Battle Creek finished last season with a semifinal loss, after upsetting top-seed Ponca in the quarterfinals.
"Last year, we had some young kids step up for us," coach Andrew Carlson said. "We took some lumps early in the season, but the young guys stepped up allowing us to make the semis."
The Braves are losing 12 seniors, but return starting quarterback Ty Heimes, their second leading rusher, Dylan Mettler, and their second leading receiver, Slate Kraft. On the defensive side of the ball, Battle Creek returns Austin Marx, who led the team in sacks, and Cade McCracken, who finished third in tackles for the Braves in 2017.
"We are bringing back a solid mix of players, and we need to have some young guys step up," Carlson said. "If they do that — and we think they can — then we will be a in good position for this season."
Class C-2 Battle Creek (8-4)
Coach: Andrew Carlson, 7th season
Championships: 1986, 1987, 1992
Key departures: Weston Johnson (1,177 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns), Stone Kraft all-state (576 receiving yards, six touchdowns, 57 tackles and 10 interceptions), Blake Heller (84 tackles). Andrew Lutt was an all-state player on the line.
Key returners: Ty Heimes had 1,106 yards passing and 10 touchdowns and added 144 rushing yards and three touchdowns last season.
Breakout players: "We have a lot of guys that were rotation players for us that should take another step," Carlson said. "AJ Hawthorne is primed to have a real breakout year. He's a big athletic kid, really good linebacker but good offensive lineman as well. Parker Pokorney is another really good linebacker and running back for us," Carlson said. "We think AJ and Parker could be a really good tandem at linebacker."
Returning Players: CB/QB Owen Lade (Jr.), QB/LB Payton Frederick (So.), QB/CB Zach Zohner (Jr.), OLB/TE Slate Kraft (Jr.), WR/LB Chase Oltmanns (So.), WR/CB Caydon McCracken (Sr.), QB/S Ty Heimes (Sr.), TE/MLB Parker Pokorney (Sr.), RB/S Reece Bode (So.), RB/FS Kadin Renner (Jr.), RB/SS Dylan Mettler (Jr.), FB/LB Ben Weinandt (So.), RB/CB Bill Arkfeld (Sr.), LB/T Buddy Walz (Jr.), T/DE Luke Stueve (Jr.), G/DE Austin Marx (Sr.), C/DE Gannon Easland (Jr.), T/DE Anson Hawthorne (Sr.), DE/T Kolby Heller (Jr.), MLB/C Parker Anderson (Sr.), G/DE Nick Schaecher (Sr.), TE/OLB Vaughn Finkral (Jr.), T/NG Colby Hamilton (Jr.), G/DE Wyatt Schmitt (Jr.), T/NG Curtis Eickhoff (Sr.), WR/CB Gavin Tegeler (Jr.), TE/OLB Mason Mink (So.).
On offense: The Braves scored 21.8 points per game last season.
"We have a run based offense to set up the passing game, want to be efficient in the running game," said Carlson.
On defense: The defense was the Braves calling card in 2017, giving up only 12 points per game.
The Knights gave up less than 20 points seven times, held opponents to single digits two times and shut out four opponents.
"We are returning 10 guys who were starters or guys who were in the rotation," Carlson said. "We look to see the defense to carry us through the early season and be our strong suit. The offense has some returning guys and should be effective as well, but we are looking to hang our hat on defense again this season."
Games to watch: The Braves will face four playoff teams from last year, including 2017 runner-up Centennial, C-1 champion Norfolk Catholic and a quarterfinals rematch against Ponca. The rest of the schedule is against teams with losing records.
"Shelby-Rising City will tough right out of the gate and will be a good test for us because they are returning a lot of guys," Carlson said. "We have a tough schedule from top to bottom and don't really have any easy games on the schedule."
