By Jeff Arenz
WESTBROOK - It has been four years since the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers won the last of three consecutive Southern Confederacy Conference championships.
Photo by Jeff Arenz
Westbrook-Walnut Grove linebacker Tyler Schoborg executes a tackling drill during football practice Monday at Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School.
WWG finished atop the SCC in 2009 with an unblemished 8-0 league record during its 9-2 season. The next three years, the Chargers fell off their perch by posting marks of 4-5 in 2010, 3-6 in 2011 and 4-5 in 2012.
Westbrook-Walnut Grove co-head coach Carter Ross said some small class sizes during that span produced few returners to lead the team.
"The last three seasons, we haven't had a lot of returning upperclassmen. It was roughly a total of five juniors and seniors each year," Ross said during football practice Monday. "I think, with help from some bigger classes this season, we can bring WWG back to the top of the conference. We had a nice run of success from 1998 to 2009 and we'd like to start a new one."
2012 record: 4-5
Little Sioux Conference finish: 4th (4-4)
Final game: 20-16 loss to Fulda
Points allowed/game: 28.8
Key losses: Dana Madson, Andy Merrick, John Elzenga, Aaron Hass.
Key returners: Andrew Benson (WR/S), Matthew Benson (WR/S), Shane Buchman (QB/DL), Matt Otto (RB/LB), Eli Gundermann (RB/LB), Austin Olson (TE/DL), Brody Williams (TE/DE), Andrew Pederson (C/DL), Levi Bunting (TE/DE), Sean McCroskey (WR/DB), Trey Kockelman (OL/CB), Tyson Berg (WR/DB), Mitchell Jarmer (FB/LB), Tristan Joel (QB/S), Lane Anderson (OL/DL), Logan Weis (OL/DL), Tyler Schoborg (OL/LB), Bee Xiong (WR/DB) and Brandon Balsavage (OL/DL).
When the Chargers step onto the gridiron in 2013, they will be led by 19 returning upperclassmen. They include seniors Andrew Benson (WR/S), Matthew Benson (WR/S), Shane Buchman (QB/DL), Matt Otto (RB/LB), Eli Gundermann (RB/LB), Austin Olson (TE/DL), Brody Williams (TE/DE), Andrew Pederson (C/DL), Levi Bunting (TE/DE), Sean McCroskey (WR/DB), Trey Kockelman (OL/CB) and Tyson Berg (WR/DB) and juniors Mitchell Jarmer (FB/LB), Tristan Joel (QB/S), Lane Anderson (OL/DL), Logan Weis (OL/DL), Tyler Schoborg (OL/LB), Bee Xiong (WR/DB) and Brandon Balsavage (OL/DL).
"I hope we can use all of our experience to beat our opponents," said Williams, one of four captains leading WWG. "There are a lot of us who have been playing football together a long time. We know our roles and where we're supposed to be on the field."
Other Westbrook-Walnut Grove captains include Buchman, Otto and Bunting.
Buchman, who will be succeeding John Elzenga as the Chargers' starting quarterback, agreed with Williams about WWG's experience.
"Having us back for another year means that we have a better sense of the playbook and how to execute it," Buchman said. "Plus, we have quite a few offensive linemen returning, which is going to help me a lot."
Returning linemen include Pederson at center; Anderson, Schoborg and Weis at guard and Bunting at tight end.
"I think (having experienced players on the offensive line) it will allow them to create bigger holes and help me read defenses much better," said Otto, who will be starting for the Chargers at running back.
As a junior, Buchman's primary role on offense came as a wide receiver. During his sophomore campaign, he started at quarterback for WWG's junior varsity team. Buchman has yet to take a varsity snap under center.
"I'm pretty confident to be touching the ball on every play. I know that I have to make plays or get it to our other playmakers," Buchman said.
Buchman made an impact on defense, where he was among area leaders with 69 tackles, including three sacks. Other impact players were Weis, who had 72 tackles; Joel, who intercepted four passes; and Schoborg, who made three sacks.
Ross said the Chargers benefitted from their summer workouts.
"We went to a three-day camp at the University of South Dakota, where 15 of our kids took 200 reps per day against four other Minnesota high schools," Ross said. "We ran live schemes and it was full go."
Williams said about 10 to 15 players routinely lifted in the weight room this summer.
"We hit the weight room pretty hard and I think we're bigger and tougher, especially on both lines," Williams said.
Bunting, who was among area leaders in 2012 after making 72 tackles (including eight sacks) and catching 24 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns, said this team gets along on and off the field.
"It doesn't matter if you're a senior or a freshman on this team, we're all friends and we enjoy playing together." Bunting said. "We just have a great bond."
WWG opens its season by hosting Grenada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman on Aug. 29.