Young Jays look to use team speed to run past district opponents
A new era has begun for Le Mars Gehlen football as the Jays will look to improve on last year's 5-4 record with the help of a younger group of players.
Helping replace a prolific senior class that included quarterback Taylor Smith and running back Eric Rohe, will be sophomore Taylor Wurth and junior Jordan Sitzmann.
The Jays list only four seniors on their roster but return 11 letter winners from the 2007 campaign. Joining Wurth and Sitzmann are seniors Alex Westergard and Chris Gabriel as major contributors and letter winners. Fellow seniors Austin Sitzmann and Shawne Reuter did not earn letters this past season.
Wurth will face the task of replacing Smith who threw for 1,571 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading an offense that averaged 294.5 yards a game. Wurth did see a limited amount of action last year as a freshman while completing four of six passes for 58 yards as the varsity back-up.
"Taylor is a sophomore but he's a good kid. He's got the size we need back there and he's learning," said Jays' coach Tony Gunter.
Most coaches would fret about leaving the offense in the hands of an underclassmen but Gunter welcomes the opportunity.
"I've always wanted the opportunity to put a sophomore back there," said Gunter. "He can grow for us back there for a few years. With as much work as he's put in coming into this season, it'll be a good opportunity for us and we can hopefully iron out some things on Friday with our scrimmage."
"I've got all the confidence in the world with him back there but we don't have a lot of depth so we're going to need kids healthy."
Lining up with Wurth in the backfield is Jordan Sitzmann who will be the Jays' starter in the one back set. Trevor Bouma could see some snaps at the position in place of Sitzmann.
Sitzmann rushed 23 times for 109 and one score and Bouma comes in as a freshman. The duo will have to replace Rohe who ran for 704 yards and nine touchdowns on 110 rushing attempts last season.
Rohe also had 28 catches for 513 yards and scored five touchdowns while lining up as a receiver with returning starter Chris Gabriel. Gabriel was named to the Iowa Sports Connection Pre-season All-State Football Team after coming off a big junior year in 2007.
The 6-foot-3, 182 pound Gabriel had 40 grabs for 633 yards and five touchdowns and looks to be a major receiving target for Wurth. Junior Adam Nemmers will be the other go-to receiver as his 6-2 frame gives Wurth another option in the passing game.
Two-time letter winner Westergard anchors the offensive line along with junior Cole Heissel who has earned two letters himself. Drew Kellen also looks to provide solid protection for the offensive on a line that Gunter says looks to be the offense's strong point.
Defensively, the line looks to feature most of the same faces as the offensive line. The defensive line could be the strong point of the defense as all of the line from 2007 returns for this season.
Junior Cody Campbell has nailed down a spot at middle linebacker but Gunter says the other two linebacker spots are still up for grabs.
"I feel really confident with Cody in there, but we have about six guys for the other spots," said Gunter. "We need two really aggressive guys to play those positions but we haven't had enough practice to get those things nailed down yet."
The secondary will play mostly in a Cover 3 scheme with Wurth at free safety and Bouma providing run support at strong safety. Sitzmann and Nemmers look to lock down receivers at their cornerback positions.
"I'm pretty happy with our secondary," said Gunter. "They're going to be young but I think Taylor could be one of the best cornerbacks to come through Gehlen. He's picking up on things really fast. I hope we don't see any let down there. I'm pretty optimistic - these kids are playing with a lot of confidence right now."
The team may be young and without much depth but Gehlen looks to use speed to utilize their spread option offense.
"We're young but very talented," said Gunter. "Overall, we're as fast as we've ever been. I don't remember having this kind of speed overall - even some linemen are pretty fast."
Gunter says that the teams to look out for in the district are Alta, Woodbury Central and Akron-Westfield.
"Akron dropped down a class but I think those three will be knocking each other hard up top."
As far as Gehlen's first opponent - West Sioux - the Jays haven't played the Falcons in six or seven years but the team will feature a new coach on the sideline this year.
"We don't really know much about them," said Gunter. "We do know they are big and very physical. We're going to have a hard time matching up with them size-wise."