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Warriors Athlete of Week: Staehling seized opportunity to step up in Brainerd backfield

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Brainerd running back Ben Staehling was the Warriors' second-leading rusher this season and started at cornerback. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

When Brainerd's leading rusher Joe Klang suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury in the first quarter of Game Seven, it was an opportunity for another Warrior to step up.

Ben Staehling seized that opportunity and ran with it particularly in the Section 8-5A playoffs. In the 8-5A semifinals, the junior running back charged to 132 yards and a touchdown in a 35-7 win against Alexandria. A week later, he rambled to a banner night with 200 yards on 32 carries and a TD in a 25-22 loss to Bemidji in the 8-5A championship game.

"Klang's a great player," Staehling said, "but I knew I was the next guy up. I just had to do my thing I guess."

Warriors coach Ron Stolski said Staehling, like most juniors, grew as a player as the season progressed. He became more confident and improved. Stolski said Staehling possesses a burst of speed, improved field vision and ran with power.

"I admire Ben's work ethic," Stolski said. "When you think about the previous 2-3 games, when we were really short on people... He literally played the entire football game. That's very rare today. It just doesn't happen."

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Ben Staehling

  • Sport: Football
  • Position: Running back, cornerback
  • Year: Junior
  • Age: 17
  • Height: 6-2
  • Career highlight: Throwing TD pass vs. Alexandria in Section 8-5A semifinals
  • Other sports: Basketball, track and field
  • Grade-point average: 3.0
  • Favorite class: Sports and Entertainment Marketing with Landon Brainerd
  • Favorite food: Steak
  • Favorite movie: "Rudy"
  • Favorite TV show: "Riverdale"
  • Favorite website: "YouTube"
  • Favorite restaurant: Black Sheep Pizza in Minneapolis
  • Favorite athlete: LeBron James
  • Parents: Joel and Erica Staehling

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Staehling also started at cornerback all season, a position that was somewhat new to him. Midway through the season, he began to see less time in the offensive backfield while Klang shouldered the rushing load.

"Coach (Jason) Freed talked to me and said we needed a corner that could shut down the other team's best receiver," Staehling said. "They needed me more on defense than offense. I was kind of that lockdown corner guy and just stepped up on defense.

"I played more safety my sophomore year. I got some varsity minutes as a sophomore at safety. Corner was kind of new to me this year. It was my first time ever playing it."

Staehling finished the season as the team's second-leading rusher with 677 yards on 129 attempts (5.2 average) and eight TDs. He credited the coaching staff and teammates for his productive playoff run.

"I thought the sweep worked really well," Staehling said. "I thought our wide receivers Gabe Smith, Levi McDonald and Owen Davis did a good job blocking on the perimeter. Our offensive line played really well, I thought."

Fellow running back Braden Kramer was Staehling's lead blocker. Linemen in the trenches included Jason Jennette, Isaac Chappuis, Cameron Olson, Garret Gardiepy, Nate Bessingpas and Brett Hague. That line helped Brainerd average 28.6 points and 349.1 yards per game.

"They just got better as the year went on," Staehling said of the line. "I think we struggled a little bit early in the season. Every week they got a lot better. The holes just started to open up."

Staehling also attributes much of his success to hitting the weight room.

"After the basketball season last year, I was kind of scrawny," he said. "I didn't lift much during the winter. I set a goal for myself that maybe I would start at running back, maybe I would have a starting spot.

"I made a personal goal to change my body, get as strong as I can. I wanted people to say 'Wow, what happened to Ben?' when they saw me show up the first day of practice. I went to (assistant coach Scott Parsons' workouts) three times a week. His workouts in the morning were a big part of that."

Stolski said Staehling's diligence in the weight room was noticeable.

"He has a very good burst," Stolski said. "His vision has improved a great deal, finding the hole. He runs with good power. Here's a 3-sport athlete who literally lives in the weight room. He has great strength."

Brainerd finished 6-4 after losing to Bemidji in the section final. After losing their first two games, the Warriors won six of their last eight.

"We were pretty bummed about that," Staehling said of the 0-2 start, "but I thought we turned the season around pretty good. Competing for the section championship is always good. We were disappointed. Our main goal was to go to state and we didn't get that, but overall I thought it was a pretty good year."

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