2018 schedule (with 2017 record)
Aug. 24: Shelby-Rising City (4-5)
Aug. 31: at Twin River (1-8)
x-Sept. 7: Centennial (12-1)
Sept. 14: at O'Neill (3-6)
Sept. 21: at Stanton (2-7)
x-Oct. 5: at Norfolk Catholic (13-0)
x-Oct. 12: Hartington Cedar Catholic (8-2)
Oct. 19: at Crofton (4-5)
x-denotes playoff teams; district opponents in bold type
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Front row, from left: Sam Sims, Grand Island; Dietrick Stolz, Grand Island Central Catholic; James Burks, Omaha Burke; Dylan Sales, Omaha Burke; Shane Dailey, Bellevue West; Jarod Epperson, Omaha Skutt. Second row, from left: D.J. Gross, McCook; Garrett Snodgrass, York; Xavier Watts, Omaha Burke; Jevyon Ducker, Bellevue West; Kohl Herbolsheimer, Millard South; Alex Rodgers, Omaha Roncalli. Third row, from left: Joseph Krause, Seward; Ethan Piper, Norfolk Catholic; Nick Henrich, Omaha Burke; Garrett Nelson, Scottsbluff; Chris Hickman, Omaha Burke. Back row, from left: Zavier Betts, Bellevue West; Mehki Butler, Omaha North; Caden Johnson, Wahoo Neumann; Tyson Gordon, Omaha Skutt; Baylor Scheierman, Aurora; Noah Stafursky, York. Not pictured: Isaiah Alford, Lincoln High
Like the burr oaks at Mahoney State Park that were the backdrop for this photo, the 2017 All-Nebraska football team branched out with players from the Wyoming state line to the Missouri River.
The 2016 All-Nebraska football team "earned their wings" at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum.
Back row from left: York's Masry Mapieu, Bellevue West's Sylvo Johnson, Lincoln East's Chris Walker, Gretna's Patrick Arnold, Bellevue West's Tyler Ciurej, Omaha Burke's Cole Frahm, Wilber-Clatonia's Riley Homolka, Norfolk's Lane McCallum, Ashland-GW's Brett Kitrell, and Beatrice's Cam Jurgens.
Middle row from left: Kearney's Noah Urbanek, Bellevue West's Jaylin Bradley, Omaha North's Kendrick Parker, Omaha North's Milton Sargbah, Elkhorn South's Moses Bryant, Omaha Skutt's Christian Banker, and Creighton Prep's AJ Hubner.
Front row from left: Wahoo Neumann's Noah Vedral, Omaha North's Zion Williams, Bellevue West's Diego Galvan, McCook's Zach Schlager, Bellevue West's Kevin Ponec, Norris' Austin Schultz, and Millard North's Jack Begley.
The 2015 All-Nebraska football team gathered at Papillion-La Vista High School for the photo shoot.
The 2014 All-Nebraska football team posted on the steps of the Joslyn Art Museum. The cover read: "A Step Ahead: The 24 members of the All-Nebraska football team towered over foes."
Back rows, starting from left: Papillion-La Vista South’s Jeremy Kowalski, No. 75; Seward’s Adam Holtorf, No. 79; Papillion-La Vista South’s Ryan Earith; Kearney’s Brian Arp, No. 55; Elkhorn South’s Brett Stinson; Grand Island’s Kevin Cahoy, No. 12; Omaha Central’s Tre Sanders, No. 6; Omaha Central’s DaiShon Neal, No. 9; Grand Island’s Pierce Almond, No. 2; Blair’s Vance Janssen; Bellevue West’s CJ Johnson; Boone Central/Newman Grove’s Wyatt Mazour; Omaha Central’s Xavier Graham, No. 64; Creighton Prep’s Jeremiah Stovall; and Creighton Prep’s Jack McLeay, No. 54. Front rows, starting from left: Omaha North’s Cole Bixler, No. 34; Omaha North’s Michael Decker, No. 78; Omaha North’s Calvin Strong, No. 5; Omaha North’s Jason Martin; Grand Island Central Catholic’s Youhanna Ghaifan; Millard North’s Adrrell Taylor, No. 27; Omaha North’s Marquise Lewis, No. 1; McCook’s Bryce Lyons, No. 21; and Omaha North’s Markell Vaughn, No. 22.
In 2013, the All-Nebraska football and volleyball teams came together for a photo shoot, and the cover was designed to look like a Facebook page with the teams taking one big selfie.
The 2012 All-Nebraska football team made a splash in the shark tunnel of the Scott Aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Standing, from left: Luke McNitt, Kearney; DJ Foster, Lincoln Southeast; Josh Banderas, Lincoln Southwest; Nick DeLuca, Millard North; Harrison Phillips, Millard West; Mike Milenkovich, Millard North; Bryce Sosnowski, Millard South; Nathan Bazata, Howells-Dodge; Casey Sayles, Omaha North.
Middle row: Christian LaCouture, Lincoln Southwest; Jordan Bellar, Norfolk Catholic; Clay Fisher Millard North; Isaac Aakre, Millard North; Matt Kraft, Millard South; Alec Ditoro, Papillion-La Vista; Jake Schlager, McCook; Lee Carhart, Creighton Prep; Freeman Coleman, Millard South.
