John Kalthoff’s arm was untested at the varsity level and wideout Brett Ahsenmacher was rusty after he sat out a year going into the 2011 season.
By the end of the season, the pair developed a connection few teams could keep up with.
It became obvious the Kalthoff/Ahsenmacher combo, along with a sturdy defense, was the driving force behind Annandale’s trip to the Class 3A state semifinals.
“We can throw the football,” said Annandale coach Matt Walter. “We have a lot of good one-on-one matchups at receiver and John Kalthoff is really developing into a quality quarterback.”
It took a while for Ahsenmacher to catch on after he missed his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his foot. He caught just eight passes in the first five games, but he exploded in game No. 6 when he caught six balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns against Mound-Westonka.
“I didn’t really realize how fast-paced (varsity) was going to be at first,” Ahsenmacher said.
Look for Annandale’s offense to start right where it left off at against Waconia — which the Cardinals beat 26-14 last year — at 7 p.m. Friday.
Kalthoff threw for 2,170 yards on 135 completions with 19 touchdowns in 2011. Ahsenmacher accounted for 873 of those passing yards and 10 of the touchdowns.
“Getting the nerves out was a big thing for me last year,” said Kalthoff, who is getting looks from North Dakota State and Minnesota-Duluth to play at the next level. He also got a few sniffs from Minnesota.
“I just got more comfortable with how the game was played and I got good at it.”
Victor Musech is another returning target for Kaltfoff. He had 10 receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown in 2011.
Matt Miller (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) didn’t catch any passes as a sophomore, but his size will make him tough to cover this season.
Though many of the skill players are back, Walter is a little worried about the inexperience on the offensive line where center Cruz Johnson is the lone returning starter.
“(The offensive line situation) isn’t scary, but it’s one of things you have to focus on going into camp,” Walter said. “We have depth issues there but that’s why you practice.
“We hope to go into the season with three good tackles and three good guards.”
Annandale’s defense brings more question marks. The Cardinals lost 9 of 11 starters to graduation, but senior Alec Fournier is fully healed from fractures in his vertebrae he suffered as a sophomore.
“Our defense is very aggressive,” said Fournier, who was limited to four games last season. “We’re putting good athletes on the field, not just big kids. Everyone pursues to the ball and no one is standing around when the whistle blows.”
Fournier had 23 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery in his shortened season.
Teddy Erickson returns with the most experience on defense. The defensive end had 67 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in 12 games last season.
Safety Brett Fobbe picked off seven passes and made 48 tackles in 12 games as a sophomore and returns to the lineup.
“This year we have a lot harder workers,” Ahsenmacher said.
“Everyone’s been working hard all summer.”
Perhaps that’s the attitude that will help the Cardinals hit the turf running and avoid a early-season funk that left Annandale winless after four games last season.
“We come into this year knowing what we can do and what we’re capable of,” Fournier said.
“Everyone is off to a better start this year.”