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High School Football: Warriors poised to make another state tournament run

Brainerd Warrior running back Devon Stuckey receives a handoff from quarterback Sam Miller Wednesday, Aug. 22, during an intrasquad scrimmage at Adamson Field. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

After losing to Owatonna in the 2017 Class 5A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Brainerd Warriors said farewell to several standouts.

Among them was running back Charlie Geraets, who rushed for 2,256 yards and 25 touchdowns his senior year. He finished his career as the leading rusher in school history with 4,046 yards and 46 TDs.

Also graduating were leading receiver Max Boran and linebackers Luke Johnson and Max Zimmerman, the team's No. 1 and No. 3 tacklers, respectively.

The good news is the Warriors return plenty of talent from a 9-3 season. Nine players who started in the 5A state semifinal return, as do both kickers and a quarterback with more than a half-dozen starts under center.

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Brainerd Warriors

  • Head coach: Ron Stolski, 57th season (44th at Brainerd, four at Park Center, six at Princeton, one at Slayton, two at Kensington).
  • 2017 finish: 4-2 in North Central Red Subdistrict, 9-3 overall, Class 5A state semifinalist
  • Career record: 380-171-5 (.690)
  • Brainerd record: 308-136 (.697)
  • Returning starters: Pat Gervenak (WR/DB), Sam Miller (QB), Brett Hague (C), Nate Bessingpas (G), Jason Jennette (T), Brady Anderson (FS), Taylor Ludwig (OLB), Braden Kramer (OLB), Garrett Gardiepy (DT), Morgan Gibson (DT), Zach Henke (K), Joe Klang (P)
  • 2018 captains: Gervenak, Miller, Ludwig, Kramer, Hague
  • Assistant coaches: Chet Stevenson (OL), Scott Parsons (LB), Jason Freed (DC), Aron Anderson (DL), Troy Nelson (OC), Jace Marcello (QB), Mike Huesman, Kurt King (JV/sophomores), Chuck Rodgers (DB), John Stumpf (JV/S), Joe Pohlkamp (JV/S), Mike Zauhar (volunteer)

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Returning on offense are wide receiver Pat Gervenak and offensive linemen Jason Jennette, Nate Bessingpas and Brett Hague. On defense, returnees include linemen Morgan Gibson and Garrett Gardiepy, outside linebackers Taylor Ludwig and Braden Kramer and safety Brady Anderson.

Joe Klang, last year's punter, will start at running back this season after playing in nine games last season. Zach Henke is back as the placekicker.

Senior quarterback Sam Miller started a few games as a sophomore and made six starts in 2017 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

"The key to our season will always be health," Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said, "and how soon we can develop the depth that it takes to play a full schedule. We know we have 17 games (9 varsity, 8 JV/sophomore) so (health is) a major key."

Stolski projects the offensive line, running back and secondary positions as early strengths of this Warrior team, which opens Friday, Aug. 31, at Buffalo.

"We have a group of seniors in the offensive line that really devoted themselves to strength last winter," Stolski said. "They're an exceptional group. You couldn't go in early in the morning to the weight room without seeing those kids. I believe we will be pretty physical in the offensive line.

"Our running backs are physical kids. When Klang did get an opportunity to play running back he played it very well. Our junior bunch of backs, along with Klang, I'm looking at all 6-footers that are pretty physical."

Defensively, Stolski is counting on returning players to lead the way early.

"Five or six of them are kids who play other sports as well. They're good athletes. That should be a strength," he said. "I think our linebackers inside will be a work in progress. They're all young. At outside linebacker, when you have two veterans who are captains you're pretty solid there.

"The front is the key. Gardiepy and Gibson are back. They're undersized but they're fighters. They played a lot of football last year. Then hopefully we can develop depth there."

Brainerd finished the regular season 6-2, losing only to St. Cloud Tech and Sauk Rapids. After the loss to Sauk Rapids, the Warriors reeled off seven straight victories, including a 23-14 win over Alexandria for the Section 8-5A title and a 24-7 win over St. Louis Park in the state quarterfinals.

Following is a position-by-position look at the Warriors.

Quarterback

Miller completed 56.2 percent of his passes (41-73) for 587 yards and five scores. He also carried 63 times for 122 yards and two TDs. Owen Davis, who saw brief action at the position, backs him up.

Running back

Klang rushed 60 times for 333 yards and three TDs.

Other candidates include Devon Stuckey, who carried seven times in 2017, Bryson Bassett and Ben Staehling. Kramer and Ludwig also could see action in the backfield.

Wide receivers

Gervenak was the team's No. 2 receiver in 2017 with 14 catches for 214 yards and a score. Levi McDonald and Renzen Caughey each caught one pass last year.

Others vying for playing time on the perimeter include Davis, Brady Anderson, Gabe Smith, Dalton Hamre and Brett Besenfelder.

Offensive line

Tackles include Jennette, Isaac Chappuis, Cam Olson and Brady Seidl.

Guards include Bessingpas, Olson and Gardiepy.

Hague, a three-year starter, anchors the line at center with Chappuis backing him up.

Nose guard

In the running for playing time are Nick Moline, Elias Lies, Isaac Winter and Fletcher DeRosier.

Defensive tackles

Gibson averaged 7 tackles per game and Gardiepy 4.92. Providing depth are Jennette, Blake Schibonski, Logan Thede and Manni Ukutegbe.

Outside linebackers

Ludwig was the team's second-leading tackler, averaging 12.83 per game. Kramer was fourth at 9.75. Tom Fickett, Josh McLain and Max Ferrie are the backups.

Inside linebackers

In the running for playing time are Jacob Dreitz, Forest Gibson, Simon Nelson, McLain and Bessingpas.

Cornerbacks

The contingent includes McDonald, Jack Olson, Devlin Lamke, John Barr, Calvin Foss, Joey Wiskow, Stuckey and Gabe Smith.

Strong safety

Gervenak averaged 4.75 tackles per game. Ben Staehling saw varsity action last season. Newcomers include Mark Boran, Devin Emslander and Caleb Nagel.

Free safety

Brady Anderson intercepted eight passes last season and averaged 12.08 tackles per game. Davis and Zach Benes provide depth.

Punter

Klang averaged 38.4 yards per boot. Freshman Nathaniel Staehling backs him up.

Kicker

Henke was 1-for-2 on field goals in 2017 and 32-40 on extra points. He averaged 44.8 yards on 63 kickoffs.

Specialists

Jack Olson will be the long snapper. Miller will hold for extra points. Gervenak, Brady Anderson, Stuckey, Ben Staehling, Davis and Klang will return kicks.

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Schedule

  • Friday, Aug 31, at Buffalo 4 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept 7, St. Cloud Tech at St. John's University 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept 14, Alexandria 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept 21, Sauk Rapids-Rice 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept 28, at Bemidji 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct 6, Becker 2 p.m. (homecoming)
  • Friday, Oct 12, Moorhead 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Oct 17, at Sartell 7 p.m.
  • Section 8-5A Playoffs
  • Tuesday - Oct 23, quarterfinals
  • Saturday - Oct 27, semifinals
  • Friday - Nov 2, championship
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