With a second-team all-district senior returning at quarterback, and offensive and defensive lines that could be better than last year's touted units, the pieces are in place for a banner football season at Alta High.
Cyclone coach Kevin Hammer, who guided Alta to a 6-3 overall record and a 5-2 record in its Class 1A, District 2 schedule in 2004, returns seven starters on offense and four on defense.
"Our strengths will be in the offensive line, with all-district players T.J. Aube and Dan Sievers," Hammer said recently.
He added that offensive center Russell Hinkeldey, tight end Kylor Cone and tight end/defensive end Scott Radke will also be keys this season.
So will Brad Payne, who enters his second season as the starting quarterback. Last season, Payne, a 5-foot-11, 160 pound senior, was a second-team all-district pick.
In 2004, Payne connected on 33 of 68 passes for 444 yards, including five scoring passes and just one interception.
Other starters returning on offense include Cone, a 6-1, 165 pound senior, Aube, a 6-foot, 235 pound lineman, Sievers, a 6-1, 220 pound senior lineman, Morgan Van Houten, a 5-11, 240 pound junior lineman, Hinkeldey, a 6-foot, 175 pound senior and Radke, a 6-3, 205 pound tight end.
Aube is a highly rated prospect after garnering first-team all-district as well as third-team all-state honors last season. Sievers was also a first-team all-district selection in 2004.
"Our offensive and defensive lines will be stronger and quicker than last year's," coach Hammer said. "Also, our overall speed on both offense and defense will be better than last season."
Hammer added that his team will be young at some key spots.
"We'll start four sophomores and a freshman at some key positions," he said. "What will help will be the experience of the players around them."
He continued: "Offensively, we'll be strong and experienced up front and at quarterback. We'll be young at the running back positions, but we'll have good speed at those positions."
The returning starters on defense include Aube and Sievers in the line, VanHouten at linebacker and Radke at defensive end.
"We'll be strong up front again and more athletic at the linebacker and defensive back positions," Hammer said.
Players expected to fill in for departed seniors include running back/linebacker Cody Nesbitt, running back/strong safety Chris Schmitz, fullback Jake Syndergaard, noseguard Miah Haller, defensive backs Anand Hase and Tyler Boyd and linebacker Brian Pedersen.
Hammer added that a key to success is how fast his younger players develop.
"It's an adjustment at the varsity level," the coach said, "and it's important that we stay healthy. Also, on special teams, we graduated a great kicker in Adam Pedersen. We're hoping (Scott) Radke can fill his shoes."
He pointed to additional factors for success.
"We want to get some early experience in our first two games, which are non-district," Hammer said. "And we want to be more balanced in our offensive attack.
"Defensively, we will need to use our speed in the secondary at at linebacker to make up for any mistakes early in the year."
The long-time Alta coach also sized up Class 1A, District 2.
"It's very balanced this season," he said. "There are probably five teams, including us, who could win it. I like our schedule; we play most of the top district teams at home.
"I think the team that gets out of the gate early and gains some momentum will set themselves up for a good shot at the district title."
The Cyclones open their 2005 season next Friday in Ida Grove against Battle Creek-Ida Grove, a non-district tilt.