Warriors on the warpath?

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Any coach would love to have a bevy of starters back for another season, and Marion Warriors coach Grant Thierolf has that.

But he also knows last year’s experience won’t win this year’s games, particularly against a beefed-up slate that includes Hesston and Southeast of Saline.

“We’ve got a lot of experience back, but that experience has to get better,” Thierolf said. “A lot of this year is building on roles each player has and making certain that they do those jobs as well as they can possibly do them.”

The Warriors have depth, too, and that will pay dividends beyond having capable substitutes in games.

“When you have that depth you’re playing against better people every day in practice,” Thierolf said. “That should make us better.”

Depth is evident in the offensive line, where Thierolf expects eight or nine players to fill significant roles.

“Obviously, when kids are starters, those five kids are our best,” he said. “But we’ve got three kids who can play tackle, three kids who can play guard, and three kids who can play center. Four of our starters can play multiple positions.”

Heart of America league first-teamer Cade Harms, Tyler Palic, Jarod McClendon, and Jeremy Hett return from last year, joined by Nathan Baldwin, who was sidelined by injury last year after starting as a sophomore.

“When you bring back kids like that, it gives us some opportunities there.”

Garrett Hoffner will line up alongside them at tight end. He brings speed, good blocking, and good hands to the position, Thierolf said.

Depth is evident in the backfield, too.

At quarterback, junior Jack Schneider looks to step in again as starter, backed up by Corbin Wheeler and Chase Stringer.

Senior Aaron Riggs, coming off of HOA first-team honors last year, figures to get the lion’s share of carries at running back. Evan Heidebrecht, Peyton Heidebrecht, and Corbin Wheeler will likely see action in the backfield and at slot.

“Their job is to get better at blocking,” Thierolf said. “We didn’t block well on the perimeter last year. Those kids are working at it.”

Blocking topped the list of talents that Thierolf listed for wide receivers Mason Pedersen, Bryce Shutls, and Zachary Stuchlik, even though all three have good hands and run well after a catch.

That’s probably because Thierolf plans to stick with the run-oriented option offense that carried the team to a 7-2 record last year.

“We’re always going to be a run-based team,” he said.

Thierolf has a wealth of resources on defense as well.

“Our goal from a depth standpoint is to have five linemen that can play and rotate in, and we probably have six,” he said. “We have three inside and three outside linebackers who can rotate in. We probably have six defensive back who can play the four positions and perform at a varsity level.”

Individual stats take a back seat to players stepping up to fill the roles needed to win games, Thierolf said.

Austin Neufeld’s development as kickoff specialist over the off-season is a good example.

“He worked his tail off over the summer,” Thierolf said. “He really stepped up because he recognized that’s his role on the field. We’re going to have a kickoff team that’s championship quality if kids go down and cover, because Austin’s going to put the ball high and deep.”

The Warriors will need every edge they can get as they step back into Class 3A this year. In addition to a tough six-game HOA schedule, Marion drew Hesston, Southeast of Saline, and Hillsboro for district play.

“Obviously, with the experience we’re ahead of where we normally would be, and there’s no doubt we’re faster; we’ve got better team speed than we’ve ever had,” Thierolf said.

Practice has been good, however, there’s a question Thierolf won’t get an answer to until the Warriors line up for competition.

“I just want to see how tough this group is,” he said. “Football is not a nasty sport, but it’s a tough sport. When you get hit you’ve got to hit back, and you’ve got to want to hit back. It will be interesting to see how we do that.”

Last modified Sept. 1, 2016

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