Kearney’s leading rusher entering Tuesday’s Class A championship didn’t begin the season as the starting running back.
He didn’t even start the year at running back.
But as the Bearcats’ undefeated season progressed, Miko Maessner kept coming up with huge plays from his new position.
“He’s always been a quarterback,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound sophomore. “He’s been a quarterback in the youth program, he was a quarterback in middle school and a quarterback last year at the freshman level. And that’s what he did all summer. He went through the first three weeks of practice being a quarterback.
“But he’s just too good of an athlete to wait in the wings.”
So during the third week of the season with quarterback Kanon Koster directing the offense, Maessner started getting carries at I-back. Though he’s carried the ball 85 times, he’s 85 yards from the 1,000-yard mark.
“We wanted to get him some more reps because of his athletic ability,” Cool said. “From an athletic standpoint, when a kid has that good of foot speed, you try to get him in a lot of different spots. The transition for him was an easy one to the I-back spot.”
Maessner, who averages 10.8 yards per carry, has been at his best the deeper the Bearcats have advanced in the playoffs.
In the quarterfinals against Omaha Westside, he rushed for a season-best 177 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-17 win. Last week in the semifinals against Omaha Creighton Prep, he ran a season-high 18 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.
“For a sophomore, he’s got a mature mindset,” Cool said. “When the lights turn on, he finds another gear.”
And he hasn’t forgotten how to throw the ball, either. In the semifinals, he took a pitch running to his right, pulled up and found Isaiah Stalbird open in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown.
“When we got to the playoffs, we wanted to open up the offense a little more,” Cool said. “All of our I-backs know how to throw it and all our receivers know how to ball-fake a little bit and play possum a little bit and try to hit the big one.”
Maessner isn’t the only Bearcat who has been effective in the run game. Koster has 614 yards rushing, while running back Matt Stute has 691 yards and a team-best 14 touchdowns.
Cool said the Stute-Maessner combination has worked very well together.
“They’re a perfect fit with each other,” Cool said. “Miko obviously has the foot speed aspect, (and) Matt has tremendous vision.”
Beyond emerging as an I-back, Maessner can be found all over the field. He has returned five kickoffs, averaging 33.4 yards per return. Cool said he’s used him on the defensive line to rush the passer, but in the past month he has seen more time at cornerback.
“If we can get him in about one more spot, he could play all 11 spots by the end of his sophomore year,” Cool said. “He’s a utility guy. He’s smart, he’s athletic, he understands the game of football.”
With that kind of versatility, Cool isn’t sure what position Maessner will play next season. He’ll worry about that after the title game against Omaha North.
One thing the coach is sure of is that Maessner will be somewhere on the field.
“He’s going to be a big defensive guy for us and a big offensive guy for us,” Cool said. “So all I know is he better be in tremendous shape because he’s going to play a heck of a lot of football.”