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Football: Newcomers pave the way for Red Wing

Members of the Red Wing offensive line get down in their three-point stance during offensive drills at practice Wednesday. The Wingers’ O-line returns just one starter from last year’s 1-8 team. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

What the Red Wing offensive line is missing in experience, it is more than making up for in sheer size.

In hopes of rebounding from a 1-8 season that saw the Wingers’ offense struggle to score points, Red Wing is looking for four new starters on the offensive line to pave paths for the rushing game and keep pressure away from the passing attack.

Sophomore Zav Acosta, juniors Kiley Nibbe-Gadient and Jacob Hamlin and senior Cam Voigt may lack varsity experience, but with some time, Wingers’ head coach Matt Schultz thinks the new-look line can help when Red Wing starts the season Aug. 30 against Ellsworth.

“The big things for the line will be communication, understanding the offense and working on their steps,” Schultz said.

Red Wing had five seniors – Jordan Schull, Matt Zorn, Kyle LaPorte, Joe Czech and Jordan Blank – who saw starting time last season at the line of scrimmage. 

The only returning starter to the Wingers’ offensive line is junior Nick Connelly, who will move from right guard to right tackle. Standing at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Connelly has drawn some interest from Division I and II schools. And when Red Wing finally starts hitting, he’s anxious to see how Red Wing’s hosses stack up.

“I think we’ll have one of the biggest lines we’ve ever had, and hopefully one of the best lines we’ve had,” Connelly said. “I’m pumped to see what we can do.”

Connelly’s size is a perfect match for the new-look offensive line. 

“They’re all big, very big,” Schultz said. “Connelly is 6-6, getting into the 250 range. Then Zav is 6-4 and 320 pounds. Kylie is about 330 and Jacob Hamlin is around 285.”

Voigt is slated to be the smallest man on the line, but with the three-man fronts in the Missota Conference, the Wingers need a more athletic interior lineman, especially at the center position. 

“Your nose guard (in the Missota) isn’t your prototypical Pat Williams (big run-stuffer) type,” Schultz said. “The nose guards we play against are like John Randle: they’re smaller and will try and hit you in the mouth before you get to them. Our center can’t be slow or the nose tackles will eat them up.”

Connelly is hoping he can impart on some of the lessons he was able to learn from last year’s seniors.

“You really have to coach them up,” Connelly said. “The coaches can do what they do, but they can’t do everything out there. The older guys – the seniors, some of the juniors – you just have to be there and help walk them through stuff. Explain it the ways the coaches can’t. That’s what helped me the most.

“Last year I was confused, and some of the seniors stepped up and taught me what I needed to know and I got it.”

Starting quarterback Isaac Toivonen is encouraged by what he’s seen from the new-look line. With various injuries, including ankle and shoulder injuries to Toivonen, Red Wing’s offense sputtered in 2012, averaging 10.0 points per game and scoring seven or fewer points in six games. 

Toivonen admits it may take some time, but the line could pay dividends as the Wingers look to rebound from a tough 2012 campaign. 

“It may be a step back at the start, but they’re going to come out with a lot of fire,” Toivonen said. “They have been learning from (last year’s seniors) for two or three years. Zav, Connelly, all those guys are big, and that’s exactly what I want out of a lineman.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia. Prior to becoming regional editor, he was the sports editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle from 2012-2018. He also worked as the sports editor for the Marshall Independent (2010-2012) and as a sports/news clerk for the St. Cloud Times (2008-2009). He graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication.

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