FAIRMONT - Pack up the helmets, shoulder pads and jerseys, and back up the equipment trailer - the South Central Conference football teams are literally on the move this fall.
The six-team league has two veteran assistants making the move to head coach in 2012, four gridiron programs will make the transition to new sections - including three moving up a class - after the Minnesota State High School League's offseason realignment, and one mentor looks to move into elite company with his legendary predecessors.
Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney seeks a fifth consecutive conference championship in just his sixth season at the Cardinals' helm. Only Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Mahoney Sr. - Mat's grandfather - and fellow member Jim Simser engineered at least five SCC football titles in a row along the Fairmont sideline.
SCC TITANS — Fairmont halfback Brandon Martin (44) looks for running room between Blue Earth Area linebacker Carter Hanson (right) and Buc defensive back Dallas Barslou during South Central Conference football action at Wilson Field in Blue Earth last fall. All three starters will return to the prep gridiron this fall. Martin and Hanson went on to earn all-conference and Sentinel All-Area football accolades in 2011. (Sentinel archives)
Mat Mahoney and his perennial champions will seek to extend their league winning streak to 21 when the Cardinals open their SCC schedule with a Week 4 clash against Waseca mentor Brad Wendland's hard-hitting Bluejays at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in Waseca.
While Mahoney looks to continue his success this fall, Anthony Ortmann and Jeff Whitney will seek their first victories as rookie head coaches at New Ulm and St. James, respectively.
Ironically, Ortmann and Whitney - a pair of former Southwest Minnesota State University gridiron standouts in Marshall - served as the Eagles' and Saints' defensive coordinators a year ago.
Ortmann - a four-year assistant at New Ulm - and the Eagles will make the switch from Section 3AAA to Section 2AAAA in 2012, while Whitney and the Saints will remain in Section 3AA in spite of joining forces with Butterfield-Odin during the offseason.
Wendland and his Waseca charges will make the move from Section 2AAA to Section 1AAAA, Blue Earth Area mentor Randy Kuechenmeister and his sure-handed Bucs jump from Section 3AA to Section 3AAA, while St. Peter head coach Brian Odland and the Saints make the switch from Section 2AAA to Section 3AAA.
Oddly enough, Fairmont remains in Section 3AAA, which the MSHSL drastically revamped during the offseason to consist of the Cardinals, Blue Earth Area, Belle Plaine, Redwood Valley, St. Peter, Worthington and newly-configured Tri-City United - formerly Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center.
Here's a preseason glance at the SCC football teams in order of how they finished in 2011.
Fairmont (5-0 SCC, 12-2 overall): Mat Mahoney guided his four-time undefeated SCC champions to the legendary program's first-ever appearance in a state championship game at the Metrodome a year ago.
Now, Mahoney will look to take his 2011 Class AAA state runners-up one step further this season, but will have to fill five starting positions on offense and six more on the defensive side.
All-SCC and Sentinel All-Area running back Brandon Martin will headline the Cardinals' backfield on the heels of rushing for a team-leading 1,339 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall. The 5-foot-9, 220-pound senior stalwart also topped the red-and-white in scoring with 134 points.
Kyle Guetter, a 5-11, 180-pound senior, once again will open holes for Martin from his fullback position. The hard-blocking Guetter, however, proved to be an offensive threat last fall by making nine catches for 91 yards and two TDs to complement 184 rushing yards and another score.
Sean Klein, a 6-2, 200-pound senior, and 6-3, 195-pound junior Nick Roggow each return to anchor an offensive line that helped generate a staggering 5,008 total yards and 457 points (32.6 ppg).
All-Area choice Bryce Holm, a 6-2, 180-pound senior, will top the Cardinals' receiving core after producing team-bests of 884 yards and 12 TDs on the strength of 55 catches - including a Prep Bowl-record four TDs via eight grabs for 145 yards.
Levi Becker, a 6-1, 185-pound senior tight end, will round out the red-and-white's returning offensive starters after making 22 receptions for 307 yards and four scores.
Levi Becker also will return to double duty by filling a linebacker position from a defensive perspective after making numerous key tackles and one interception a year ago.
Ryan Noll, a 6-0, 175-pound senior, will flank Becker at an outside linebacker spot after garnering four quarterback sacks, one fumble recovery and two interceptions - including one returned for six points.
