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Football Season Preview: Red Wing anxious to climb up standings

Red Wing senior quarterback Isaac Toivonen sets up for a throw during passing drills on Aug. 14 at Red Wing High School. The Wingers open the 2013 season Friday on the road against Ellsworth. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

After reaching the Section 1AAAA finals in 2011, the Red Wing Wingers crashed back down to earth in 2012. 

Taking the season opener against Austin, 35-22, through a combination of other teams forcing the issue and a rash of injuries, Red Wing went 0-8 the rest of the way and were outscored 293-55.

After last year’s fall from grace and now in the last year of the Missota Conference, the Wingers are looking to climb back up in 2013, starting with Friday’s non-conference opener against Ellsworth.

“The guys are good, hard workers, and we got a bunch of kids this year,” said Red Wing head coach Matt Schultz. “We’re young yet. We got a lot of new faces and positions, especially on the offensive side of the ball. We had so many injuries last season that most of these kids played a little bit.”

After enduring a 1-8 season, the Red Wing players come in with something to prove.

“I’m very optimistic about this year,” said Wingers’ senior quarterback Isaac Toivonen. “Our guys have put in work this summer. We should have a chip on our shoulder for that first game to try and get a win.”

Moving from receiver to quarterback after an injury to Ricky Turcotte, Toivonen and the Wingers’ coaches hope the 6-foot-4, 195-pound signal-caller can take a leap this season.

“Having Isaac back again after getting some experience last year is very helpful,” Schultz said. “He knows what we’re doing and he knows what I expect out of him, which is a big piece of everything. He knows what he needs to be ready for when he steps out on the field.”

Around Toivonen, the Wingers are hoping to move the ball with running back Tyler Rea, who looks to replace All-Area playmaker Andre Page. Page had 485 rushing yards, 480 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. 

The offense will feature an inexperienced but large offensive line, anchored by junior right tackle Nick Connelly, who is the only starter returning from the front five.

Among the team’s pass-catchers, senior Ben Miller looks to be Toivonen’s top target. Standing at 6-3, Miller can cover a lot of ground for the Wingers.

“Ben might be one of the best in the conference,” Toivonen said. “I’m really happy to throw to him. He’s very athletic and has good hands.”

Schultz added, “Ben Miller is as good as I’ve seen him. … Ben’s legit; he works really hard and goes after everything.

“Besides him, all our other guys are over 6 foot. We got Zach Sachen at tight end and he’s another big target.”

Defensively, Connelly looks to control things at the line. The 6-6, 230-pound lineman worked out at defensive camps at Division II Winona State and Minnesota State University, Mankato, as well as Division I Iowa.

“We have a pretty good group this year,” Connelly said of the defense. “We lost a few key players … but I think we’ll do good. I think we’ll step up from last year.”

Where the bulk of experience comes back for the Wingers’ defense is at linebacker. Returning for Red Wing are Rea, Andrew Petterson and Thate Peterson.

“All three of those guys saw significant minutes last season,” Schultz said. “Andrew and Thate started at their positions last year, and Tyler started at strong safety and he’s moved to strong-side linebacker. Those three returning are nice, strong players to have back.”

The Missota Conference figures to be a grind for Red Wing. As long as the team improves and puts itself into a better position come section time, that’s all Schultz is hoping for.

“We just want to compete,” Schultz said. “I got a lot of guys who are fiery and they’re awfully competitive. We competed in five of our games last year. I’m hoping we extend that number a little bit and win a few more games.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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