ARMSTRONG - Every season, high school football coaches face similar challenges of setting rosters and teaching both offensive and defensive schemes to a new group of athletes.
For North Union co-head coaches Tommy Elliott and Troy Adams, this season also brings the added task of learning a new form of football.
The Warriors, who are comprised of the Armstrong-Ringsted and North Sentral Kossuth school districts, make their Iowa prep football debut at 7 p.m. tonight when they travel to Estherville to face Estherville-Lincoln Central in a non-district game.
GRIDIRON WARRIORS — Members of the North Union Warrior football team kicking off the season against Estherville-Lincoln Central at 7 p.m. tonight in Estherville, Iowa, include, front row (l-r): Jannis Lesko, Colton McConnell, Matt Adams, C.J. Cheever, Clyve Jensen, Austin Minnmann, Ty Anderson, J.C. Culbertson, Garrett Johnson, Jacob Adams, Joey Stauffer, Michael Mather and Logan Hargrove. Second row: Derrick Blair, Blake Cole, Aric Runge, Mitch Dahl, Marshall Klingenberg, Cody Runksmeier, Cody Bradley, Chase Paulsen, Kaleb Olson and Kameron Strong. Third row: Jeffrey Cejka, Justin Culbertson, Wyatt Hovick, Bryce Harris, Jacob Govern, Jacob Braddock, Dyson Umscheid, Andrew Bush, Aaron Swalve, Cory Tigges, Rory Lindell and Alex Arndorfer. Fourth row: Braden Ortman, Ryan Larson, Josh Braddock and Wyatt Runksmeier. Back row: Assistant coach Mike Larsen, assistant coach Joe Richmond, assistant coach Tyson Wirtz, assistant coach Duyane VonBank, co-head coach Troy Adams, co-head coach Tommy Elliott, assistant coach Ron Larsen, assistant coach Alex Fisher, assistant coach Joe Johnson and assistant coach Loren Looft. Not pictured: Shane Mills and Colton Nicoson. Photo by Leanna Becker
In North Union's first football season, the new combination will make the two-tier jump from the 8-Man Class to 11-player Class 1A. The Iowa division in between is Class A.
"It's a completely different ball game for them and it's a learning curve for both the players and the coaches," said Elliott, a former A-R standout.
The Warriors' offense will stick with a consistent ground game - something that both the Mustang and Eagle football programs had success with in the past.
"The holes in the line are a bit more congested with the added linemen, but it's a system that both teams were familiar with," said Adams, NSK's head coach in 2011. "It takes more time to work out timing with passing and so we wanted to simplify things."
Defensively, the adjustments will be easier for North Union with a lineman and two defensive backs being added to the field.
"It will be easier to transition on defense because the positioning is similar," said Adams.
It also helps that the Warriors have a strong core of players returning from both teams.
All-district selections Jake Adams, Michael Mather and Garrett Johnson, along with other varsity veterans like Clyve Johnson, Colton McConnell, Austin Minnmann, J.C. Culbertson, Shane Mills, Jacob Braddock, Ty Anderson, Derrick Blair, Joey Stauffer, Aric Runge, Mitchell Dahl and Cody Runksmeier will be competing for the majority of the starting positions.
"This year, we are going to have a lot of ironmen and some that play both sides of the ball," said Elliott. "We are trying to find ways to get them breaks and to still maintain a strong team on the field."
Both schools have strong football traditions that the Warriors are hoping to extend into the new season. Under former head coach Robert Zotz, Armstrong-Ringsted reached the 8-Man state finals four years in a row, winning championships in 2009 and 2010. Last year, the Mustangs lost in the state semifinals.
Under Adams' guidance, NSK made it into the 8-Man playoffs three of the past four years, while the Adams-coached North Kossuth program made it during each of the three prior years.
With a new class and a new district, North Union will now have to battle against schools with larger enrollments like Emmetsburg, which looks to be one of the favorites to win the Class 1A, District 1 championship.
The Warriors also will face district opponents Western Christian, Gehlen Catholic, South O'Brien, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn along the way before playing Okoboji in the regular-season finale.
"The competition will be tough this year. It will be a big transition seeing those big schools in a different format than we're used to," said Adams. "We are in a strong district, so this will be a tough year for us."
"We have a good group of seniors who have stepped up and shown leadership and who are good workers," said Adams. "We have had some long hours and they've been there and worked hard and never complained."
Both of North Union's coaches bring varying experience in the team's initial year. Adams, a coach of 24 years, led North Sentral Kossuth and North Kossuth to the playoffs.
Elliott is in his first year as a head coach, but was an all-state player that rushed for 2,335 yards. He also is the son of Tom Elliott, Armstrong-Ringsted's head coach for 25 years.
"It's different being on the other side of the game. Now I have to do a better job of explaining it so that the players can understand something," said Tommy Elliott.
"My dad is supportive. If I need help he'll be there, but for the most part he's going to stay back and let me have my time. If I can be as successful as he was, I think I'll be alright," said the younger Elliott.
On a positive note, the first of North Union's five home games - all played in Armstrong - will be against Bishop Garrigan of Algona on Friday, Aug. 31.