In his 27th season as head football coach of Marion High School, Grant Thierolf certainly knows what he’s doing. Thierolf’s chief concern is that a lot of his kids don’t — yet.
Coming off a 9-2 season with a senior-led squad, Thierolf knows this year’s Warriors will be a different team.
“Last year we were ready to play a game after two weeks of practice,” he said. “This year we’re going to be ready to play a game after our second or third game.”
With a new, younger roster featuring just 13 upperclassmen, Thierolf has placed a greater emphasis on offseason training.
“They weren’t as strong or fast as they needed to be (entering the summer), but this group’s really worked hard,” he said. “Our strength numbers increased tremendously.”
Thierolf said the team’s conditioning has similarly improved.
Though the roster overall is smaller than last year, the team’s leaders lay a foundation of grit. Kyle Palic, an all-state linebacker from last season, and Adam Janzen, an all-league fullback, will factor prominently into team leadership roles. Thierolf cited Seth Snelling and Jacob Baldwin as other leaders among a senior class of nine that will be expected to elevate their play.
“We have to look at the strengths we have and what our kids do well, and then play to those strengths,” Thierolf said.
As opposed to the 2013 Warriors, who “could line it up and just run down the front of any defense,” as Thierolf said, this year’s offensive line isn’t as big or experienced.
Thierolf added that the Warriors may be faster in some positions. Part of that speed might come with being smaller and younger.
“We’ve started one freshman here in 27 years, and we may end up starting three of them,” he said. “We’ll start some sophomores undoubtedly.”
What may help Marion balance the loss of 14 seniors from a competitive standpoint is the switch from class 3A to 2A; Marion will drop to 2A for the first time since 1991. Thierolf said the change was likely a one-year anomaly.
Because of the drop, Marion will play just three teams from its 2013 schedule. One of the three, Moundridge, will open the season against Marion on Sept. 5. Marion follows that game with a rematch of last year’s regional playoff against Hutchinson Trinity Catholic. The team that accounted for both Warriors losses last season, Sedgwick, is not on the schedule this season.
Thierolf looks forward to developing his team.
“Our kids don’t have the repetitions yet,” he said. “Once they get ‘em we’re gonna be OK. I like this group. They’re gonna be a fun group. They’re very coachable, and there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll play hard for us.”