Hard workers. Inspiring leaders. Skilled athletes. True teammates.
Carter Hanson and Kysten Zierke will put every ounce of their seemingly endless supply of energy and insightful knowledge of the sport of prep football to the ultimate test at 1 p.m. today inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Blue Earth Area's two field generals will look to guide Buc mentor Randy Kuechenmeister's program to its first-ever state gridiron championship with a victory over No. 1-ranked Rochester Lourdes.
CO-PLAYERS OF THE YEAR — Blue Earth Area quarterback Kysten Zierke (15) sprints past an unidentified Perham defender for a long gain during Class AAA state semifinal football action last Saturday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Prior to today's Prep Bowl kickoff, Hanson and Zierke played integral roles in engineering the Bucs' first-ever undefeated campaign (12-0) and first-ever appearance in the Class AAA state finals.
The pair of irresistible football forces also led Blue Earth Area to the No. 2 spot in the Minnesota Associated Press' state poll this fall, in addition to capturing the outright South Central Conference championship.
Both Minnesota AP all-state nominees made major contributions to the Bucs' quest for the perfect season, but "mere statistics do not measure what each player means to our team," according to Kuechenmeister.
Indeed. While Hanson paced Blue Earth Area's smothering defense with 117 tackles and four fumble recoveries, including two during the Bucs' state quarterfinal triumph over 2011 Class AAA state champion St. Croix Lutheran, the extra attention that he draws from opposing blockers does not show up in the boxscore.
"His motor never seems to stop, and he just keeps coming after you," Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney said in describing Hanson.
The three-time Sentinel All-Area middle linebacker, who enters today's championship clash with two quarterback sacks and one interception, also is a talented multi-tasker as proven by his offensive contributions.
The three-time all-SCC choice has generated 574 yards and six touchdowns on 99 carries from his fullback position, while catching nine passes for 153 yards and one TD - a 33-yarder in the Bucs' state semifinal triumph over Perham a week ago.
While Hanson - an 2011 AP all-state honorable mention selection - could affectionately by tabbed as the immovable object from a defensive perspective, Zierke could aptly fit the definition of an unstoppable force when he takes snaps from center.
The 6-0, 205-pound Zierke tops a balanced and talent-laden Blue Earth Area offense in both rushing - 972 yards and 18 TDs on 181 carries - and passing - 68-for-143 for 1,015 yards and 10 more scores.
"When he keeps the football, you know that one, there's going to be a collision, and two, it's going to take more than one defender to bring him down," Perham head coach Mike Jordahl said in reference to Zierke.
Like Hanson, Zierke also excels on both sides of the line of scrimmage as the junior outside linebacker has recorded 53 tackles, including two and a half quarterback sacks, to complement a pair of interceptions during his second year as a defensive starter.
For all of their contributions on and off the prep gridiron, Zierke and Hanson have been selected as the 2012 Sentinel All-Area football players of the year.
Here's an inside glance at the rest of the newspaper's annual area all-star team.
Jake Faber (Martin County West) - The all-Gopher Valley Conference choice displayed a strong and accurate arm by erupting for an incredible 1,597 yards and 20 TDs behind 87-for-168 passing this fall.
The 6-2, 185-pound junior quarterback also generated 251 yards and two TDs on 55 carries before being sidelined to a knee injury during the playoffs.
Faber, who handled the long-snapping duties on special teams, registered 56 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles from his end/linebacker position on defense for the Mavericks.
Jared Green (GHEC/ Truman) - The good news - the hard-churning running back averaged more than 134 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, Green missed four of the Jaguars' nine games due to injury this fall.
The 5-11, 165-pound junior produced a second-best team total of 672 yards to complement four TDs on 117 carries.
Green also displayed his defensive skills by recording 37 tackles to go with one interception and one safety from his linebacker position.
Mitch Sitzmann (Martin County West) - The repeat All-Area selection topped the Mavericks' rushing statistical charts on the strength of 671 yards and eight TDs in 2012.
The fleet-footed senior flanker also made 28 receptions for 416 yards and five more scores, in addition to producing a pair of TDs on special teams.
The 5-6, 152-pound Sitzmann piled up 12 points and 514 yards as a kickoff returner, while adding 143 yards via punt returns.
The all-Gopher Valley Conference choice pocketed 48 tackles and two interceptions while patrolling the defensive secondary from his cornerback spot.
DaMarko Thomas (GHEC/Truman) - The two-time All-Area standout demonstrated his speed and strength by topping the Jaguars in both rushing and scoring this season.
The repeat all-Southern Confederacy League running back produced 894 yards, 11 TDs and seven 2-point conversions during the 2012 campaign.
The 6-2, 195-pound Thomas - who netted AP all-state honorable mention accolades in 2011 - also grabbed 12 passes for 121 yards and one TD in his recurring role at wide receiver.
The shoulder pad-rattling linebacker also chalked up 64 tackles to net second-place honors on GHEC/Truman's roster to complement two interceptions.
