1,000 pound club and played on both sides of the ball, as an offensive guard and defensive tackle.
“Jake is a very physical kid who understands how the game is meant to be played,” Scherz said. “He played hard every down and led by example.”
Senior Justin O’Connell, anchored Superior’s offensive line at center this season.
“He was often matched up with larger defensive linemen, always finding a way to win the battles inside,” DeMeyer said.
DeMeyer also praised the senior’s toughness, blocking technique and accuracy in the Spartans’ shotgun formation, especially coming off an injury last season.
“He is extremely sound in terms of technique and moves very well,” DeMeyer said. “After missing all of last season with an injury, Justin dedicated himself to the weight room, rehabbing his injury and earning a starting position.”
O’Connell was named to the LSC All-Conference second team this season.
Late last season, Spencer Urban earned a starting role at quarterback. He came into his junior year this season with that experience to build upon, and looking ahead to next year, DeMeyer expects big things from Urban.
“In my opinion, Spencer has more ability as a quarterback than anyone in our league,” DeMeyer said. “His size, strength and athletic ability are exactly what we look for in our quarterbacks. Spencer has very good mechanics, accuracy and a great grasp on our scheme. We’re very confident that after another off-season of competing as a multi-sport athlete, attending camps and combines and working in the weight room, he’ll be very confident coming into his senior season.”
Urban led the team in total yards of offense this year with 1,186 yards (131.8 per game). He had 864 yards passing with seven TDs and also added 322 yards rushing.
Another junior the Spartans are counting on for 2012 is defensive end Anthony Valentine
“Anthony is another two-year starter and one of the better athletes in the Big Rivers Conference,” DeMeyer said. “He earned second team (all-conference) recognition and will only continue to get better through his winter and spring sports and getting bigger, faster and stronger for his senior season.”
Valentine had 55 total tackles this season, including 12.5 for a loss. The junior added 7.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.
“Anthony literally could shut down one side of the field, as teams would often avoid running his way,” DeMeyer said. “He is an incredible pass rusher, using his speed and quickness. He’s already received interest from several college teams, and this will increase through the offseason as he attends camps and combines.”
Valentine also assumed kicking duties for the Spartans, averaging 32.7 yards yards on kickoffs and29.2 yards on punts.