Today, we continue our area league previews in the North Central Activities Association. The NCAA will have a different look in 2017, as three of the seven schools have new coaches, and many teams will be looking to replace talented graduates from last season.
One team seeing change will be right in our area with the Beloit Trojans. After 11 seasons under Greg Koenig, in which the Trojans went 93-31 and finished as the 3A state runner-up in 2013, there’s a new coach at the helm. Former Augusta assistant Brad Gober has taken over the Trojans team that went 6-3 last season, but missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Beloit lost their top two rushers from their double-wing offense in Hunter Budke, who ran for just under 1,300 yards and Caydren Cox who ran for 727 yards. With the new coach, there will be a new system coming on each side of the ball as well. Beloit brings back seven starters on offense and eight on defense. The top returning offensive player is RB Zach Meier, who returns for his junior season after running for 705 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Meier was also the top receiver last year, with 257 yards and five scores. The top returner on defense is Blaine Burks, who had 85 tackles and a team high 19.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks in 2016. Going into the new season, Coach Gober talks about what’s standing out about his team in the preseason.
Beloit opens their season on Friday night at home against Concordia. Fans can watch the game on the Beloit Trojan Channel at nckssports.com. Kickoff is at 7:00.
Elsewhere in the NCAA, Southeast of Saline won the league a season ago, going 7-3 and 5-0 in the NCAA. The Trojans return five starters on each side, but they did lose their top two athletes in QB Bryce Banks and WR Ben Murray. Banks threw for just under 2,100 yards and 19 TD and ran for another 536 yards and 10 scores, while Murray was his top target with 731 yards and 9 TD receiving. The top returner for the Trojans offense is Hunter White, who ran for a team high 566 yards and eight TD last year. Leading tackler Dylan Marks also returns for his junior year after coming up with 87 stops and 16 TFL last season.
Also in the 3A ranks, Ellsworth will look to improve on their 5-4 record from last season. They do lose speedster Kaden Davis, who played in the Shrine Bowl this summer and had 837 yards and 15 TD receiving a year ago. They also lost their leading rusher Luke Oberle, who ran for 1,050 yards. Ellsworth has a new coach this year as well in Josh Homolka, who is a Claflin native and played LB at KU. He also recently spent a season as the Safeties coach at Northern Illinois. Senior QB Zac Schneider is the leading returner, as he threw for 1,316 yards and 16 TD a season ago.
Russell hopes to improve on their 2-7 record from last year, but they bring back just three starters on each side of the ball. The top returner for Russell is on the defensive side, as LB Brooks Nichols is back after leading the team with 82 tackles last season.
Minneapolis went just 1-8 last year with a very inexperienced group. That is not the case this season, as they return ten starters on offense and nine on defense. Jhon Haehn is in his fourth year at the helm for the Lions and expects his team to compete in the NCAA this season.
In 2-1A, Republic County is coming off of their first playoff appearance ever and their best season in the school’s history. The Buffaloes went 5-6, which included a 1st-round playoff win over Sedgwick before falling in the second round to eventual state runner-up Plainville. The Buffs will have some work to do to sustain the moderate success that they have seen the past two seasons, as they bring back just three starters on each side of the ball. They will need to replace Trey Kuhlman at QB, who threw for over 1,000 yards and 10 TD. The top returner for Republic County is senior RB Nick Allsman, who ran for 969 yards and 8 TD last year.
Finally in the NCAA, the Sacred Heart Knights are beginning a new era as well, as Bruce Graber retired after eight seasons in Salina and 43 years overall. The new head coach is Garrett Galanski, who is from Bakersfield, CA, but played college ball at Ottawa. Sacred Heart went just 3-6 last year, but they do have talent returning. Most notably, speedster Jacob Faerber, who ran for just 551 yards last season, but as a sophomore, ran for a Sacred Heart school record 1,537 yards.
The NCAA title seems to be up for grabs in 2017. To find out how it all unfolds, follow along this season at nckssports.com.