Seth Anderson (Blue Earth Area) - The hard-working left guard has played a key role in creating running room for the Bucs' balanced attack this fall.
The 6-0, 215-pound senior blocker has opened holes for an offense that has amassed 4,216 total yards, including a staggering 3,192 on the ground, en route to a 34.3-point scoring average.
Anderson's contributions in the trenches helped guide Blue Earth Area to today's Class AAA state championship game, an undefeated record (12-0), the No. 2 spot in the Minnesota Associated Press' state poll and the South Central Conference crown in 2012.
Christian Haugh (Blue Earth Area) - The path-clearing left tackle was one of the unheralded heroes behind the Bucs' second consecutive state berth this season.
The 6-2, 210-pound senior lineman's blocking efforts allowed Blue Earth Area to generate 266 rushing yards per game en route to 45 touchdowns via the ground.
Haugh also assisted the maroon-and-gold in earning the South Central Conference championship, a perfect record (12-0) and the No. 2 spot in the Minnesota AP state poll this fall.
Sean Klein (Fairmont) - The all-South Central Conference offensive tackle played a key role in the Cardinals generating 3,719 yards of total offense during the 2012 campaign.
The two-year starting blocker, who helped steer Fairmont to Class AAA state runner-up honors a year ago, also helped power the red-and-white to 31.7 points per game this fall.
The 6-2, 204-pound senior also rotated into the Cardinals' defensive frontline this season.
Hunter Olson (Martin County West) - The all-Gopher Valley Conference offensive tackle opened holes and provided pass protection for an offense that produced 3,611 total yards and 41 TDs this fall.
The 6-1, 169-pound junior also showed his versatility by chalking up 41 tackles, including four quarterback sacks, from his end/tackle positions on defense.
Nick Roggow (Fairmont) - The all-South Central Conference selection earned a spot in the Cardinals' starting offensive line for a second straight season.
The 6-3, 205-pound junior also made the transition from center to guard in 2012 to help Fairmont net 1,451 yards on the ground and 2,268 through the air.
Roggow recorded 30 tackles and recovered one fumble from his position in the defensive frontline this fall.
Luke Becker (Fairmont) - The fleet-footed split end closed out his junior season on a strong note, finishing second on the Cardinals in receptions behind the record-setting Bryce Holm.
The all-South Central Conference receiver pocketed 36 spirals for 534 yards and five TDs this fall.
The 5-11, 170-pound Becker also established the program's single-game receiving yards record by amassing 233 via the air during a regular-season loss to Blue Earth Area.
Becker also finished third on Fairmont's scoring charts with 36 points via his five TDs combined with three 2-point conversion catches.
The sure-handed cornerback also chalked up 39 tackles in securing the defensive secondary's airspace.
Becker also led the Cardinals with 13 punt returns for 163 yards and a 12.5-yard average.
Bryce Holm (Fairmont) - The academic all-state selection and 2012 team MVP closed out one of the most prolific football careers in Fairmont's rich history.
The two-time All-Area receiver etched his name into the program's No. 1 spot in both career receptions (142) and receiving TDs (25) to cap a brilliant three-year varsity tenure.
The two-time all-South Central Conference selection also exits as the Cardinals' single-season reception leader by garnering 60 passes for 837 yards and 10 TDs this fall.
The Prep Bowl record holder for TD receptions in last year's state championship game added five 2-point conversion catches to top Fairmont in scoring with 70 points this season.
Isaac Darrington (Blue Earth Area) - The athletic and agile senior wide receiver enters today's state championship game as the Bucs' leading pass-catcher in 2012.
The 6-4, 185-pound Darrington has garnered 22 receptions for 392 yards and five touchdowns through a dozen undefeated games.
Darrington also paces Blue Earth Area's sure-handed defensive secondary by garnering three interceptions to complement 52 tackles from his safety spot.
Darrington delivered numerous top plays to help engineer the Bucs' second consecutive state bid, an undefeated record and the South Central Conference crown.
Felix Harseim (Blue Earth Area) - Harseim displayed the strongest and most accurate kicking leg in the area this fall.
The 6-4, 200-pound foreign exchange student drilled three field goals, including a 27-yarder during the Bucs' state semifinal victory over Perham.
Harseim also has connected on 39 of 49 extra-point kicks to go with numerous touchbacks on his long-range kickoffs.
The placekicker has proven a valuable commodity for the South Central Conference and Section 3AAA champion Bucs in 2012.
Gus Phillips (Blue Earth Area) - Phillips moved to the area during the offseason, and the Buc coaching staff has been smiling ever since the first day of football practice.
The 6-2, 175-pound Phillips defines strength and speed by pacing Blue Earth Area's relentless defense with seven quarterback sacks this fall.
The junior defensive end also has chalked up 45 tackles, recovered three fumbles, made one interception and blocked one kick.
But the multi-tasking Phillips is not limited to just defensive prowess, but has generated the two-time state-qualifying program with a No. 2-best rushing total of 708 yards to go with six TDs.
Phillips' all-around contributions on the gridiron have helped create the Bucs' dream season in 2012.
