Another year, another set of weekly football rankings.
Here’s a preseason look at the top 10 Minnesota high school football teams in the Forum coverage area with the best chance to win a state title in 2014. Football opens this week in Minnesota, but no local teams play.
Mahnomen was No. 1 every week last season and proved why with the only state championship in the area. They begin the 2014 season where they’ve always been.
Last season: 14-0, Class 1A state champions
Next up: at Pine River-Backus, 7 p.m., Aug. 29
The longest active winning streak in Minnesota high school football belongs to Mahnomen. The Indians have won 28 straight games and two straight state Class 1A state titles.
Mahnomen loses running backs Trevor Haugo, Bob Bjorge and Austin Reitan to graduation. They also lose Kal Handyside, who was big on both the offensive and defensive lines, and Nathan Hansen, who was a threat through the air and at defensive back. Hansen started every game in the 28-game winning streak for Mahnomen.
The Indians bring back quarterback Tom Pavek, who is just a junior, and running back Kody Lefebvre, along with Levi Liebl, Kurt Francis, Anthony Sanchez and Gabe Large, who man both offensive and defensive lines.
Until they prove otherwise, the Indians will be No. 1.
Last season: 10-2, Lost in Class 2A state semifinals 41-21 to Chatfield
Next up: at No. 6 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 7 p.m., Aug. 29
Hawley was loaded with juniors last season. The loss of running back Chris Buttke to graduation hurts, as does not having a home field, but the Nuggets return quarterback Jordan Harms, tight end/quarterback/linebacker Ben Ellefson, running back Dillon Omberg and tight end/linebacker/defensive end Dawson Tusow. Nuggets take a big hit losing offensive and defensive lineman Logan Alm, who is out 6-8 weeks, but he could be back come playoff time.
The Nuggets have talent everywhere and Ellefson has a lot of it. Ellefson had 34 receptions for 613 yards and nine touchdowns, 48 carries for 347 yards and seven touchdowns and had 46 tackles, four interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery at linebacker for the Nuggets last season. He earned all-section and conference MVP honors, along with scholarships to Wyoming, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Army, New Mexico and Fordham.
Ellefson is headed to North Dakota State next season, but he’ll try to get Hawley its first non co-op team title in school history before he heads off to college.
Last season: 10-4, Lost in Class 9-man state championship to Grand Meadow 28-6
Next up: at Ortonville, 7 p.m., Aug. 28
Underwood surprised everyone last season. The Rockets lost their starting running back to a torn ACL in a scrimmage before the season began and lost two of their first three games. They made it to the Class 9-man state title game as a No. 3 seed in their section.
Noah Thompson literally picked up the starting running back position and ran with it. He was the leading rusher in the state, finishing with 2,069 yards on the ground. For that, he was not named to any AP All-State teams or even the Minnesota Coaches Association All-State Class 9-man team. He got an honorable mention from the coaches association.
The Rockets are hoping that angered Thompson a bit because he’s back to run behind linemen Dan Anderson and Joe Onstad. If Underwood has Thompson and 6-foot-3, 223-pound Matt Biegler both taking carries, their run game could be the scariest in Class 9-man. Biegler also has the hands to be a receiving option and the size to play on either line.
The Rockets lose starting quarterback Adam Creek, center/linebacker and leading tackler Max Kollar, lineman Leroy Hauge, tight end/defensive end Aaron Thompson and linebacker AJ Montgomery.
The Rockets and Thompson are no longer off radars. We’ll see how they answer.
Last season: 7-4, Lost in Class 5A, Section 8 championship to Sartell-St. Stephen 24-19
Next up: at Alexandria, 7 p.m., Aug. 29
Trailing 24-7 with 8:59 left in the section championship, Moorhead made an incredible comeback that fell just short.
The Spuds were within striking distance of its third section title in a row, but an interception by Sartell in their own end zone with the Spuds down five clinched it.
Good thing for the Spuds they return a lot of players who played in that game and still remember the sting.
Moorhead coach Kevin Feeney has been in the Class 5A, Section 8 title game all four seasons with the Spuds with two wins. He’s never had returning starters on the offensive line. This season he has three in Brady Emerson, Brandon Bundgaard and Ethan Marquart.
He also has Jade Lawrence, who rushed for 827 yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries and hauled in 21 receptions for 211 yards in 2013. The Spuds will miss Brett Lawrence’s size at receiver and will have to replace quarterback Tyler Eidsness.
The Spuds lost 31 seniors going into last season and were supposed to have growing pains. Instead they were five points short of state for the third straight season with a bunch of new guys starting. Now, they are back with experience.
Last season: 9-2, Lost in Class 9-man, Section 4 championship to Underwood 13-12
Next up: at Hancock, 7 p.m., Aug. 28
The section title game was a nightmare for Verndale. The Pirates blew a 12-point second-half lead and gave up the tying touchdown with no time remaining and lost with the extra point.
