Warriors Athlete of Week: Klang seizes opportunity in Brainerd backfield
In 2017, Joe Klang played behind statistically the best running back in Brainerd Warriors football history.
Last season Charlie Geraets rushed for 2,256 yards and 25 TDs. He finished his 3-year career as the leading rusher in school history with 4,046 yards and 46 TDs.
Klang, who was the team's second-leading rusher in 2017 with 333 yards and three scores, benefited from playing behind Geraets.
"Charlie was a great running back," Klang said. "I didn't play as much as I would have liked but I was OK with that because when you have such a good running back like that you can look up to him and learn from him when he's playing.
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- Sport: Football
- Position: Running back
- Year: Senior
- Age: 17
- Height: 6-foot
- Career highlight: Playing hockey at Roseau
- Other sports: Hockey
- Favorite class: Math
- Favorite food: Pizza
- Favorite movie: "Moana"
- Favorite TV show: "Criminal Minds"
- Favorite restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
- Future plans: Undecided
- Favorite football player: Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers
- Parents: Eric and Annette Klang
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"It was awesome, especially with Charlie being a great guy. It was fun at practice and at games talking to him. It was definitely a good experience."
Klang has capitalized on his opportunity to move into the starting lineup this fall. He leads the team in rushing with 498 yards on 63 attempts (7.9-yard average per carry) with six touchdowns. He has also scored on a TD pass reception and on a 2-point conversion for a team-high 44 points. He also has thrown a scoring pass.
He has surpassed 100 yards in three of the first four games. His 180 yards against Sauk Rapids last week were a season high and he ran for two scores. His 70-yard burst against the Storm in the fourth quarter led to Brainerd's final score—Klang's 12-yard pass to Gabe Smith.
Klang said the offensive line's progress, obviously, leads to his rushing success. Linemen who started or played considerably against Sauk Rapids included center Brett Hague, guards Isaac Chappuis and Garret Gardiepy and tackles Jason Jennette, Cameron Olson and Brady Seidl. Starter Nate Bessingpas missed the game with an injury.
"I think as they get more comfortable throughout games that helps them out," Klang said. "They don't have much size but when you have speed I think that's what's really the edge we add to our game."
Warriors coach Ron Stolski said Klang is an interesting, intelligent back.
"Joe spent his time last year learning how we do things and what we do," Stolski said. "He's extremely capable of aligning himself properly in every formation.
"As a running back, he has unusual patience. He'll read the blocks of the offensive line well and slip and slide. He's kind of a different high school back that way but it certainly works for him.
"In addition, he's worked on his blocking. His blocking is good and he's a talented pass receiver."
Klang said blocking is an important part of every practice.
"We emphasize that because blocking is pretty much the main part of whether you're going to get a big run," Klang said. "That's why you've got to owe it to the line when they do a great job and you get so many yards. When Ben (Staehling) blocks for me, or I block for him, we make sure we do our best at it because that's what gets us the most yards."
Klang has caught two passes for 28 yards. In passing situations, he often remains in the backfield to protect quarterback Sam Miller.
"But if they need me to go out there, that's something I like to do," Klang said. "Catching passes is fun."
Klang's punting is another valuable aspect of his game. He's averaging 38.1 yards per boot on 12 kicks this season. Last season he punted 23 times for a 38.4 average. His punts have hang time as well as distance. Against Alexandria, his first two punts were downed at the Cardinals' 1-yard line.
This fall Klang has averaged 43.3 yards against Alexandria, 42.0 against St. Cloud Tech and 38.4 against Buffalo. He said he spends about 10 minutes before the start of each practice working on his punting.
"Sometimes when we do varsity defense I will practice punting because I don't play defense," he said. "I haven't gone to any camps but if I'm looking to play college football or punt I would consider going to a few camps."
Stolski said Klang's punting has been "exceptional."
"His punting is really a weapon because throughout the first four games he must be averaging close to 40 yards a punt," Stolski added. "He puts people in tough spots."
Other notable efforts:
• Josie Kramer, soccer, scored a hat trick vs. Sauk Rapids.
• Jack Thorkelson, soccer, had a hat trick vs. Sartell.
• Avery Eckman, volleyball, recorded 23 kills vs. Sartell and 28 in four games at the Duluth East Tournament.
• Sam Miller, football, passed for 211 yards and a TD vs Sauk Rapids.
• Courtney Russell, volleyball, had 29 kills at the Duluth East Tournament.
• Gabbie Smith, soccer, had two goals and two assists vs. Sartell.
• Kate Kurtzman, tennis, won vs. Rocori to raise her No. 2 singles record to 22-2