Replacing a legendary coach like Gene Suhr is no easy task, but 29-year old Zac Kliment is up for the challenge.
“I learned a lot about preparation from Gene,” said Kliment, who is entering his first season as head coach. “He taught me a lot about organizing practices and calling games, and really related to the kids. In the three years he was here, I don’t know if there was a single kid who didn’t get along with him or didn’t respect him by the end of it.”
Kliment — a Creighton, Neb., native who served as defensive coordinator the past six seasons — is looking to build on the recent success of his alma mater.
“I’m looking forward to taking on the challenges that come with being a head coach,” Kliment said. “I’ve been a part of this community since I was a little kid and want to do right by the town.”
Eight Man-1 No. 3 Creighton
Coach: Zac Kliment, 1st season
Returning starters: RB/LB Bryce Zimmerer (Sr.), RB/CB Derek Wortman (Sr.), G/NG Travis Tyler (Sr.), QB Brayden Zimmerer (Jr.), Thad Hazen RB/WR (Jr.)
Key returning players: RB/All-Eight Man-1 LB Bryce Zimmerer and CB/RB Derek Wortman
“Bryce can easily be a 1,000-yard caliber running back,” Kliment said. “He accomplished that as a sophomore, but tore his ACL midway through last season.”
In spite of the major injury, Kliment has been impressed by Zimmerer.
“His recovery has been amazing,” Kliment said. “He’s faster now than he was last year.”
Inhabiting the backfield with Zimmerer will be Derek Wortman, who filled in at quarterback after starter Brayden Zimmerer suffered an injury last season.
“Derek is a playmaker,” Kliment said. “He did a great job filling in for Brayden after he went down.”
Wortman tied the all-class playoff record for touchdowns in a game with eight in the first round of the 2017 Eight Man-1 playoffs against McCool Junction and was named All-Eight Man-1 honorable mention last year.
Key departure: 2017 All-Eight Man-1 offensive lineman Levi Stacken. “Levi was a commanding presence on the line,” Kliment said. “He was a really good leader who all the kids respected.”
Stacken played in the 2018 Northeast Nebraska All-Star Football Classic in June.
Breakout player: Junior RB/WR/CB Thad Hazen. Hazen is known for his open-field speed and was an offensive weapon as a sophomore. His best game came against Laurel in the regular season finale last year, where he scored three touchdowns and ran in three 2-point conversions.
“Thad has been explosive for us and has been developing his hands as a receiver this summer,” Kliment said. “He could definitely see a lot more time this year.”
On offense: Creighton will run an up-tempo offense similar to years past and will rely on their conditioning to keep opponents on their toes. Kilment’s offensive unit likes to mix it up with multiple looks--including spread and heavy packages--and will utilize run-pass-options.
On defense: The Bulldogs will primarily run a 3-3 to free linebackers to make plays. However, Kliment isn’t married to one particular defense and adjusts each week based on opponent’s offensive tendencies.
"We like to adjust our players how we see fit and give different looks," Kliment said.
Games to watch: The Bulldogs will come out of the gate with two tough games against Wakefield and Clearwater-Orchard, who went a combined 13-4 in 2017.
Kilment said that Wakefield and Clearwater-Orchard will be difficult opponents due to their experience and recent success.
“Both squads bring back a lot of upperclassmen and are playoff-caliber teams. They’ve had a lot of success with their programs recently and will test us right off the bat.”
Coach’s note: For the past four offseasons, Kliment has traded his headset and scouting reports for a helmet and shoulder pads. On most summer weekends, he makes the 80-mile trek to Sioux City to play wide receiver for the Sioux City Stampede of the Northern Elite Football League. With a rigorous schedule as a player and coach, Kliment makes sure to manage his time so that he can fully concentrate on both.
“I’ve had a great time,” said Kliment. “I manage it pretty well and make sure to plan out my schedule ahead of time so there are no conflicts. It’s fun to get out there, and it allows me to learn more about the game.”
2018 schedule (with 2017 record)
Aug. 24, Wakefield (7-1)
x-Aug. 31, Clearwater-Orchard (6-3)
Sep. 14, at Homer (2-6)
Sep. 21, Niobrara/Verdigre (0-8)
Sep. 28, at Ainsworth (3-5)
x-Oct. 5, North Central (8-2)
x-Oct. 12, at West Holt (8-2)
x-Oct. 18, at Boyd County (1-8)
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