Prep Football: Shuffling the Cards
WILLMAR - The regular season is still around the corner, but the Friday night lights shone down on the Willmar football team as it wrapped up its first week of practice at Hodapp Field.
With half of their starters graduating from last season's section runner-up squad, the Cardinals, although inching closer, are still in the process of determining which players will take the field to open the campaign on Sept. 1.
The biggest position battles are at both offensive and defensive line, the two units from which the Cardinals lost the most starters from last season.
While seniors Cameron Murphy and Spencer Enstad are the two returning starters, more than a handful of players are receiving practice reps for the remaining open spots. Andrew Reigstad started at defensive line as a sophomore last season and will likely slot right back into that role once again.
In an attempt to piece together their lines, Willmar's coaching staff is focusing on identifying a majority of linemen as either offensive or defensive players, thus allowing them to specialize rather than play both ways.
However, there will be a handful of players that do play on both sides of the ball. Many of those will play at wide receiver and in the secondary, which are arguably the team's top two strengths.
Of course, leading that group is senior wide receiver/cornerback Noah Slagter, who set the school record for single-season receptions last season and is one of the area's top playmakers.
Junior wide receiver and safety Drey Dirksen was second on the team with 48 tackles in 2016 and has flashed his athleticism throughout practices to contribute on both offense and defense.
Other standouts at wideout and in the defensive backfield include juniors Jake Evans and junior Ty Roelofs and seniors Nick Prokosch and Austin Kowalcyzk.
Quarterback Donald Jurek is back under the center in his senior season for the Cardinals after throwing for 18 touchdowns and 2,038 yards in 2016. Jurek enters the season bigger and stronger, looking to become an even larger threat in the running game that lost two of its top three rushers.
Outside of Jurek, who gained 555 yards on 132 carries as a junior, Dirksen had the next-most carries of any returning player with a total of four.
Stepping up at running back has been sophomore Ethan Roux, with coaches saying he has an early edge on in-game carries despite not having any last season.
The Cardinals hope the complete roster picture will be solved when they open up at home against Fergus Falls.
Those Otters will surely be seeking payback after its undefeated season ended at the hands of Willmar in Section 8AAA play last season.