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B.E. Area football team ready to kick off season opener

READY FOR KICKOFF — Blue Earth Area Bucs football team captains, from left, Max Ehrich, Anders Fering, Austin Thielfoldt, Luke Mertens, Gavin Storbeck and Cameron Anderson, pose for a social-distancing photo following Tuesday’s practice in Blue Earth. Blue Earth Area travels to Jackson on Friday night for a 7 p.m. season-opening kickoff against Jackson County Central. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

BLUE EARTH — His clear and steady voice resonated in the October air as he called out plays on the practice football field behind Blue Earth Area High School along Highway 169.

An appreciative grin crossed his face as his Buc gridders executed a passing play with near-perfect precision.

Randy Kuechenmeister knows how fortunate his football team is to be preparing for the pandemic-modified six-game regular-season opener against the Jackson County Central Huskies at 7 p.m. Friday night in Jackson.

“It’s great to be back out here, but I have to temper my excitement at times due to what’s happening in the world right now,” Kuechenmeister said in reference to the never-before-seen life-altering effects of COVID-19. “It’s always fun being around the kids, and it (football) gives them an outlet, but we still have to follow all the protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible.

“Our kids are wearing masks and trying to put ourselves in the best position to play out the entire season, but there are no guarantees.”

Indeed. In early August, Kuechenmeister and his Blue Earth Area coaching staff had resolved themselves to returning to the gridiron in March after the Minnesota State High School League deemed the sport as “high risk” in terms of spreading the coronavirus.

Ironically, when the Bucs make the 50-mile bus ride on I-90 from Blue Earth to Jackson on Friday, they will pass through Martin County where there will be no games under the lights at Fairmont, Sherburn or Granada — as originally planned — due to active COVID-19 cases hovering at 80 countywide as of Wednesday.

Just as odd as the empty football fields in the Bucs’ neighboring county to the west, Kuechenmeister & Co. have no current footage to watch of their upcoming opponent as in past years.

“It’s quite unusual in this age of technology not to have a tape on them (the Huskies) from their (preseason) scrimmage, which was cancelled this fall,” said Kuechenmeister. “Jackson graduated a lot of players from last year’s state team, so I don’t know a lot about their current personnel.

“We’ll just have to evaluate the matchups as we go on Friday night, and make adjustments throughout the game. We just want to play again.”

Kuechenmeister enters his 30th year at the Bucs’ helm on the heels of his program’s seventh state appearance during the last 10 seasons.

“We’ve got a lot of players returning from last year’s team that reached the (Class AA) state quarterfinals,” said Kuechenmeister.

Indeed. All six of his senior captains — Cameron Anderson, Max Ehrich, Anders Fering, Luke Mertens, Gavin Storbeck and Austin Thielfoldt — have been integral factors behind the Bucs’ stellar postseason runs since 2017.

Storbeck returns to call signals under center after earning all-South Central Red District and Sentinel All-Area accolades to help Blue Earth Area generate 4,466 yards of total offense and a 37.9-point scoring clip in 2019.

The 6-foot, 160-pound quarterback completed 127 of 172 passes — 73.8 percent — for 1,757 yards and 17 touchdowns to help pace the Bucs’ 9-3 overall record.

Anderson also earned both all-district and All-Area honors last fall by compiling stellar numbers on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The 6-1, 155-pound receiver garnered 41 catches for 643 yards and six TDs, while adding 38 tackles and two interceptions from his safety spot on defense.

Fering and Mertens, a pair of imposing 200-pounders who play in the trenches, return after being selected to the All-Area team for their performances.

Fering, a solid blocking tight end, produced 41 tackles and three quarterback sacks from his defensive line position last fall. Mertens delivered flattening blocks from his offensive tackle spot, while notching 23 tackles and one sack from his defensive end position a year ago.

Ehrich, who earned All-Area and all-district honors in 2018, missed the majority of his junior football campaign due to injuries, and will look to rebound at running back and linebacker.

Thielfoldt, a hard-working two-way starter, will put his speed and strength to the test at running back and slotback again, as well as handling corner duties on defense.

Senior Nick Frank and junior Adam Schavey also return after meriting postseason accolades a year ago. Frank delivered solid blocking from his offensive guard spot as a junior to complement making 39 tackles and two sacks from his defensive end position to garner All-Area honors.

Schavey earned both all-district and All-Area accolades by topping the Bucs’ tackling charts with 84 to go with two sacks from his linebacker spot. Schavey will likely see time in the Bucs’ offensive backfield this fall.

Juniors Luke Norman and Kean Hicks will return to their respective center and guard positions in the offensive line, with Norman also filling a defensive line spot and Hicks stepping in at linebacker.

Kuechenmeister also expects to see solid play from senior linebacker/running back Riley Anderson, senior running back Cole Warmka, senior nose guard Ian Cornelio, senior slotback/safety Keegan O’Brien and senior cornerback/receiver Ty Peterson in 2020.

Blue Earth Area plays host to Luverne on Friday, Oct. 16, at Wilson Field in Blue Earth before hitting the road to Redwood Falls for a Week 3 game on Saturday, Oct. 24, with a 1 p.m. kickoff.

The Bucs then play host to Pipestone Area on Friday, Oct. 30, travel to Windom on Friday, Nov. 6, for Week 5 action and cap the regular season by playing host to Maple River on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

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