MARSHALL - Last season the Marshall Tigers scored, seemingly, at will.
Averaging 48.6 points per game, the Tigers' offense was the most prolific in Class AAAA.
But this season, by definition, is not last season.
Photo by Travis Andries
The Marshall offensive line, left, lines up against pads during the first day of fall practice on Monday at Marshall High School. The Tigers’ line returns four starters from last year, hoping to keep Marshall’s high-powered attack going when the 2012 season starts on Aug. 31 at home against Mankato East.
Gone is two-time Independent Player of the Year and Mr. Football finalist Beau Bofferding, who graduated after scoring 59 career rushing touchdowns, including 34 in 2011.
Gone is quarterback Alex Fenske, whose 16 passing touchdowns and 66 percent completion percentage placed him on the All-Southwest Conference list and a place at St. Thomas University.
Gone is All-Southwest Conference wide receiver Mason Schnaible, who led the Tigers with 603 yards receiving and averaged 22.3 yards per catch.
2011 Record: 9-1
Southwest Conference Finish: 1st (6-0)
42-28 loss to Hutchinson (2AAAA semifinals)
Points Allowed/Game: 14.3
Key Losses:?RB Beau Bofferding, QB Alex Fenske, WR Mason Schnaible
Key Returners: RB Rhett Struve, OL/DL Austin Nath, QB Austin Saugstad
Not gone, however, are four offensive lineman whose mission it has become to ensure that the Tigers experience as little drop off as possible after losing over 60 touchdowns to graduation.
"It always starts up front," said Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann. "These guys put a lot of time in during the summer in camps and they're ready to go. We have good skill kids coming back, but you're ahead of the curve if your offensive line is experienced. We're lucky enough this year that we've got four guys coming back."
The Tigers face the Mankato East Cougars to open the 2012 season on Aug. 31 at Mattke Field.
Anchoring the Tigers' returning offensive line quartet is Austin Nath. The 2012 season will mark the fourth year for Nath as a starter. In 2011, the tackle was named the Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Southwest Conference.
Nath, along with fellow seniors Alex Werner and Damon Brown, and junior Tyus DeBoer, kept Fenske upright in 2011 and opened holes for Bofferding.
In 2012, the four have become the figurehead of a Marshall offense that will scantly resemble last season's squad. Rather than the big-play offense of 2011, the 2012 team will be focused on ball control and physicality. But according to Bahlmann, the focus on toughness should not result in a drop in effectiveness.
"Our seniors are more of a physical class," Bahlmann said. "Offensively, I think we're going to be very effective, but it will be different. We lost probably 50 touchdowns in seniors last year, so we need to replace those. But the strength of our team will be our O-line."
The actual totals of touchdowns lost is higher than the coach's estimate of 50. Bofferding alone finished with 37 total touchdowns. Fenske added 16 passing touchdowns and one on the ground, while Schnaible crossed the goal line eight times.
The front runners to replace the lost scoring are Austin Saugstad and Rhett Struve. Saugstad made the All-Southwest Conference team as a linebacker last year, but will be making the full-time transition to quarterback in 2012. Struve, who scored five touchdowns for the Tigers as a fullback in 2011, will fill in at the tailback position for Bofferding.
Both Saugstad and Struve are seniors this season, and although they are not newcomers to their positions, it will come down to the veteran offensive line in front of them to make the transition as smooth as possible.
This certitude is not lost on Nath and Werner.
"There's definitely pressure to be the best that we can be," Werner said. "I feel that we've been prepared adequately by our coaches throughout our whole career here. I feel like we're prepared to take on that leadership role and perform as necessary to do what we need to do."
Nath added, "We know that Saugstad and Struve and Leo (Zerr) have got the skills to pick up right where (Bofferding), Fenske and (Schnaible) left off."
The impact of these long-tenured linemen is not only apparent for the 2012 Marshall Tigers, but also for future incarnations of the team. Bahlmann has already begun to notice the benefits of having an abundance of experience on his offensive line.
"With our younger players developing, they can help coach them a little bit on the field and tell them what they're doing wrong," Bahlmann said. "But you can't beat experience in the O-line and they've seen a lot of different things, a lot of different styles. They shouldn't panic to anything."
Looking forward, Bahlmann said that neither the loss of so many skill position players nor the returning experience on the offensive line has altered this team's expectations for the 2012 season, which includes a trip to the section finals.
"We know that we're in a very tradition-rich section with Glencoe-Silver Lake and Hutchinson," Bahlmann said. "To get our goals and home field advantage, we need to be ready from game one on. We're looking forward right now to getting better. Get the first couple days in and get the kinks out and start looking at Mankato East."