No Whitepine League team was as physically imposing as the Prairie boys were last fall, but with the graduation of a shipload of big Pirates – bruisers Spencer Schumacher, Caleb McWilliams and Carson Schmidt among them – no other Whitepine League saw as sizable a change in starting lineups.
But coaches of other Whitepine League teams told the Free Press they still see Prairie as the team to beat.
“Just on past history, we may be the favorite, but I think people are looking at Clearwater Valley and Potlatch to have good chances,” PHS head coach Ryan Hasselstrom told the Free Press. “They’re gunning for that No. 1 spot this year.”
Prairie doesn’t have as much depth this year, and that may limit how much PHS can deploy the run-heavy up-tempo offensive style the Pirates have used to devastating effect the past couple of seasons.
“In the past we’ve had three or four guys that didn’t have to play both ways, but this year is going to change that up a little bit, depending upon our conditioning,” Hasselstrom said, “and how many younger guys can come in and give us valuable reps when these guys need breaks. We’re still going to roll that way, but we’ll have to see. It puts pressure on defenses when we do it. … We lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 guys and a couple of bigger dudes weight-wise. So it’s definitely a little bit of a different look.”
With 26 on the field, Prairie has a full JV schedule, including a couple of lower classification varsity teams.
Prairie’s own varsity will see quarterback Cole Schlader line up under center.
“He’s started the last two years JV and has done a heck of a job,” Hasselstrom said. “He’s not the physical presence we’ve had in the backfield the last eight years, but he’ll get the job done. He had a good camp in June. He’s an accurate passer and he understands what he’s doing.”
Prairie lost Damian Forsmann to an ankle injury last month, and it’s “real questionable whether he’ll be back,” Hasselstrom said. “We’re down to a couple of guys who have played varsity receiver and a couple of guys who have played JV the past couple of years.”
Two running backs figure to be Prairie’s workhorses: Owen Anderson and Cole Martin.
“Owen is going to be good running and catching passes out of the backfield, and Cole, he’s going to be solid,” Hasselstrom said. “He’ll carry the brunt of the load this year.”
Hasselstrom’s son, Brody, will get some running back reps, too.
“We’ve got guys who can run the ball and a veteran crew up front, so the running game is going to be good this year,” he said. “League-wise, we’ll be alright. I don’t think anybody’s overly big in our league. Our kids should do fine. But our first game against Raft River, they have a couple big boys. So it’ll be a challenge right out of the gates.”
Defensively, Anderson has been a playmaker the last three years and will be once again at linebacker.
“Owen, he’s a quiet leader, but he’s everywhere on the field,” Hasselstrom said. “He’s the guy who is going to lead our defense on the field. He and senior safety Sam Mager, who is another smart kid who understands the game.”
With the potential for more parity in the WPL this fall, Hasselstrom anticipates “a good fun season.”
Prairie’s varsity schedule opens Sept. 7 in Middleton against Raft River.