Explosive athletes and playmakers headline the bottom half of the Class C-2 top 10.
St. Paul and Centennial return difference-makers at quarterback in Tanner Wroblewski and Wyatt Ehlers, respectively.
Garrett Seagren of Oakland-Craig and DJ Stephen of Valentine lend productive experience to their squads after leading their teams in a number of categories the last two seasons.
Beau Wilke brings back versatility and athleticism at both cornerback and running back for Stanton, while Jackson Eickhoff displayed consistency and explosive plays last season for Hartington Cedar Catholic.
With only one state championship between the six teams, they are all capable of making history in 2017.
No. 10 Stanton, 6-4
Coach: David Stoddard, fourth season
Returning starters: DB Beau Wilke (Sr.), LB Gauge Erickson (So.), DL Ben Hansen (Sr.), DL Tayton Lierman (Sr.), OL/DL Nathan Arens (Jr.), OL Ashton Flood (Sr.), OL Ben Wilke (So.), RB Kadyn Fernau (Jr.)
Player to watch: After a solid season in 2016, Stoddard is expecting Beau Wilke to break out in 2017. Wilke started at cornerback last season and was part of the three-headed attack at running back. A leader who will do anything to help the team, Wilke is also expected to take over the kicking and punting duties for the Mustangs.
Kadyn Fernau will spell Wilke on offense after an injury-riddled sophomore campaign. The offensive line should be successful with three starters returning.
Key departures: Despite losing leading rusher Trey Erbst, the Mustangs’ backfield should continue to be efficient with Wilke and Fernau leading the way. But quarterback could be another story. Stanton loses Hunter Stallbaum, who threw for 1,000 yards and added 200 rushing yards in 2016. Marcus Spotanski (Jr.), TJ Larson (So.), Sutton Pohlman (Fr.) and Matt Reese (Fr.) will all compete for the open slot.
No. 9 St. Paul, 8-3
Coach: Rusty Fuller, fourth season
Returning starters: QB/CB Tanner Wroblewski (Sr.), RB/LB Parker Klinginsmith (Sr.), RB/LB Joseph Maus (Sr.), TE/DE Carson Morgan (Jr.), RB/CB Wyatt Placke (Jr.), OL/DL Hunter Kocian (Sr.), OL/DL Thomas Mrkvicka (Sr.), LB Zane Goldfish (Sr.)
Player to watch: Tanner Wroblewski returns after a productive junior season, throwing for 1,224 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for another 566 yards. Defensively, he tied for the team lead with five interceptions and was first in pass deflections. The senior will be counted on to produce while supplying the Wildcats with leadership.
Key departures: The Wildcats return playmakers on both sides of the ball, but lose Jarred Hulinsky, their second-string running back and top receiving threat. Hulinsky ran for 409 yards, led the team with 24 receptions and was second in receiving yards with 326. The football and wrestling standout also racked up 60 tackles at linebacker, good for fourth on the team.
Hulinsky’s departure means Parker Klinginsmith will take on a bigger role in the backfield after leading the Wildcats with 622 yards.
No. 8 Centennial, 9-1
Coach: Evan Klanecky, eighth season
Returning starters: QB Wyatt Ehlers (Jr.), WR/CB Jackson Hirschfeld (Jr.), WR/CB Reece Foreman (Jr.), RB/LB Jake Prochaska (Sr.), OL/DL Caleb Cast (Jr.), OL/LB Tyler Perry (Sr.), FB/LB Gavin Avery (Sr.), OL/DL Heath Haberman (Sr.), DL Kalten Bauers (Jr.),
Player to watch: Quarterback Wyatt Ehlers came into his own as a sophomore, throwing for 1,876 yards and 20 scores while earning All-Class C-2 honorable mention. Ehlers also rushed for 376 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. Jake Prochaska will take over as Ehlers’ backfield mate, making the transition from fullback to running back. Prochaska is getting interest at both positions from a number of GPAC schools, including Hastings and Midland.
Reece Foreman returns as the leading receiver after racking up 607 yards last season with six touchdowns. Foreman and Jackson Hirschfeld should form an explosive duo.
