The defending champions
Only one starter remains from Johnson-Brock’s 13-0 state title team after the Eagles graduated four all-staters, and a fifth, junior Kaden Glynn, transferred to Beatrice over the summer. That lone starter, however, is all-stater Ty Hahn, an FBS-level college recruit who may do a little bit of everything for a young Eagles team that will improve as the season goes on.
Other teams to watch
Bloomfield (10-1, D-2 state quarterfinals, No. 7 final ranking): The Bees are a perennial power and they should continue to be a contender this season with four offensive starters and three defensive regulars back. Senior QB Braden Eisenhauer is a dual-threat QB with just over 1,700 yards of total offense last season.
Clarkson/Leigh (5-4, D-2 state second round, unranked): With five starters back on both sides of the ball, the Patriots are experienced, but with just one of those regulars being a senior, it’s still a young team. Junior star RB Tommy McEvoy, however, is gone for the season with an ACL injury suffered in late July.
Falls City Sacred Heart (9-2, D-2 state quarterfinals, No. 3 final ranking): Six starters are back on both sides of the ball, a group that includes all-stater Del Casteel and standouts Jake Hoy, Branson Darveau, Sloan Leonard and Tyler Witt.
Humphrey St. Francis (11-1, D-2 state semifinals, No. 2 final ranking): Might be the preseason favorite with seven offensive and six defensive starters back, a group led by returning all-staters Trevor Pfeifer and Dylan Wemhoff and running back Taylor Wemhoff (1,353 yards last season).
Kenesaw (10-1, D-2 state quarterfinals, No. 8 final ranking): The Blue Devils have experience in every area with four starters returning on offense and five on defense. The headliners will be senior QB/DE Wyatt Hansen (6-3, 175) and sophomore TE/LB Tyson Denkert (5-10, 175).
Lawrence-Nelson (8-4, D-2 state semifinals, No. 5 final ranking): Among the four starters back is senior all-stater Kyle Golay, perhaps the best interior lineman in D-2.
Players to watch
WR/S Ty Hahn, Johnson-Brock, 6-2, 190, sr.: The two-time all-stater hauled in 62 passes for 1,165 yards and 23 TDs last season; also makes his mark as a safety on defense.
QB/S Trevor Pfeifer, Humphrey St. Francis, 6-2, 210, sr.: A dual threat three-year starter who has improved each season. Expect big things from the senior this year.
OG/NG Dylan Wemhoff, Humphrey St. Francis, 6-1, 260, sr.: Probably the most dominant lineman in D-2 this season. Battled injuries all last season, so his production could go up dramatically this fall if he stays healthy.
RB/LB Del Casteel, Falls City Sacred Heart, 6-0, 195, jr.: The physical linebacker registered 79 tackles with 15 for losses a year ago as a sophomore. Played the last three games of the season with a broken hand.
OL/DL Kyle Golay, Lawrence-Nelson, 6-2, 270, sr.: Besides clearing the way for the Raiders’ offensive attack, Golay made 75 tackles defensively, 13 behind the line and 10 sacks.
OL/DL Clayton Hassett, Mullen, 6-2, 230, sr.: Made 125 tackles for the Broncos, last year’s state runner-up. Hassett is the lone offensive returning starter.
Games to watch
A30: Elmwood-Murdock at Johnson-Brock, Clarkson/Leigh at Howells-Dodge, Elm Creek at Overton.
S6: Falls City SH at Lawrence-Nelson, Overton at Kenesaw, Dundy Co.-Stratton at Wauneta-Palisade.
S13: Humphrey SF at Clarkson/Leigh, Anselmo-Merna at Sandhills-Thedford.
S20: Johnson-Brock at Lawrence-Nelson.
O4: Kenesaw at Lawrence-Nelson.
O10: Mullen at Sandhills/Thedford.
O11: Randolph at Bloomfield.
O18: Humphrey SF at Riverside.
O24: Johnson-Brock at Falls City SH, Hartington-Newcastle at Bloomfield.