All-Area selections Jay Ruen and Justin Barnes also return to the defensive side of the ball after combining for 10 interceptions and sharing the team lead with two fumble recoveries each in 2011.
Ruen, a 6-1, 175-pound junior, will patrol the secondary after registering a team-best seven picks to complement 101 tackles. The 6-3, 165-pound Barnes will line up again at an end position after pocketing three interceptions to go with 80 tackles and four quarterback sacks.
Colton Hines, a 5-11, 275-pound senior, will anchor Fairmont's defensive front wall after delivering two sacks and scooping up one fumble in 2011.
Fairmont will kick off the regular season by traveling to Worthington on Friday, Aug. 31, for a 7 p.m. nonconference and sectional clash with the Trojans.
The Cardinals will play the first of their five regular-season home games on Friday, Sept. 7, at Mahoney Field against the Marshall Tigers in another 7 p.m. non-league game.
Blue Earth Area (4-1 SCC, 10-2 overall) - Randy Kuechenmeister returns for his 22nd season after engineering the Bucs' first state appearance since 2006.
While the savvy football veteran guided Blue Earth Area to the Class AA state quarterfinals last fall, Kuechenmeister will have to replace his entire offensive line that featured 6-9, 300-pound University of Minnesota freshman Jonah Pirsig and 6-5, 300-pound Augustana College freshman Sam Lee.
The good news, however, is the senior foursome of Carter Hanson, Isaac Darrington, Steven Plocker and Dallas Barslou, along with junior David Franta, return on both sides of the line of scrimmage in 2012.
Hanson, a two-time all-SCC and All-Area choice, will headline the offensive backfield after churning out a second-best team total of 896 rushing yards and eight TDs from his running back spot.
The hard-hitting 5-10, 175-pound middle linebacker also will anchor the Bucs' defensive unit after recording a team-leading 102 tackles to complement three interceptions a year ago.
Darrington, an all-SCC selection, will top the maroon-and-gold's receiving core after pacing the team with 27 catches for 507 yards and eight TDs. The sure-handed 6-4, 185-pound split end also returns to double duty as a free safety on the heels of notching 45 tackles and two interceptions.
The 6-4, 205-pound Plocker will return both his blocking and pass-catching skills to his familiar tight end spot, while lining up to wreak havoc on opposing ball carriers from his defensive end position.
The fleet-footed Barslou and Franta round out the returning receivers at their wideout spots, while helping patrol the defensive secondary at cornerback and strong safety, respectively.
The hard-charging Kysten Zierke, a 6-0, 195-pound senior, will rejoin Hanson at linebacker from a defensive perspective, while competing with senior Taylor Olson for the starting nod at quarterback this fall.
Brad More, a 5-11, 230-pound senior, and Brandyn Olsen, a 6-2, 160-pound senior, round out the Bucs' eight returning defensive starters at tackle and cornerback, respectively.
Blue Earth Area opens the season by playing host to non-league rival United South Central at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.
Waseca (2-3 SCC, 5-5 overall) - Seventh-year Bluejay mentor Brad Wendland returns only four starters on offense and five on defense this fall, but three of those players are all-conference selections.
Brock Kolander, a 6-2, 195-pound senior standout, will highlight Waseca's potent backfield after rushing for more than 1,800 yards en route to earning all-SCC accolades.
Jacob Claybaugh, a 6-2, 230-pound senior, will return to open holes for Kolander along the line of scrimmage after meriting all-league honors in 2011.
Zach Gehloff, a 6-0, 180-pound senior, will handle the Bluejays' fullback duties again, while sure-handed Austin Stroda returns to his wingback position.
Stroda also returns to double duty at a cornerback spot in the defensive secondary, while Claybaugh will supply strength to the line from an end spot.
Jake Busse, a 6-3, 220-pound junior, will line up at an end position, while all-SCC choice Leo Hoehn and Erik Balfe will provide sure-handed tackling from their linebacker spots.
Hoehn, a 5-11, 185-pound senior, will call the defensive signals, while the 6-0, 190-pound Balfe will patrol the flats during his senior campaign.
Balfe and junior Tom O'Neil will compete for the starting quarterback job for the Bluejays this fall.
