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Football: Z-M relying on O-line's experience

Zumbrota-Mazeppa lineman Seth Tupper (right) tries to gain leverage on a teammate during lineman drills Thursday at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School. The Cougars return four starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

ZUMBROTA – Zumbrota-Mazeppa has some daunting numbers to replace on offense.

At quarterback, Kurt Gadient graduated after passing for 1,696 yards and 18 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. More than 84 percent of the team’s rushing yards, led by Jacob Tschann’s 690 yards, and 80 percent of the Cougars’ receiving yards, led by Ellis Hirman’s 546 yards, are also gone. 

With so many faces that carried the offense in 2013 gone, Z-M needs someone to lean on while the new players catch up. So, the Cougars’ offensive line hopes to provide the time the skill players need.

“The offensive and defensive lines will be solid, I think,” said Z-M head coach Willie Rauen. “We just have way too much inexperience at the skill positions on both sides of the ball.”

Four of Z-M’s starting linemen from a year ago – left tackle Caleb Arndt, center Seth Tupper, right guard Evan Block and right tackle Connor Hegseth — return from last year’s squad that went 4-5 overall and 4-3 in the Southern Football Alliance White Division.

Most of the new skill players, led by quarterback Freedom Hunt and wide receiver Jacob Forrey (25 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns last year) have run the same offense since they were freshmen, but that transition to the varsity level will take some time.

“Jacob is the only guy who played significantly on offense at a skill position,” Rauen said. “So we’re going to have to find ways, especially early, to get him the ball as much as possible.”

Rauen continued, “(Freedom’s) got a lot to learn, but he’s coming along. It’s a little slower process because it’s his first year doing it quite extensively. … (At running back) it’s going to be a revolving door, especially early because we have to figure out who’s going to be back there for us.”

Whether they need to be pass blockers or road graters for the run game, the O-line is ready to help in the learning process.

“We’re pretty confident in those (skill) guys,” said Hegseth, a three-year starter and one of 12 returning letter winners. “They’re working hard, and it’ll be nice having most of our offensive line back to anchor that and get them going.”

While the wall of blockers is set up front, Hegseth has seen things slowly come together for the rest of the offense.

“We’ve stepped it up this year with some new people,” he said. “There are not as many returning starters, but everyone’s getting after it a little more this year.”

Ready or not, the Cougars face a tough Week 1 test when they travel to SFA Red and Section 1AAAA power Stewartville for a non-conference game. Right away, that success will hinge on the guys up front to let plays develop up the field and in the backfield.

”That’s what we’re going to have to rely on is for those guys to set the tone and give Freedom time to throw and open some lanes for our backs to go through,” Rauen said. “We’ll be a work in progress with some younger kids having to play and learning all the different things they need to learn (at the skill positions).”

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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