The 2014 Lincoln High football team is considerably different than the 2013 version. What’s more, the Patriots may roll through another set of changes over the course of this fall.
So it goes when you win a state championship with a senior-laden squad.
Still, the cupboard isn’t bare at the corner of I-229 and Cliff Avenue. A half-dozen starters are back along with at least as many complementary players, not to mention the youngsters who got mop-up duty in several lopsided wins.
A sizable chunk of the roster played a part in – or at least got to witness up close – what it took to win the Class 11AAA title. Now, they’ll pursue similar success while taking on larger roles.
The quest starts Friday against Rapid City Central at Howard Wood Field.
“We’ve been winning here at Lincoln – we’ve been winning for a while,” 12-year coach Aaron Beavers said. “When I first took over, that wasn’t the case. These kids know what it takes to be successful, and it takes hard work. It takes somebody that is willing to sacrifice a lot. Every kid we have out here does that.”
Quarterback Isiah Roach looks for an open teammate while Running back Braxton Large attempts to tackle but is held back by Lucas Heitkamp during football practice at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., Monday, Aug., 18, 2014.
Trench-play figures to be a strong suit for the defending champs. All four returning starters on offense set up with a hand down – three linemen and a tight end. Two of those blockers, identical twins Derek and Drew Peters, are third-year starters.
Defensively, the line will incorporate a mix of speed and size as embodied by promoted seniors Dylan Arntz and O.J. Jones. Arntz led the team with 9.5 sacks last season as a reserve, while the 250-pound Jones will look to build on his role as a space eater at the point of attack.
The fact that this club is most high on its line play is emblematic of a shift in strengths. Lincoln will not be as fast this year as it was a season ago. Beavers called last year’s squad a once-in-a-career group in that regard.
“We’re going to have to play a little more physical than maybe we have in the past,” he said. “Only time will tell.”
Beyond that, a couple of skill players have hinted at having breakout abilities. Defensive back Paul Thanel had 32 tackles and three interceptions as a junior. Linebacker Braxton Large is coming off a 49-tackle season. Linebacker Dalton Jones made 20 stops last season and has the look of a college player.
On offense, the Patriots face the loss of Argus Leader Elite 45 captain running back Caden Quintanilla, who rushed for more than 1,800 yards as a senior. Intriguing seniors this time around are quarterback Isaiah Roach and receiver Nickel Meyers. The 6-3, 175-pound Meyers scored on five of his 13 catches last season. Roach appeared in eight games last season with two starts – the second being in the state title game because of an injury to Connor Burchill. In that contest, Roach went 7-for-13 passing and carried seven times. He fancies himself a dual threat – a big offseason focus was on leg strength and footwork – and a leader.
Roach also has the sense to recognize the value of the veteran linemen that will be leading the way.
“You have to love that as a quarterback – make sure all the hogs up front are ready to block for you,” he said. “I think we have one of the best offensive lines in the state this year.”
But will the Pats defend their title as the best team? They’re going to be tested early with games against O’Gorman and heavy preseason favorite Roosevelt in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. The ultimate Lincoln lineup likely won’t be in place by then.
“We have a lot of holes to fill – that’s obvious,” Beavers said. “But I think we have some pretty good guys. There’s still a few areas where we’re searching. I would find it impossible that we would have the same lineup Week 1 as we do Week 2 let alone Week 5 and – if we’re fortunate enough – Week 11.”
AT A GLANCE
COACH: Aaron Beavers (12th year)
2013: 11-0 (won Class 11AAA state title over Roosevelt 47-24)
RETURNING STARTERS: 4 offense, 2 defense
STRENGTHS: Most of the incumbent starters are linemen on both sides of the ball. The program knows how to win with two titles in six seasons.
WEAKNESSES: There isn’t a clear-cut workhorse on offense. The early schedule is difficult.
TOP RETURNERS: OL Drew Peters (sr., 6-3, 255); OL Derek Peters (sr., 6-3, 265); TE Austin Druse (sr., 6-1, 200); OL Kyle Sim (jr., 6-0, 265); LB Braxton Large (sr., 5-10, 190); DB Paul Thanel (sr., 6-1, 180)
OUTLOOK: The Patriots will need to control both lines of scrimmage in order to get to the front of the line of teams hoping to challenge heavy favorite Roosevelt. Despite many players stepping into new starting roles, last year’s title run featured several blowout wins and afforded reserves extra playing time.
OPENER: vs. RC Central, 5 p.m. Friday at Howard Wood Field