Waseca kicks off its season by traveling to Big Nine Conference foe Albert Lea for a 7 p.m. non-league clash on Thursday, Aug. 30.
St. Peter (2-3 SCC, 4-5 overall) - Brian Odland's program has steadily improved during his first three seasons at the Saints' football helm, and will look to take another step forward in 2012.
Josh Peymann, a 6-0, 161-pound senior, will handle the play-calling duties at quarterback this fall after sharing time under center with senior Austin Braun a year ago.
Peymann's ability to scramble and throw the football proved double trouble for opposing defenders in 2011.
Derek Meyer, a 5-11, 158-pound junior, will figure into Odland's backfield mix again, with the trio of Dylan Connor, Alex Willson and Ashton Bartlett creating running room for the speedy Meyer.
Connor, a 5-9, 214-pound senior, will handle St. Peter's snapping duties, while Willson - a 6-0, 162-pound junior - and Bartlett - a 5-11, 175-pound senior - will deliver blocks from their tackle and guard positions, respectively.
While Peymann and Braun will lend their skills to the defensive secondary, Connor and Meyer will rejoin Tom Steidler and Jordan Phillips as linebackers within the famed radar defense's scheme this fall.
Steidler, a 6-3, 178-pound junior, will return his sure-handed tackling skills to an outside spot, while Phillips returns to an interior linebacking position.
All-SCC selection Keegan McCabe, a 5-11, 161-pound junior, will bring his hard-charging skills back to an end position, while junior Cody Erickson and senior Jorden Sorensen will handle the cornerback duties for a second straight campaign.
St. Peter opens the season by playing host to non-league opponent Le Sueur-Henderson at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31.
New Ulm (2-3 SCC, 2-7 overall) - Anthony Ortmann makes the transition to head coach after coordinating the Eagles' defense for the last three campaigns.
The former Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University football standout will look to rebuild New Ulm's program with only two starters returning on both offense and defense this fall.
Isaiah Johnson, a 5-7, 150-pound senior, will handle the purple-and-white's tailback duties again, while 5-10, 166-pound junior Cole Wilfahrt will return to the offensive trenches. Wilfahrt, however, will make the switch from center to either a guard or a tackle spot.
Senior Chris Mulder, a 6-0, 165-pounder, will handle New Ulm's quarterbacking duties this fall and serve double duty by rotating into the defensive secondary at safety.
Michael Dickinson, a bruising 6-4, 245-pound senior, returns to top the Eagles' defensive unit. Dickinson, however, will make the move from linebacker to either a tackle or an end position.
Grant Kannegiesser will round out the returning starters on defense by filling his familiar linebacker spot.
New Ulm kicks off the season by hitting the road to Belle Plaine for a 7 p.m. non-league game on Thursday, Aug. 30.
St. James (0-5 SCC, 0-9 overall) - Jeff Whitney moves from calling defensive signals to running the entire football program this fall.
The former St. James High School and Southwest Minnesota State University gridiron captain will rely on 13 returning starters to guide the Saints into the win column in 2012 after going 0-9 overall last season.
Whitney will turn to 6-0, 215-pound senior Sam Carlson to put his offense in motion for a third consecutive campaign. The all-SCC quarterback and St. Paul Pioneer Press honorable mention all-state pick passed for a single-season school record 1,709 yards to complement 11 TDs last fall.
But Carlson will not be alone as receivers Justin Heinrich and Zack Gleiter, along with linemen Devin Wolle, Ryan Menssen and Adrian Torres, return for the Saints on offense.
Wolle, a 6-1, 190-pound senior tackle, also will return to his familiar spot at defensive end, while the 5-9, 175-pound Menssen will handle St. James' snapping duties on offense and make tackles from his linebacker position on defense.
Adrian Torres, a 5-9, 250-pound junior, will line up at the tackle spot on both sides of the line of scrimmage, while Gleiter will serve as a flanker and cornerback, respectively.
Carlson will utilize his 215-pound frame to handle defensive end duties again, with 5-10, 265-pound senior Victor Torres lining up at a defensive tackle position.
Isaac Carreon, a 5-10, 140-pound senior, rounds out the Saints' defensive secondary by returning to his cornerback spot.
St. James travels to Mapleton on Friday, Aug. 31, for its season opener against non-league opponent Maple River.