It was a banner season in 2003 for the Schaller-Crestland Wildcat football team.
The Wildcats went 8-2 overall, 7-1 in the district and made the district playoffs before losing to eventual district champ Newell-Fonda.
And with five offensive starters returning and six players returning on defense, the outlook in 2004 is bright for Dale Tokheim's team.
"We have good team speed and good size up front," said Tokheim recently. "Hopefully, those two factors will combine to help us run the ball offensively and also stop the run on defense.
"We also have experience at every position and that should help develop the younger guys."
Among the returning starters on offense are 5-foot-8, 172-pound halfback Tyler Meusburger. Last season, he was a first-team all-district pick after gaining 1,490 yards on 229 carries and scoring 15 touchdowns.
The other returning starters on offense include senior fullback Adam Barlow (566 yards in 2003 and five touchdowns), offensive guard-defensive tackle Tony Johannsen, a first-team all-district pick, offensive guard-noseguard Nathan Petersen, an all-district first team pick at defensive lineman, and first team all-district tight end Tim Langner.
The returning starters on defense include Barlow at linebacker. Last season, he finished with 82 tackles and two interceptions.
Other defensive returnees are Johannsen at defensive tackle, Petersen at noseguard, Langner at safety and 6-foot, 182-pound junior Brian Bode at linebacker.
"We are bigger and stronger than last year," added Tokheim. "We finally have some kids with natural size plus, we've had a great offseason in the weight room.
"Hopefully this year, we won't give up 20-30 pounds in every game. That should help us run the ball better."
Tokheim added that in 2004, Langner will be moved from tight end to quarterback. A good target for the senior could be tight end Luke Feilmeier, who played tight end last season, catching ten balls for 129 yards.
Filling in at offensive tackles will be senior Alan Griep (6-1, 205 pounds) and junior Michael Weber (6-1, 279 pounds). Also vying for playing time in the offensive line will be 6-2, 260-pound sophomore Jon Grundmeier.
On defense, Tokheim said, several people are fighting for spots at defensive end, including seniors Wyatt Feilmeier and Shawn Griep, junior Michael Hatch and sophomore Marcus Barlow.
Luke Feilmeier will play one cornerback spot while the other one will be either Brian Woodke, senior Nick Currie or sophomore Mark McDonough. Meusburger will take over linebacker duties for departed all-state linebacker Jim Alesch.
In the defensive line, several players will rotate with the returning starters, including senior Kyle Barlow, juniors Michael Weber and Rick Huseman and sophomores Grundmeier and Lucas Severson.
"We won't change much from the past," Tokheim said of the Wildcats' offensive and defensive schemes. "We will run first on offense and mix in the pass with our basic set being the wing-T.
"We hope to have a more balanced attack than last year. Instead of giving the ball to mainly one player (Meusburger) we want to have three or four guys carrying the ball to keep the defenses guessing."
"Defensively, we should be pretty solid. We have six returning starters and more size. Our base defense will be a 5-3 and I think we should do well against both the pass and the run as long as everybody takes care of their assignments."