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Cards are young but confident

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NINE-MAN FOOTBALL PREVIEW

If last Saturday’s scrimmage at Hill City is any indication of how the high school football season will progress at Cromwell-Wright this fall, the Cardinals are confident in their chances.

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That’s because the prestigious nine-man football program, owning four state titles, heads back to play the host Hornets Friday in their season opener, building on skills gained a season ago.

Finishing 3-6 — including losing their final half-dozen games and going scoreless in their last eight quarters — that season was a struggle for an ultra-young Cromwell-Wright.

Yet, with the return of skilled standouts in sophomore quarterback Zion Smith, senior fullback Tyler Hakamaki and senior receiver Austin Pfisthner, the Cardinals will be as athletic as any Great Northern Conference school they now face.

That’s not to mention senior two-way lineman Cody Whiting (who is captain along with Hakamaki and Pfisthner) and senior defensive end Brandon Fairbanks.

“We have a lot of experience,” Coach Jeff Gronner, entering his 17th year, said earlier this week. “We’re still young — half the team is sophomores — but we had a good offseason and are very optimistic with so much back. We’re chomping at the bit.”

Gronner noted 25 players, an average number, are out for the team this season, a dozen of whom started throughout last year.

That includes the bull-dozing Hakamaki who, after back and leg injuries the past two seasons, hopes to remain healthy this season.

If so, Gronner said there’s more hope with a more mature team.

“We lost our last six games last year, but we were in all of them until the fourth quarter,” Gronner recalled. “But if that happens to us again this year, hopefully we can turn the tables.”

Carlton

In other nine-man action,Carlton is looking to turn things around following an 0-8 campaign last season, in which they were outscored 313-56.

Third-year Coach Erik Hanson is confident, welcoming 34 players to practice, including senior veterans Dom Bennett, Mike Moralez, Josh Dallman and Cade Pierson.

“We have a good crop of kids,” Hanson said of his Bulldogs. “It’s the most kids we’ve had out playing in probably 10 years.”

South Ridge

The Panthers will have a new look this year, as former defensive coordinator Brent Johnson takes over for Tom Spaniol.

South Ridge, a nine-win team which lost to Floodwood in the Section 5 final last year, have 35 players, after graduating 17.

“We lost quite a few,” Johnson said, adding they will look to run first behind backfield juniors Reid Clark and Zach Johnson.

Wrenshall

The Wrens lost to South Ridge in last year’s semifinals, but return only 17 players for seventh-year Coach Jeremy Zywicki.

With nine seniors — including captains Luke Vine, Chase Morneau, Travis Bryce and Garrett Stavang — Zywicki said his Wrens, 5-5 a year ago, are solid, but need to avoid any injuries.

“The question is,” he said, “if we can keep everyone intact.”

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