MARSHALL - For the Marshall high school football team, the time for questions is over. The time for answers has come.
Questions like how to replace 26 graduated seniors that compiled an overall record of 27-4 over three seasons or how to build out a depth chart that boasts just two starters from last season have festered in the minds of the Marshall coaching staff since the Tigers saw their 2012 season come to a close in a 21-14 loss to Glencoe-Silver Lake. But when fall camp opened on Monday, the Tigers and their coaches finally had a chance to begin answering those questions.
"What I told the kids is that, 'You're going to have a lot of opportunities. Everybody is going to get an opportunity and what you do with that opportunity is up to you,'" Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "Everything is basically open. We're trying to put it together. We've got Tyus (DeBoer) who played for us full time and Brad (Bahlmann) started a couple games at (defensive back), but otherwise everything is going to be new."
Photo by Travis Andries
Two Marshall defensive backs battle for a ball while their teammates look on during Day 1 of camp, Monday, at Marshall High School. The Tigers return just two starters from a team that went 9-1 in 2012.
Just three of 22 offensive and defensive positions have a likely Week 1 starter (offensive and defensive tackle courtesy of DeBoer and Bahlmann likely at safety).
Piecing together the rest of the starting lineup for Marshall's first game, a road contest with Robbinsdale Cooper on Aug. 30, will not be easy. Marshall graduated over two dozen contributors, but does not have a similar sized group of upperclassmen to plug into the vacancies.
"We lost an outstanding group of seniors, 26 of them, and anytime you have seniors you're further along," Bahlmann said. "We knew coming up that we were going to have a smaller group of seniors, (the Class of 2014) has been a smaller numbers group all the way for us. We have 10 in it.
"We can't recruit, so we have to make up for it in some other places. It gives a lot of young guys an opportunity to play," Bahlmann added. "I told them being young isn't an excuse, they're going to get all the reps coming up. Some of them will step up and hopefully we are ready to go when we face Cooper."
This season, Bahlmann's 10th as the head coach of the Tigers, won't be the first time that Marshall has had to field a lineup that was both young and inexperienced.
Marshall graduated 30 seniors after posting an 8-1 record in Bahlmann's third year in charge, with no starters returning. The next season, the fall of 2007, saw Marshall put together a 7-2 overall record (5-1 Southwest Conference) and established that the program's (then) recent success was not merely the product of one talented class.
Bahlmann is hoping for similar results this year, relying on the tradition that his teams have built at Marshall during his tenure and a winning attitude that has taken root across all sports at the school.
Yet it will not be an easy task, seeing as the Tigers will have a target on their back each week.
Marshall is the three-time defending conference champion, including outright titles in 2011 and 2012, and had intended for 2013 to be its last in the Southwest Conference. The ripples of realignment across Minnesota resulted in Marshall not joining the Wright County Conference for football in 2014, however, while the fate of the Southwest Conference remains muddled.
With so much uncertainty circling the team on and off the field, one would expect Bahlmann to be eager for answers right away. But the coach is staying patient, noting that the roster cannot be solved on the first day of camp (or even in its first week).
"I think we'll be battling and changing things as we go, probably all season. Guys will step in and get more comfortable and it will just click for them," Bahlmann said. "Up to our scrimmage, I think everything is open to competition and we're looking for guys that want to step up. Right now trying to get them in the right spots for them to be successful is one of our challenges, and seeing some of the young guys that we haven't seen before and getting an evaluation of where they're at."