A deep roster has allowed Annandale coach Matt Walter to play almost exclusively upperclassmen the past two seasons.
But with fewer upperclassmen, depth could be one of the team’s biggest weaknesses this year.
The Cardinals have made the Class 3A state semifinals two-straight seasons, and will begin their quest for a third-straight state appearance Friday against Waconia.
But a lack of depth could make their road back to state difficult. The team graduated 22 seniors and has to replace 17 of its 22 starters, including 10 on defense.
“Hopefully we can get a rotation going through and develop as many younger kids as we can,” Walter said, adding that the team may have to play a few sophomores.
Annandale is also working with a new quarterback, senior Riley Atkinson, after losing two-year starter John Kalthoff to graduation. Kalthoff threw for 4,115 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career while Atkinson has thrown just one pass at the varsity level.
Walter complemented Atkinson’s throwing ability but said he is still learning the offensive. He said Kalthoff was comfortable reading defenses and changing the play at the line of scrimmage but that Atkinson isn’t quite at that point yet.
Atkinson said he’s become more confident by working with Walter over the summer.
Atkinson is relatively short for a quarterback — the team lists him at 6-foot, but in reality, he’s around 5-7. Walter said vision shouldn’t be a problem for Atkinson, however, because the team has four receivers over 6 feet tall.
One of them, senior Matt Miller, is drawing interest from Division II schools, Walter said. The 6-3, 195-pound Miller caught 40 passes for 623 yards and four touchdowns last season.
At a recent practice, Miller expressed confidence in Atkinson. He said the first-year starter has good play recognition and leadership.
Senior tight end and linebacker Brady Kalla also completemented Atkinson’s leadership.
“He’s making sure the receivers are doing what they’re supposed to,” Kalla said. “He’s picking up guys in the huddle, making sure they’re doing the right thing, and he’s getting on them too.”
The Cardinals also return senior running back Andy Russek, who ran for 556 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and senior offensive linemen LeRoy Roller and Dwight Moe. Walter indicated that all three could play college football.
Their regular season schedule includes reigning Wright County Conference west division champion Glencoe-Silver Lake and rival New London-Spicer. But the team is aiming for more than a conference championship, Walter said.
“Everything we do for our year is predicated on the playoffs,” he said. “We try to come out and improve, improve, improve, and our goal is to win the section championship.”