Steven Plocker (Blue Earth Area) - If opposing ball carriers escape Phillips, the hard-hitting Plocker will likely being waiting for them on the other side of the line.
The 6-4, 220-pound senior defensive end has delivered 44 tackles, including three quarterback sacks, and scooped up two fumbles this season.
Plocker also has displayed his ability to catch the football, pocketing 13 spirals for 113 yards.
The Bucs' two-way starter has played a vital role behind his team's second straight state appearance, an undefeated record and the capturing of the South Central Conference crown.
Micah Twedt (Blue Earth Area) - Hard work and dedication paid dividends for Twedt during his senior season on the prep gridiron.
The 6-2, 240-pound defensive tackle has produced 52 tackles, including a pair of quarterback sacks, and one fumble recovery to highlight a stellar campaign in the trenches.
Twedt and the Bucs' swarming defense enter today's state championship clash with a miniscule 11 points-allowed-per-game average.
Twedt played a big role in helping steer Blue Earth Area to a top 10 ranking, the South Central Conference crown and a second state bid in 2012.
Jared Wander (GHEC/Truman) - The all-Southern Confederacy League choice proved a rare combination of sheer power and quickness from the defensive trenches this fall.
The 6-3, 275-pound junior defensive tackle topped the Jaguars by making 76 tackles to go with one fumble recovery on the season.
The path-clearing guard dished out blocks and provided pass protection for an offensive unit that generated nearly 2,800 total yards in 2012.
Ty Anderson (North Union) - The senior linebacker topped the newly-formed Warrior football team's statistical charts by recording 78 tackles, including 25 solo stops.
Anderson, who started at linebacker for the final year of the Armstrong-Ringsted Mustangs' Iowa 8-Man football dynasty last fall, also topped the green-and-black defensive attack by scooping up four fumbles.
Anderson rushed 45 times for 121 yards and three TDs out of the offensive backfield to finish second on the team in scoring with 18 points.
Garrett Johnson (North Union) - Johnson generated 69 tackles, including 24 unassisted stops, to claim the No. 2 spot on North Union's defensive charts in 2012.
The former North Sentral Kossuth standout also pocketed two interceptions and recovered one fumble from his linebacker position.
Johnson also caught five passes for 102 yards and two TDs from an offensive perspective to round out his senior campaign.
Jacob Portz (Fairmont) - The Cardinals' most improved player in 2012 worked his way into the starting lineup and topped the team in tackles with 90, including 22 solo stops.
The 5-11, 183-pound senior linebacker also recorded two and a half quarterback sacks to earn the No. 1 spot on Fairmont's charts.
The hard-working Portz carried the football eight times for 105 yards and one TD out of the red-and-white backfield, while adding four catches for 20 yards.
Jacob Adams (North Union) - The two-time All-Area choice garnered a team-leading four interceptions from the Warriors' secondary this fall.
The scrappy senior defensive back also finished third on North Union by chalking up 66 tackles to complement one fumble recovery.
The versatile Adams also topped the green-and-black offense by grabbing a team-best 10 catches for 64 yards. He also rushed 20 times for 92 yards and one TD.
Adams also displayed a strong kicking leg by punting 15 times for 598 yards, including a season-best 63, for a stellar 39.9-yard average.
David Franta (Blue Earth Area) - Franta stands 5-11 and weighs just 175 pounds, but hits and runs like a train.
The sure-handed junior safety has recorded 75 tackles to complement two interceptions while patrolling the defensive secondary.
The fleet-footed Franta also has evolved into an explosive offensive threat, churning out 570 yards and nine TDs - including three during the Bucs' state semifinal victory - this season.
The athletic flanker also has made nine receptions for 168 yards and two more TDs.
Franta has proven to be one of the main cogs behind Blue Earth Area reaching the Metrodome for the second time ever and first-ever appearance in the state championship clash.
Austin Krumwiede (Martin County West) - The two-time All-Area safety topped the Mavericks' defense by making 72 tackles to complement two interceptions on the season.
The two-time all-Gopher Valley Conference selection also proved a triple threat on offense after replacing the injured Faber at quarterback during sectional action.
The 6-2, 185-pound senior standout led Martin County West by garnering 29 catches for 724 yards and 10 TDs as a wide receiver.
The multi-tasking Krumwiede, however, displayed his athleticism by completing 25 of 57 passes for 460 yards and four TDs while under center in an emergency role.
Krumwiede also gained 333 yards and scored six TDs on 63 carries this fall.
Dylan Petrowiak (GHEC/Truman) - The two-time Southern Confederacy League selection patrolled the Jaguars' defensive secondary to produce 53 tackles and two interceptions this fall.
The two-time All-Area choice also proved a triple threat on offense by netting at least 100 yards in rushing, passing and receiving on the prep campaign.
The 6-2, 190-pound senior standout ran 64 times for 324 yards and three TDs, while catching nine passes for 155 yards and another score.
Petrowiak also completed 9 of 23 passes for 100 yards during his stint at quarterback this season.