The Alta High football team has been one of the top rushing teams in its district for the past five years, and coach Kevin Hammer says he "doesn't expect that to end anytime soon.
"Our strength this season will be our athletic ability," Hammer said. "We lost some very good players last year. You can't replace the experience those guys had, so we'll go through some growing pains."
Last season, the Cyclones finished 5-4 overall and 4-4 in Class 1A, District I. This season, they have moved to Class A.
Lost to graduation were all-state defensive end T.J. Aube, all-district quarterback Brad Payne, offensive center Russell Hinkeldey, running back Anand Hase, and tight end Kylor Cone.
The returnees are senior linebacker-tight end Brian Pedersen, senior linebacker-running back Morgan Van Houten, quarterback/defensive back Tyler Boyd, lineman Scott Radke, linebacker-running back Chris Schmitz, linebacker-running back Cody Nesbitt, center-defensive lineman Keegan Svendsen and sophomore fullback-defensive lineman Jake Syndergaard.
Hammer said he expects the left-handed Boyd to fill in well at quarterback.
"Tyler gives us a very athletic quarterback and a good team leader," he said.
Other top prospect to fill in for vacated positions include Alex Peterson at tight end and defensive back, Quentin Thomas at tight end, Andrew Allerdings at offensive and defensive line positions, sophomore Austin Stille at tight end or defensive end, and sophomore running back Mike Huseman.
On offense, the Cyclones should be set at running back, where all-district player Chris Schmitz and senior fullback Cody Nesbitt return.
Last season, Schmitz ran for 465 yards on 102 carries. He also caught 11 passes for 142 yards.,
Hammer said Nesbitt was hampered by injuries last year, but after successful surgery, appears to be 100 percent. He still ran for 385 yards on 71 carries and caught 13 passes for 2556 yards and four touchdowns in 2005.
Returning offensive linemen include 6-foot-3, 220 pound Scott Radke and Keegan Svendsen.
"Hopefully, our offensive line, made up of juniors and sophomores, will jell together and open holes for the running backs," Hammer said.
"We also have good size at fullback, either VanHouten (230 pounds) or Syndergaard (225).
For the past five years, Alta has been known for its physical running attack. Once again, with a healthy Nesbitt and the speed of Schmitz, running will be key to the offense. But Hammer would like to see more balance between the pass and run."
"Quentin (Thomas) and Cody (Nesbitt) have good speed and excellent hands," the coach added. "In order for us to make a run at the district title, we will have to go to the air a little more."
Coach Hammer said his linebacking corps will be the defensive strength. The Cyclones return all four linebackers from last season, including VanHouten, Brian Pedersen, Nesbitt and Schmitz.
"What we give up with our youth and inexperience in the line will be made up for by our experienced linebackers," Hammer said.
He added that the defensive line will be anchored by Radke and three sophomores - Andrew Allerdings, Stille and Syndergaard.
The Cyclone secondary will sport two newcomers, with the probable starters being Boyd, Peterson and Thomas.
Hammer said his teams' success will depend on how fast his younger players adjust to playing at the varsity level.
"The sooner they adjust to varsity football, the better we'll be. Time will tell," he said.
This season, Alta will play in Class A. Top teams in the Cyclones' district will include perennial power Newell-Fonda. Hammer said Rockwell City-Lytton isn't close behind.
Other teams in the district are Clay Central-Everly, Laurens-Marathon, Odebolt Arthur, Schaller-Crestland and Southeast Webster - Burnside.
"I think we have a good shot at finishing in the top two if our younger players adjust quickly," Hammer said.