Quarterback Dillon Card returns with that on his shoulders. His shoulders can handle it as the 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior rushed for 1,278 yards and 20 touchdowns and threw for 801 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. On defense, he had 69 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. If that doesn’t scare you, he had a 45-1 wrestling season in which he finished third in the state at 220 pounds.
Card is one of 15 returning seniors to the team. They all have a giant chip on their shoulders after that Underwood loss.
Last season: 8-3, Lost in Class 3A state quarterfinals to New London-Spicer 56-30
Next up: host No. 2 Hawley, 7 p.m., Friday
Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton coach Anthony Soderberg said he has no plans of trying to replace graduated running back Chad Johnson. Johnson broke the school record with 1,668 yards rushing on 224 attempts for the Rebels last season. He was the conference offensive back of the year, team captain and team MVP.
He does, however, plan to reconstruct Johnson with a couple players in senior running backs Joe Flatt (564 rushing yards on 69 attempts), Brandon Wayne (618 yards on 97 attempts) and Alex Matthews behind returning offensive linemen Ben Knutson, Mark Steichen, Chase Schumann and tight end Tyler Oberg.
The Rebels also have eight starters back on defense and Soderberg said the only real position they don’t have a lot of experience is at quarterback. That job will go to junior Blake Kragnes.
The towns of Dilworth, Glyndon and Felton haven’t seen back-to-back trips to state since 1988-89.
7. Otter Tail Central
Last season: 9-2, Lost in Class 2A, Section 6 championship game to Holdingford 32-14
Next up: host Upsala-Swanville, 7 p.m., Aug. 28
Bulldogs return three starters in their backfield, but only return one starter on the offensive and defensive lines. They have to replace Dan Marso (LB), Andrew Smith (QB/RB/FS), Jake Trosdahl (RB/OLB) and Tyler Ukkelberg (TE/DE), all of which were starters for the last three years.
That’s the bad news. Good news is they return Nick Trosdahl, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and was the leading tackler in 2013, Micah Rogness, who is a three-year starter on both the offensive and defensive lines, and Tony Ukkelberg, who has already spent some time at quarterback, throwing for 526 yards last season.
The Bulldogs will look for Tony Ukkelberg to take over the quarterback position and Cody Seedorf, who rushed for 488 yards last season, to help out Nick Trosdahl at running back. Andrew VanErp will be Tony Ukkelberg’s big receiver option on offensive and led the team in interceptions last season on defense.
Last season: 7-3, Lost in Class 2A, Section 8 semifinal to Barnesville 41-0
Next up: host Park Rapids, 7 p.m., Aug. 29
Frazee returns its top three rushers in Hesston Bachman, who rushed for over 1,200 yards last season, Tanner Bachmann and Austin Torma. Hesston Bachman will move to quarterback where Tanner Bachmann is the best returning wide receiver as well.
Garrett Malstrom and Roger Thorp are animals on defense for Frazee. In eight games, Malstrom had 107 tackles, 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and one forced fumble at linebacker. Thorp is a two-way starter on both lines and had 33 tackles and 0.5 sacks last season on defense. Malstrom will also see time at fullback.
Frazee only had seven seniors on last year’s team. The Hornets have not been to state since 1990.
Last season: 7-3, Lost in the Class 2A, Section 6 semifinals to Otter Tail Central 22-19
Next up: host Wahpeton, 7 p.m., Aug. 29
Breckenridge loses it’s leading rusher in Parker Busse, but return quarterback Nathan Blaufuss and big receiving option Nathan Lorenz at tight end.
A year after going 2-7, the Cowboys went 7-3 last season, were co-conference champions of the Heart O’ Lakes and closed the season winning five of six games, giving up 35 points – 22 of which came in the loss – during that stretch.
Last season: 7-4, Lost in the Class 9-man, Section 6 finals to Ada-Borup 17-8
Next up: host Clearbrook-Gonvick, 7 p.m., Aug. 28
The Bombers return two 1,000-yard rushers in Ryan Weber and Jordan Spaeth.
Ada-Borup had won the section title five of the last six seasons. The Cougars lost their top three offensive weapons and are learning a new system under a new coach. With the Cougars seemingly down for this season, the section is up for grabs and the Bombers have the weapons to grab it.
Norman County East-Ulen-Hitterdal
Last season: 3-6, Lost in opening round of Class 9-man, Section 6 to Park Christian 18-0
Next up: host Polk County West, 7 p.m., Aug. 28
Head coach Dustin Flaten says, since it’s the second year of the co-op, all the kinks are fixed. He’s got nine returning starters, including running back Hunter Thompson, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards last season. Flaten is expecting Thompson and fellow senior Patrick Busby to be two, 1,000-yard backs for the Titans this season behind returning offensive linemen Noah Stene, Mason Okke and Jordan Halvorson.
Chris Murphy can be reached at 701-241-5548 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeeMurphsTweets for Minnesota prep updates and smart alecky remarks about sports, movies, music and life in general.