TRACY - Tracy-Milroy-Balaton entered this fall with some pretty big question marks. But after two weeks of camp, taking advantage of a traditional school year and practicing from 8 a.m. to noon each day, the Panthers are starting to find their answers.
Though the Panthers didn't graduate a high-volume class, they did, however, lose some key contributors from a team that finished fifth in the Little Sioux Conference.
Offensive guard and middle linebacker Austin Peterson was an all-area and all-conference selection after racking up 95 tackles in his seniors campaign and also anchored a line that paved the way for an offense averaging 32.9 points per contest.
Photo by Travis Andries
Gavin VanMoer, left, and other Tracy-Milroy-Balaton defenders pressure the quarterback during practice early Friday morning. So far, the Panthers have beat the heat during training camp, as well as a bout of the flu, by practicing in the morning.
Also gone are the two figureheads of that offense. Quarterback Parker Lanoue was a two-year starter for TMB and led the Marshall-area with 1,941 passing yards and 22 touchdowns through the air. Running back Alec Swan was also an all-area selection in 2012 after accumulating 1,072 total yards of offense and 10 touchdowns.
With an offense as dedicated to the pass as TMB's, finding a quarterback was the top priority for the Panthers. In sophomore Brett Swenhaugen, however, the TMB coaches are confident that they've found their guy.
"Brett's a sophomore and there's always some growing pains with quarterbacks in high school, no matter when they start," co-head coach Derek Flann said. "The speed always catches up with them right away. But we're hoping that we've got enough weapons around him that we can get guys open and make that transition a little bit easier.
2012 record: 4-5
Little Sioux Conference finish: 5th (3-4)
Final game: 37-22 loss to Pipestone Area in 3AA playoffs
Points allowed/game: 30.9
Key losses: Parker Lanoue, QB; Alec Swan, RB; Austin Peterson, OG/LB
Key returners: Zach Seaton, WR; Austin Gleis, WR; Josh Kirk, WR
"He's a real competitive kid. He's a pretty tough kid, mentally. I think he's going to do well in the long run," Flann added. "We've just got to get him comfortable in there and try to keep the pass rush off of him. We've got to do well up front and give Brett time to get the ball out there."
Another benefit for Swenhaugen will be the full arsenal of receivers returning for the the Panthers.
Josh Kirk, Austin Gleis and Zach Seaton all return as pass-catching options for TMB after ranking among the area's best in 2012.
Kirk, a tight end, ranked seventh in the area with 41 catches for 421 yards as a freshman. He also hauled in seven touchdowns, including a game-winner against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton on homecoming last season.
Gleis averaged 15 yards per reception as a sophomore a season ago, bringing down 26 targets for 391 yards and six scores.
Seaton, meanwhile, ranked 12th with 335 yards and four touchdowns in his first year with the team after transferring. Now a senior, Seaton has taken on a leadership role for the Panthers as they look to climb above .500 for the first time since 2010.
"Zach Seaton is one of our captains. He moved in here last year and had a really good year," Flann said. "He played receiver for us all year and started playing corner toward the end of the season. He's in a position to have a really good season.
"Both Josh Kirk and Austin Gleis hopefully build on what they've done, Flann added. "Gleis is a two-year starter for us now as a junior and Josh started both ways last year as a freshman. Again, both have looked really good in camp."
A pair of seniors, possession-style receiver Jacob Bengston and speedster Eric Donner, fill out the receiving corps in the pass-happy Panthers' offense.
"Two seniors, Jake Bengston and Eric Donner, those guys on offense, will fit into our receiver spots as well. Both of those guys do different things," Flann said. "Bengston catches the ball really well, Donner runs really well. So, there's spots and different packages that we fit them into them."
The Panthers also found a replacement for Swan's versatility, tabbing junior Elijah Koenig as the tailback for 2013.
"He's a pretty talented kid that didn't get a ton of varsity experience just because Swan was in front of him," Flann said of Koenig. "He was more of one of those guys that was waiting for a chance, not somebody that we had to have fill the spot. He's a junior now. He's filled out and done some work in the offseason, he's put some time in the weight room and has looked really good in camp."
To buy a little more time for Swenhaugen and open holes for Koenig, the Panthers have also moved Rick Jorgenson from the offensive line to fullback.
Flann said that Jorgenson has battled injuries the last two years but slimmed down for his senior season. Jorgenson's ability to catch the ball and hold up in pass protection helped him secure the backfield gig.
TMB's reloaded offense will get its first crack at topping the 296 points it scored last season when the Panthers kickoff the 2013 campaign against MACCRAY on Thursday in Tracy.