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Omaha Bryan vs. Lincoln Northeast, 9.6.2018

Lincoln Northeast's Nick Halleen (21) tries to break free from Omaha Bryan's Auburn Slater in the first quarter at Seacrest Field on Thursday.

First-year coach Shane Zimmerman wants to re-brand Lincoln Northeast football into the image of a physical, hard-nosed team.

He’s found the perfect spokesmen to market the new look in senior Caleb Kyes and junior Nick Halleen.

Kyes is a relentless linebacker whom Halleen calls “a headhunter.” At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Kyes has a team-high 24 tackles in three games, including four behind the line of scrimmage, to lead Northeast to two shutout victories.

He gets to hit people offensively as well from his tight end and fullback positions, where he has three touchdowns in four carries during short-yardage, goal-line situations.

Halleen, a 5-9 175-pounder, is right there with his teammate in terms of physical play. As an I-back, he’s pummeled defenses for 354 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s made his presence known as well defensively, with 18 tackles from his WILL linebacker spot, five for losses.

“Both of those kids fit the mold we’re trying to establish — blue-collar, let’s go out and get after it,” said Zimmerman, whose 2-1 Rockets play at Norfolk at 7 p.m. Thursday. “We want people to know, win or lose, when you walk off the field after playing Northeast, you were in a physical, hard-fought football game.”

The new approach was welcomed with open arms by Kyes and Halleen.

“Going straight at people helps us set the tone for the game, especially when we line up in the I-formation,” Halleen said. “The junior and senior classes have always had this mindset. Now that we’re the top two (oldest) classes and the leaders, we’re starting to show people that.

“I know Caleb always finds someone to hit (block) when I have the ball, and our linemen, they’re feisty,” Halleen added. “They like to get after it.”

Zimmerman, an assistant last season at Western State in Colorado, says Kyes is a college prospect at either the Division I or Division II level. "He definitely likes to hit things,” Zimmerman said about his star linebacker.

Kyes says the coach’s emphasis on increased contact in practice this season is making a difference in the games.

“We’re out there every day at practice basically playing a game, and he’s teaching physicality the whole time. We love it,” Kyes said. “What we’re focusing on this year is getting 11 hats to the ball. We do a lot of that in practice because that’s what makes you successful. He really stresses hustle, going as hard as you can for six seconds every play.”

The Rockets also started the 2017 season 2-1, then lost their final six games. Northeast has 11 starters back offensively and nine on defense, and both Kyes and Halleen said the team learned valuable lessons from the slide a year ago, which should serve them well for the remainder of the 2018 season.

“This year is a whole different mindset,” Kyes said. “Everything about this season is different from last. If we can win this game (against Norfolk), we’ll have quite a bit of momentum heading into the rest of the season, and that’s what we need.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or rpowell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ronpowell_ljs.

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Sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

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