Front row: Andy Bayne, Millard North; Trey Carr, Omaha Burke; Calvin Strong, Omaha North; Skyler Monaghan, Millard West; Devin Washington, Lincoln Southeast; RJ Urzendowski, Creighton Prep.
With the Omaha skyline in the background, the 2011 All-Nebraska football team was "Standing Tall" at Pioneer Courage Park not far from the Omaha World-Herald building.
Bottom Row (from left): Tay Bender, RB, Lincoln Southwest; Isaac Aakre, RB, Millard North; Landon Arnold, OL, Millard North; Andrew Coppa, DL, Omaha Burke; Trey Foster, DL, Lincoln Southeast; Bo Liekhus, DB, Bellevue West.
Middle Row (from left): Darian Barrientos-Jackson, DB, Omaha Central; James Anderson, OL, Omaha Burke; Andy Janovich, LB, Gretna; Drew Farlee, K, Norfolk Catholic; Mike Minter Jr., DB, Lincoln North Star; Sam Cotton, DL, Lincoln Southeast; Devin Washington, RB, Lincoln Southeast; Sam Foltz, DB, Grand Island; Jeremy Callahan, P, Lexington; Robbie Lafour, OL, Lincoln Southeast; Jake Schany, LB, Blair; Jordan Nelson, RB, Omaha Burke; Ryker Fyfe, QB, Grand Island.
Top Row (from left): Jordan Brichacek, OL, Howells; Zach Oliver, WR, Omaha Burke; Terry Grigsby, DB, Omaha North; Drew Ott, LB, Giltner; Mike Shoff, OL, Cambridge.
All-Nebraska football captains Jimmie Forsythe of Omaha Burke and Tyson Broekemeier of Aurora were the focus in 2010 during this shoot at Turner Park at Midtown Crossing.
The 2009 All-Nebraska football hopped aboard this old streetcar at the Durham Museum.
There was "nothing pedestrian" about the 2008 All-Nebraska football team, which posed in front of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
Back row, from left, Tyrone Sellers of McCook, Corey Serrano of North Platte, Nathan Zook of Grand Island, Eric Koehlmoos of Pierce, Tyler Daake of Norfolk Catholic, Tyler Niederklein of Millard West, Charles Viers of Millard West, Josh Kage of Papillion-LaóVista, Jake Herweyer of Millard West, Cole Pensick of Lincoln Northeast, Jordan Hale of Millard South, Andrew Rodriguez of Aurora, James Davis of Omaha North, Jon Lechner of Prep, Scott Criss of Omaha Creighton Prep and C.J. Zimmerer of Omaha Gross. Front row, Matt Berry of McCook, Braden Taylor of Grand Island, Vinny Molina of Kearney, Kohlman Adema-Schulte of Millard West, Bryant Giles of Omaha North, Michael Burrus of Papillion-LaóVista South, Ronald Coleman of North, Tyler Seals of Bellevue West and Greg Hardin of Bellevue West.
For the 2007 All-Nebraska football team, The World-Herald chose individual shots for the cover instead of the group photo, and the result was "Picture Perfect."
No challenge was too steep for the "Rock Solid" 2006 All-Nebraska football team, who posed in front of a climbing wall at Dick's Sporting Goods.
The 2005 All-Nebraska football team wore letterman jackets for the photo shoot instead of their jerseys.
Top, from left, Millard North's Corey Young, Lincoln Southwest's Ian Dike, Millard North's Adam Nelson, Bellevue West's Silas Fluellen, Omaha Central's D.J. Jones (back row), Millard North's Jeff Tarpinian, Kearney's Tony Green, Lincoln Southwest's Ben Martin, Bellevue West's Jeff Martin, Lincoln Southwest's Ollie Sloup, Papillion-LaVista's Kyle Dooley and McCook's Josh Cherry.
Bottom, from left, Omaha Benson's Anthony Williams, Kearney's Joey Rousseau, Lincoln Southwest's Andy Cotton, Omaha Burke's Ricky Henry, Omaha South's Philip Barrientos, Creighton Prep's Mark Waring, Omaha Burke's Alex Henery, Millard West's Brandon Pete, Omaha Burke's Travis Liechti, Millard North's Paul Homer, Omaha North's Aaron Terry and Millard West's Matt Leaders.
Nothing says football like rows of poinsettias. Those were the accents that went with this photo shoot for the 2004 All-Nebraska football team.