Most of the West Central Conference head football coaches think that BOLD and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City are the preseason favorites in the 10-team league this fall.
There’s good reason for that since BOLD (Bird Island-Olivia-Lake Lillian District) advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals last year and ACGC advanced to the Class A state semifinals. The Warriors finished 11-1 before losing 26-24 to Caledonia at the Metrodome and the Falcons went 9-3 before falling 26-20 to Mahnomen.
The Warriors return eight starters on offense, including running back Ben Steffel and wide receivers Trent Athmann and Austin Weis and linemen Logan Sandgren, Ryan Rouenhorst and Sawyer Tersteg.
The Falcons return six starters on offense and five on defense. ACGC returns a trio of running backs in seniors Jordan Nelson, Maverick Whitcomb and Mitchell Macik. Macik also returns at linebacker and Whitcomb is back at defensive end.
“They’re the easy favorites because of where they’ve been and who they return,” Sauk Centre head coach Charlie Warring said. “They’re going to be very good. They’re two teams that are very physical and dedicated to offseason workouts.
“They have two great coaches in (BOLD’s) Steve Solem and (ACGC’s) Terry Karlsgodt. Those guys are veterans and have great staffs. I know they’re going to be tougher than heck. I hate to say we’re fighting for third place, but we might be.”
Paynesville head coach Max Meagher thinks his Bulldogs can compete with the two powerhouses, especially since they lost 18-14 in Grove City last fall. The Bulldogs had a tougher time with BOLD in a 43-8 home loss.
“They’re both going to be ranked in the first state polls of the season,” Meagher said. “They both return the vast majority of their teams. You at least know what you’re going to face when you see them. I think Minnewaska will be near the top, too.”
Melrose returns to the conference after a one-year absence. Lac qui Parle Valley left the West Central for the Little Sioux Conference in the southwest corner of the state. The Dutchmen went 5-4 as an independent last year.
Melrose co-head coaches Chuck Noll and Vaughn Glasener are glad they’ll be seeing some familiar foes again this year.
“Every game is a challenge in the West Central,” Noll said. “We’re going to get after it and try and give these teams a challenge.”
Said Glasener: “They tradition that BOLD and ACGC have speaks for itself. I think Minnewaska will be right up there. We want to do well since we’re back. Hopefully we can compete just like the good old days.”
The Dutchmen have to play their games at St. John’s University’s Clemens Stadium this fall while their home field gets renovated with new sod and a new track.
Meagher’s Bulldogs went 4-4 in the conference last season and 5-5 overall. With the return of quarterback Matthew Quade, Paynesville could be a sleeper in the conference race.
“The biggest thing we need to do is pick ourselves up when we’re down this year. That didn’t go well last year,” Meagher said. “We were a really good team when things were going well last year. We showed that we were a good team in that loss to ACGC. But a penalty here or there usually hurt us and we couldn’t respond to adversity.
“We have experience back and that should help us with our leadership. We know it’s going to be a battle when we play BOLD and ACGC. We can’t just go in and throttle teams like that. We’re going to have to respond to the adversity this year.”
The Mainstreeters are looking to improve on a 2-6 conference record and a 2-7 overall mark. Sauk Centre will rely on quarterback Seth Otte and running backs Austin Landkammer and Trent Berscheit on the offensive side.
“I think we’ll be in the mix at the end,” Warring said. “Going from two wins to a winning record would be awesome. It’s going to take a lot of work and we have good teams in this conference. Hopefully we’re headed uphill.”