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Football: New names look to emerge for Tigers

Lake City running back Luke Hartzell (9) throws a stiff-arm at linebacker Michael Noll (33) during the Oklahoma drill Aug. 20 in Lake City. Hartzell returns as the team’s top running back after accounting for 364 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2013. The Tigers open the season Friday at Kenyon-Wanamingo. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

LAKE CITY – Followers of the Lake City football team may not recognize some of the big names on the 2014 squad. But that doesn’t mean that this fall will be a step down for the Tigers.

“It’s kind of a new regime coming through here,” said Lake City head football coach Trevor Narum. “There’s maybe not some kids that have a lot of name recognition, but the kids we have played a significant amount of snaps last year.

“We have five or six starters on each side of the ball, so it’s not like we’re totally inexperienced. It’s kind of a mix of experience and inexperience.”

Two years ago, the Tigers sported one of Class 3A’s highest-scoring offenses and was a game away from the state tournament. Injuries and defensive shortcomings hampered Lake City in 2013 as the team finished 3-6 overall. 

The biggest fix the team is looking for is on the defensive end. Last year, the Tigers surrendered a Southern Football Alliance Red Division worst 28.7 points per game. 

“Our struggle toward the end of last year was trusting each other,” said senior linebacker Michael Noll, who had 100 tackles last fall. “Our starting defense at the beginning of the year to our starting defense at the end of the year was completely different. We just need to trust each other and do our jobs, and if we do that, we can be successful on the defensive end because we have some good athletes who can get to the ball and make plays.”

Narum said the team’s defense will be “the same as we’ve always done. Hopefully we can do better.” And that will begin with trust.

“The biggest issue we had last year, and not just at varsity but at some of our lower-level teams is that I don’t think we trust one another or trust our assignments,” Narum said. “Then guys try to do other peoples’ jobs, trying to be heroes and getting out of position. Just be disciplined and know where you fit in.”

On offense, the Tigers will try and replace some of its biggest playmakers, namely running backs Elliot Cox (542 rushing yards, 10 total touchdowns in five games) and Will Balow, and Reid Lundell at quarterback. 

The one holdover for the backfield is senior Luke Hartzell, who rushed for 364 yards and six touchdowns on 76 carries. Easton Cox, Matt Kjos and Noll, who moves to fullback from center, will vie for carries in the Tigers’ three-back running attack.

“Hartzell will be one of those back with some experience,” Narum said. “Easton will be at our Z-back position, and Matt Kjos is another kid that can get into the rotation as well. … (Noll) would probably be our best lineman, but he’ll probably be one of our best running backs. He’s got one of the top 40 times on our team, I think he’s got the top shuttle run time on our team. He’s very, very athletic and he’s looked good so far.”

Senior Andrew Schmidt will take the reins at quarterback. He will have weapons like wide receivers Derek Bremer and Jesse Oliver, along with tight end Eli Custer.

“We’ll have a lot of new faces in the starting positions, and I’m just doing my best to fill Reid’s position,” Schmidt said. “We’ll be small, but we’ll be quick, and that should be our biggest strength.”

What Schmidt brings to quarterback is stability, which is something the team will need with just one returning lineman — Tristan Hestnas — ready for Week 1. Two of the Tigers’ projected offensive line starters will miss three games due to academic ineligibility.

“In practice the first week-and-a-half, (Schmidt’s) been really solid with the reads he’s making,” Narum said. “He makes good decisions. There’s nothing flashy about him; he’s just one of those wrestling kids that’s just going to go out and bust his butt. He’s not the prototypical size of a quarterback — he’s a little bit shorter — but he’s a leader and the kids follow him.”

As in years past, what Lake City lacks in size, they’ll make up for in athleticism.

“We got Andrew at quarterback and we all trust him,” Easton Cox said. “Michael’s at fullback and we definitely trust him. He’ll be a good fullback. We got some speed, so we’ll get down (the field).”

Give the Tigers some time, and they hope they can make a new name for themselves in the tough SFA Red.

“It’s going to be tough,” Cox said. “We’re going to work hard, and no game’s going to be easy. We’re going to have to go 100 percent every game on every play. And if we don’t, we’re not going to execute.”

Schmidt added, “Every team’s going to be competitive. The biggest thing for us is getting that competitive edge and knowing we can run with anyone. We have an athletic squad here.”

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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