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After St. Mary’s Springs football coach Bob Hyland was done rattling off his the names of his starters it was impossible not to notice the big grin on his face.

It was an expression of: this is going to be fun.

And why shouldn’t it be. The defending Division 6 state champions have six starters back on both sides of the ball, experience at almost every position, a couple of potential major college prospects, and a senior class that is ready to leave its mark.

“Sophomore year when we were on varsity we were kind of working toward this year when we were going to be seniors,” Eric Feldner said. “We’d be the big dogs finally hoping to take our team back to state as leaders this time instead of looking up to other seniors.”

A program doesn’t accumulate 11 state championship trophies by being scared of expectations. Springs football players over the past 30-plus years have loved the pressure, and this talented crew is no different.

“We do have a big target on our backs,” Jacob Schneider said. “Everyone wants to take us down, because we’ve been winning so many games the last couple years. Of course everyone wants to be the team to take us down.”

Wanting to beat Springs is one thing, actually beating the Ledgers is a whole other matter. And no unit may be better than the linebacking corps that includes Feldner, Schneider and another senior in Matt Austin, who is getting interest from some Division IAA colleges.

All three started as sophomores and juniors and Austin summed up why Springs players can go at full-speed all the time.

“There’s great talent around me,” he said. “If I make a mistake there are guys who can cover me.”

And that’s the case for most of the team with one exception. The defensive line has to replace two star ends in Giovanni Anderson and Eric Sutton, and a bowling ball of a tackle in Taylor Steiner.

Kyle Weber (5-11, 210) was a pass rushing specialist last year and will be full time this year, while Mitch Herron, only a running back last year, will also be a defensive tackle this year. On the ends, Patrick Soldner (6-0, 210) and junior Dan Zacherl (6-3, 179) will be asked to at least take up blocks so that linebacking triumvirate can clean up the mess, something Schneider said he expects will happen.

Ryan Grandlic and Sean Ahern return in the secondary with Jacob Frey being a capable new starter.

Grandlic is also part of a veteran offense, sharing time at receiver with Feldner and David Joslyn. Three players who started at least one game last year also return at running back in Herron, Darin Ward and Ike Floyd.

There’s speed to burn from those skill position players, and they’ll be getting the ball from a three-year starting quarterback in Evan Henderson, who feels like he’s continually improving in a run-heavy offense that uses some veer option with a lot of sweep and off-tackle plays mixed in.

“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable even compared to last year,” Henderson said. “The reads are coming a lot easier.”

He’s not worried about the guys protecting him either. With junior Sam Schrauth (6-4, 305), a player some major colleges are taking a close look at, at guard and Andrew Riel (6-1, 225) and Soldner at tackles there’s plenty of experience. Tanner Good (5-10, 200) is new at left guard and Tony Schmitz (6-3, 230) is a new center, but Henderson said there are no worries.

“We’re going to be good,” Henderson said. “The right side of the line is big and we have two seniors on the left side so I think we’re going to be good on the line.”

It’s hard to find a weakness in the team and hard to find a reason why there won’t be a 12th gold ball in the trophy case come November.

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