The defending champions
Wahoo's 13-0 state championship team was senior-laden, but plenty of talent has been waiting in the wings for another state title run this season. All-state linebacker Grant Kolterman leads two returning starters on defense, while senior Cooper Hancock (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) was a two-way starter in 2019 at wide receiver and linebacker. A pair of senior offensive linemen — Brody Specht (6-1, 225) and Justin Nickolls (6-3, 210) — were in the lineup a year ago. Junior running back Colin Ludvik (5-7, 170) rushed for 963 yards in a reserve role last season and is ready to replace first-team Super-Stater Trevin Luben.
Other teams to watch
(In alphabetical order)
Preseason ratings out Aug. 20
Adams Central (11-1, C-1 state semifinals, No. 4 final ranking): The Patriots graduated a talented senior class, but they return nine starters (three on offense and six on defense). A trio of all-district players — senior WR/DB Tyler Slechta, senior OG/DE Sam Hemberger and senior WR/LB Slade Smith — provides a solid base from which to build.
Ashland-Greenwood (10-1, C-1 state quarterfinals, No. 5 final ranking): Among the seniors gone is all-stater Bryce Kitrell, now a freshman at Ohio. But six starters are back, including junior all-stater Cale Jacobsen, a Division I college basketball prospect, who will move to quarterback this season.
Auburn (3-6, unranked): With 10 starters back on both offense and defense, the Bulldogs could make waves on the state level. Senior quarterback/defensive back Brody Darnell looks to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Battle Creek (9-2, C-2 state quarterfinals, No. 6 final ranking): The Braves are a traditional powerhouse and expected to be competitive in C-1 even with just five starters returning. Senior running back Reece Bode had more than 1,700 all-purpose yards last season.
Columbus Scotus (8-3, C-1 state quarterfinals, No. 10 final ranking): The Shamrocks will look to replace graduated two-time all-stater Tyler Palmer (Nebraska baseball recruit) with the help of six returning starters on both offense and defense. Junior Garrett Oakley (6-5, 195) is one to watch at wide receiver after catching 36 passes for 512 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.
Gothenburg (8-2, C-1 state first round, No. 8 final ranking): Only two starters return, but one of them is senior linebacker Owen Geiken, an all-stater as a sophomore and one of the leading tacklers in the state the past three years. Also back is senior lineman Riley Baker.
Kearney Catholic (7-3, C-1 state first round, No. 9 final ranking): Kearney Catholic has star power in Husker quarterback recruit Heinrich Haarberg, but there’s plenty of pieces back around him with nine starters returning on both sides of the ball. Junior all-state basketball player Brett Mahony (6-4, 205) is also a force on the football field as he caught 25 passes for 440 yards and five TDs last season. Another junior receiver, Logan Miner, had 18 catches for 475 yards and six scores. Senior Spencer Hogeland is the returning all-state kicker.
North Bend Central (9-2, C-2 state quarterfinals, No. 9 final ranking): The Tigers will have a new quarterback after graduating all-stater Austin Endorf, but six offensive starters and seven on defense returning should make things easier on the replacement. Senior running back Ethan Mullally rushed for 1,250 yards and 16 TDs last season, and senior receiver Breckin Peters caught 66 passes for 790 yards and 10 TDs. Peters also had 64 tackles from his middle linebacker spot, 17 behind the line of scrimmage.
Pierce (12-1, C-1 state runner-up, No. 2 final ranking): Not many starters back with only two on offense and three defensively, and replacing three all-staters (Brett Tinker, Dalton Freeman and Carson Oestreich) who combined for 3,729 yards rushing makes it even tougher. But many players saw extensive time, and with senior TE/OLB Garret Meier and senior OT/DT Shawn Rinkel leading the way, the Bluejays should be in the mix again.
St. Paul (11-1, C-2 state semifinals, No. 3 final ranking): The Wildcats make the move to C-1 with 19 starters back, nine offensively and 10 on defense. The all-state senior trio of RB/LB Eli Larson, WR/DB Tommy Wroblewski and OL/DL Nathan Scheer is as good as any threesome in C-1. The Wildcats appear to have the pieces to make a deep run in November.
Wayne (9-3, C-1 state semifinals, No. 3 final ranking): The Blue Devils got better as the season went on in 2019, and they’re hoping to carry that momentum into the upcoming campaign. Bringing back all-state running back Reid Korth, one of the best linemen in C-1 in Mike Leatherdale and the team’s leading tackler last year in 6-foot, 180-pound senior linebacker Victor Kniesche (102 tackles) gives Wayne a running start into the season.
Players to watch
QB/DB Cale Jacobsen, Ashland-Greenwood, 6-3, 195, jr.: Jacobsen, an all-state basketball player and Division I college recruit, might be the best football-basketball combo athlete in the state. He’ll be a quarterback this fall, but he was an all-stater last season after piling up 509 receiving yards and nine TDs and intercepting five passes in the secondary.
QB Heinrich Haarberg, Kearney Catholic, 6-5, 195, sr.: Haarberg went from an honorable mention all-stater to a Power Five conference recruit during the offseason, eventually accepting a Nebraska offer. Haarberg has 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a strong, accurate arm to go with it. He threw for 1,817 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 426 and four more scores as a junior.
LB Grant Kolterman, Wahoo, 5-11, 210, sr.: The all-stater filled his stat sheet last season with numbers that will be a challenge to meet again. Kolterman had 119 total tackles (18 for losses) with 10 sacks, four fumble recoveries, an interception, a tackle for a safety and two blocked kicks.
RB/LB Eli Larson, St. Paul, 6-0, 215, sr.: Larson is getting recruiting interest from regional Division I schools, and his 2,050 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns from a year ago are a big reason why. A punishing runner with 4.57 speed in the 40-yard dash, Larson also made his presence felt on defense with 72 tackles last season, 17 for losses.
CB/WR Tommy Wroblewski, St. Paul, 6-2, 175, sr.: The two-time all-stater is a ballhawk in the secondary with 10 interceptions combined in the past two seasons and 84 tackles in his three years of high school ball. He caught 16 passes for 413 yards and five TDs as a wide receiver.
RB/LB Reid Korth, Wayne, 5-11, 190, sr.: Korth rushed for 1,156 yards and 21 TDs a year ago and also contributed 95 tackles defensively.
OL/DL Mike Leatherdale, Wayne, 6-3, 310, sr.: One of three starters back on the line for the Blue Devils. Leatherdale was active defensively last season, controlling the middle and making 63 tackles last season.
Games to watch
A28: Auburn at Ashland-Greenwood, Columbus Scotus at Wahoo, Pierce at St. Paul.
S4: Adams Central at Wahoo, Fort Calhoun at Auburn, Battle Creek at Hartington CC, Gothenburg at Kearney Catholic, Lincoln Christian at Lincoln Lutheran.
S11: Wahoo at Boys Town, St. Paul at Kearney Catholic, North Bend Central at Pierce.
S18: Ashland-Greenwood at Wayne, Boys Town at North Bend Central, Gothenburg at St. Paul.
S25: Wayne at Battle Creek.
O2: Wayne at Norfolk Catholic.
O9: Adams Central at Kearney Catholic, Ashland-Greenwood at Wahoo.
O16: St. Paul at Adams Central, Battle Creek at Pierce.
O23: North Bend Central at Battle Creek, Columbus Lakeview at Columbus Scotus, Pierce at Wayne.
This guide to the — say it with me — high school football season will update every day leading up to the Prep Extra preview guide's Sunday release.
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