TYLER - While football teams around the state were finally getting into their helmets on Monday, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton was one of 17 teams around the state getting a head start to the 2012 season.
Struggling to find an eighth opponent for the season, and not wanting to duplicate their seven-game schedule from a year ago, the Knights opted to play on Zero Week in a non-conference game at Pipestone on Aug. 25.
"I don't like having to play Zero Week," said RTR head coach Brian Boomgaarden, "but it's better than not having a game like we did last year because it really cost us a home playoff game, I think. That was too bad, so we'll see how it goes with the Zero Week game."
Photo by Joe Brown
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton senior Shane Vogt, right, looks to shake off a defender in a kickoff return drill during practice Monday in Tyler. The Knights will be the first area team in action this year, taking on Pipestone in a Zero Week non-conference game on Aug. 25 in Pipestone.
With a week of practice under their belts, the Knights were busy hitting on the field, getting ready for their showdown against the Arrows, who went winless in 2011.
"We've been trying to have high-intensity practices to get ready, because we know Pipestone will be a tough test being (Class) AA," said Knights senior running back Shay Wabeke. "Being one of the first games in the state, it'll be exciting to be out there and playing before everybody else."
Being out-numbered as a Class A school against a Class AA school from the Southwest Conference hasn't been a deterrent.
2011 Record: 3-5
Little Sioux Conference Finish: 6th (3-4)
16-12 loss to BLHS
(5A first round)
Points Allowed/Game: 22.9
Key Losses:?RB/LB Travis King, QB Phil Madsen,
CB Nate Christensen
Key Returners: RB/LB Shay Wabeke, DL Brandon Kerr, DB Ty Thooft
"It doesn't matter how many people you have," junior defensive back Ty Thooft said, "whoever works harder is going to come out on top."
While the Knights get an early start to the year, their biggest focus is on finishing games.
Things started rough for RTR in 2011, opening the season against the Class A champions, Dawson-Boyd, followed by a game with Section 5A runner-up Minneota/Lincoln HI. The Knights lost both games 34-6, but played both Class A powers tight for three quarters.
"Those games helped prepare us for the other teams," said Wabeke, who ran for 277 yards and had four total touchdowns in a backup role last year.
Boomgaarden added, "The kids surprised themselves by being in those early games until they got out-manned. I think that really helped at the end of the year."
After facing the section's best, RTR went 3-3 the rest of the way, with wins over Renville County West, Canby and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. Even in their losses, the Knights became a tough out, losing by no more than six points the rest of the way. RTR even slugged it out with state-bound Adrian, falling 32-26 on the road.
Seeing that extra competitiveness on the field paid dividends for Boomgaarden, as 49 players came out for football practice last week, compared to 36 from last year.
"I think they saw how close they were and I think they motivated each other," Boomgaarden said. "The numbers are up and they got some of their buddies out there with them.
"They're pushing each other and they know that they don't just need themselves. They need their teammates."
And now, getting that extra boost in the fourth quarter has been the focal point of RTR's two-a-day practices.
"When we're running, you'll hear the coaches yelling, 'Fourth quarter,'" Thooft said. "We're pushing really hard."
For the Knights to emerge out of the middle of the Little Sioux Conference, the plan is to finish what they started. And that begins against Pipestone.
"My thing is, give yourself an opportunity in all of your games," Boomgaarden said. "If you do that, everything else takes care of itself."