Key departures: The Broncos lose their leading rusher, Ryan Schlueter, who ran for 856 yards and nine touchdowns. Centennial also loses safety Andrew Cast, the “quarterback of the defense.” Cast had 51 tackles and led the team with five interceptions.
No. 7 Oakland-Craig, 9-2
Coach: Joe Anderson, eighth season
Returning starters: WR/CB Garrett Seagren (Sr.), OL/DE Marcos Quintero (Sr.), WR/DB Kobe Benne (Sr.), QB Evan Reinert (Sr.), RB/DB Ben Smith (Sr.), OL Tyson Harney (Jr.), OL Cole Bures (Jr.), RB/S Robby Mayberry (Jr.), LB Wyatt Uhing (Jr.), DB Jefferson McNeill (Jr.)
Player to watch: Returning quarterback Evan Reinert will have an explosive athlete to throw to this season, wide receiver Garrett Seagren. In the last two seasons, Seagren has amassed 1,375 receiving yards, including 775 in 2016, and averaged more than 15 yards as a punt returner. The senior will also be the leader of the defense at safety after starting there last season and finishing with 30 tackles.
Marcos Quintero will lead the Knights in the trenches on both sides of the ball after starting at center the last two years. Quintero also is Oakland-Craig’s leading returning tackler with 64.
Key departures: The Knights lose their top three tacklers — linebackers Josh Dixon, Ben Ward and Hoss Smith. In addition to his 74 tackles, Smith ran for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ben Smith will take over in the backfield after rushing for nearly 500 yards.
No. 6 Valentine, 9-2
Coach: Blake Beebout, fourth season
Returning starters: QB Jordan Kelber (Sr.), FB/LB DJ Stephen (Sr.), RB/LB Wyatt Hitchcock (Sr.), WR/DB Dylan Lurz (Sr.), OL/DL Kooper Reece (Sr.), OL/DL Chad McPeak (Sr.), DB/WR Kyle Grooms (Sr.), LB Lane McGinley (Jr.), LB Devon Osnes (Jr.), LB Gus Harvey (Sr.), TE Brayden Fowler (Jr.)
Player to watch: An All-Class C-2 honorable mention performer as a junior, senior DJ Stephen racked up 144 tackles and has been the Badgers’ leading tackler the last two seasons. Stephen is the “best (linebacker) I have ever coached,” Beebout said.
Running back Wyatt Hitchcock is back after missing 2016 with an injury. He rushed for 807 yards in 2015.
Key departures: The Badgers lose their top rusher, Noah Eklund, who ran for 1,072 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while also finishing with 248 receiving yards, 96 tackles and six interceptions. Beebout expects Lane McGinley to take another step forward at linebacker to help ease that loss.
No. 5 Hartington Cedar Catholic, 9-2
Coach: Chad Cattau, 14th season
Returning starters: FB/LB Josh Pinkelman (Jr.), WR/CB Lucas Reifenrath (So.), WR/CB Isaac Creamer (Sr.), RB Jackson Eickhoff (Sr.), RB/LB Austin Arens (Sr.), OL/DL Ian Rohan (Sr.), OL/DL Jacob Haahr (Sr.), WR/DB Jason Becker (Sr.), OL/DL Marcus Arens (Sr.), OL/DL Kaden Lammers (Sr.), OL/DL Quinn Paulsen (Sr.)
Player to watch: Jackson Eickhoff returns at running back. Eickhoff and Austin Arens will be the focal point while the Trojans ease in a new starter at quarterback. With Tanner Keiser graduated, the Trojans will have a few players competing for the opportunity to take the reins.
Seniors Riley Arens, Matthew Schaefer and Dain Whitmire will battle in the fall to replace the experience of Keiser.
Key departures: Leading receiver and All-Class C-2 performer Sean Kathol is gone, along with Keiser. Hartington Cedar Catholic will also need to replace All-Class C-2 linebacker Stephen Hillis.
Which team will win the 2017 Class C-2 state championship?
The World-Herald has started preparing you for the high school football season with a story previewing a new team or teams each week day. This past week Class C-2 was featured. Who do you think will win the title?