by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The Central High School football is looking to build off a surprising win at the end of last season and carry that into this year.
The 2012 Raiders finished 2-8 but upset Watertown in the playoffs, 13-8, before losing to Jordan.
Ninth-year head coach Paul Henn said the win against Watertown was huge for his team this year as it shows they can win.
“Watertown was a solid football team last year,” said Henn. “They’re going to be a solid football team this year. It was just a case where we came out and, on that night, we didn’t make mistakes and did enough to figure out how to win that football game. I think that was good momentum to carry over into this year.”
Henn said his team made big strides last year in staying competitive in games.
“We were young and we were learning to win,” he said. “What we hope is that we go from competitive and in football games to winning more football games this year.”
While the Raiders lost 13 seniors to graduation last year they return several kids in skill positions including junior quarterback Isaac Hormann, junior running back Noah Peterson and senior wide receiver/ defensive back Casey Clemensen.
“We have our leading passer, rusher and receiver back,” said Henn. “We feel like we have a lot of skill depth. If we can find a way to get an offensive line that has some consistency, that can work together and get after it we feel like we have the skill kids in place that can really do some things.”
Hormann completed over 50 percent of his pass attempts (80-150) for 969 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Peterson was named to the Minnesota River Conference all-conference team as he rushed for 1,027 yards and was named the team MVP.
Clemensen caught 32 balls for 251 yards and was named the teams defensive MVP.
“Casey Clemensen, one of our captains, played middle linebacker for us at the end of the year,” said Henn. “He’s as solid as there is in the conference. We think he’s going to have a pretty good year on both sides of the ball.”
In addition to Clemensen, other captains include seniors Brandon Fabel, Mitchell Kells and Derrick Tellers.
Other seniors include Alex Eichner, Jacob Fuhrman, Cody Milbrett, Jared Wickenhauser, Alex Meeker and Dillon Rolf.
“We got a nice group of core senior kids that are back that are working hard and ready to play,” said Henn. “It always helps to bring back players. Last year was a lot of teaching. This year we can kind of get into things and we don’t have to over-teach everything all over again.”
One area of concern is the lines as Fabel is one of the lone returners to the line.
“We’re looking really hard at who is going to fill those spots, because those are going to be the most important spots that we have,” said Henn. “If we want to get anything done we want to get it done up front both ways… and kind of take it from there.”
Junior Tanner Hoen figures to be one of the additions to the offensive line.
“He played a little bit last year,” said Henn. “Everyone else is a little new straight down to the tight ends. We’re out here competing for spots and kids are out here competing for spots and were going to try to put our five best kids that we can up front and our four best kids up front on defense and see how it goes.”
Like Fabel will lead the offensive line, Tellers, who made the all-section team last year, will be key for the defensive line, according to Henn.
“We think he is a really big anchor for us on the defensive line,” said Henn. “He’s the kind of kid that can help the rest of the defensive line go into their positions.”
Nate Nemitz will join Tellers on the line as well as he was moved up from linebacker.
Looking at the rest of the conference, Henn said Jordan returns most of the kids from their state tournament team and Mayer Lutheran and Tri-City United will also be in the mix.
“We feel there’s eight teams in this league that can win on any night,” said Henn. “It’s just hard to say who’s going to be up there. All we hope to do is move beyond that point where we are just competitive where we go out and win.”
One key in being competitive is being more efficient on offense, as the Raiders only scored in the second half in two football games.
“We got to be better at closing out football games and not making mistakes where we can close drives and do some things,” said Henn.
“Offensively, we have to make a big jump. Defensively, we’ve got some pieces in place. I thought defensively we were fairly solid last year. I think were going to be fairly solid this year. Really I think the offense side of the ball is the one that has to make the jump.”
Per tradition, Central opens the season on Thursday, traveling to face Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted on Aug. 29. The Raiders lost HLWW to open last season, 19-12, but the Lakers have a new coach in Ben Anderson.
“With the new coach, we just don’t know what were going to get,” said Henn. “We don’t quite know what they got and what to expect. There’s only so many things you can do in Football. If we can be sound, that’s all we can ask for.”
Central opens the conference season by hosting Tri-City United on Sept. 6. Mayer Lutheran on Sept. 20 will be the pink out night this year. Other home games include Watertown on Sept. 27 and Le Sueur-Henderson on Oct. 16.
“We’ve got eight games,” said Henn. “There’s no games where you say we’ve got a pretty good chance here, pretty good chance there. We’re going to have to show up every night and play.”
Henn, who will begin his 11th year teaching social studies at Waconia High School, announced in June his decision to stop coaching the Waconia boys’ golf team after nine years.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at email@example.com.