Can speed and strength make up for a lack of depth? Who will hold the keys to Storm Lake's shotgun offense?
Several gray areas - including the identity of the Tornadoes' starting sky captain - should become less foggy after the team's intrasquad scrimmage tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Storm Lake High.
Currently, 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior Ben Seaman, senior Alex Severson (5-9, 190) and sophomore Bobby Brown (6-1, 180) are all in the running for starting quarterback duty.
The Tornadoes lost Mitch McCabe, the signal caller the past two seasons, to graduation.
"We've been rotating (the three quarterbacks in practice). They all have certain abilities that are better than the other," said SL football coach Bill McCabe, whose team went 6-3 overall and 4-3 in district play last year. "We'll try to find one or two of them. Friday will tell a lot."
Storm Lake, which has been practicing since Aug. 8, kicks off the season next Friday, Aug. 31 at Sheldon (SL outlasted the 2A Orabs 34-21 last year) at 7 p.m. The following week, the Tornadoes play host to Cherokee in their second and final non-district matchup before hosting Denison-Schleswig Sept. 14 in their 3A District 1 opener.
Depth is the biggest concern for the Tornadoes, who return 12 letterwinners and six starters from last year's club. SL will have its share of two-way starters.
"We're small in numbers but the kids are working really hard," said McCabe. "We have 11 good kids on both sides of the ball, but we need to develop a few more because injuries can cause setbacks. We have a lot of kids that have played (varsity); last year a couple kids got hurt, and some of the sophomores got some varsity experience.
"We have a lot of experience but not a lot of depth."
Storm Lake will also need to overcome a lack of overall team size if it wants to hang with the likes of Spencer, Heelan and Le Mars, and improve upon a fourth-place district finish of last year.
Heelan returns 14 starters from a team that took third place in the district at 5-2 last year. Spencer (second place at 6-1) returns 11 starters and 28 letterwinners, while Le Mars (the defending district champ at 7-0) returns only four starters but 32 letterwinners.
Those are the three teams to beat, says McCabe.
In Chom Thammavongsa and Jordan Carlson, the Tornadoes have a pair of senior leaders who started on both sides of the ball the past two seasons.
Thammavongsa will again play safety but move from the slot to running back this season, a move similar to the one Tyson Brandt made in 2006. Thammavongsa had 43 tackles and two interceptions at safety last season, and 20 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns in the slot.
"Chom's got great speed and elusiveness. He's very well suited for our offense," McCabe said.
Carlson, senior offensive tackle/defensive end Mike Adams, and senior center Joe Stuckel are the leaders of a batch of offensive linemen that are in turn, says McCabe, "the leaders of our team."
"They're very hard workers in the weightroom also," said of the three returning starters.
Carlson, an all-district defensive end and offensive guard who made 41 stops last year, stands 6-3 and weighs in at 240, giving the Tornadoes much-needed size. Other big bodies include senior linemen Matt Zylstra (6-3, 250) and Matt Snyder (6-4, 265), and Marco Barahona (6-3, 230), a sophomore lineman who led the St. Mary's baseball team in batting average this summer.
Jeff Kofmehl and Doug Dimig, both juniors, will fight for the remaining two offensive line spots along with Zylstra, Snyder and Barahona.
The team's other returning starters are junior cornerbacks Tyler Gibbins and Courtney Goodchild.
Those two and junior Tony Pertzborn are also in the running for receiver and slot positions, along with senior ends Zach Miller and Jesse Munger, who are making their varsity debuts.
"It's probably our deepest position. We have good athleticism at our slots," McCabe said. "(Miller and Munger) are very athletic; they're catching on. Tony is our most experienced receiver, and Courtney is a very explosive player."
SL's defensive line is essentially its O-line, with Carlson and Adams at the ends, Snyder at nose guard, Barahona at a tackle spot, and Zylstra and Dimig also factoring into the equation.
Senior Brendan Miller is the lone linebacker with much experience at the position on a team that will mix things up defensively.
"We'll go from a 5-3 to a 3-4 to a 4-5," McCabe said with a laugh.
Seaman, Pertzborn and junior Eric Smith should also see time at linebacker.
2007 STORM LAKE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Seniors - Chom Thammavongsa (RB/S, 5-10, 175); Joe Stuckel (C, 5-9, 200); Jordan Carlson (G/DE, 6-3, 240); Mike Adams (OT/DE, 6-1, 200)
Juniors - Courtney Goodchild (CB/Slot, 5-9, 165); Tyler Gibbins (CB/Slot, 5-9, 160)
Other Returning Letterwinners
Seniors - Alex Severson (QB/Slot/DB, 5-9, 190); Brendan Miller (LB, 5-10, 180); Jeff Keen (E/DB, 5-10, 170)
Juniors - Ben Seaman (QB/Slot/LB, 5-10, 165); Tony Pertzborn (E/LB, 6-0, 175); Jeff Kofmehl (OL/DL, 5-11, 200)
Friday, Aug. 31 at Sheldon
Friday, Sept. 7 vs. Cherokee
*Friday, Sept. 14 vs. Denison-Schleswig
*Friday, Sept. 21 at Le Mars
*Friday, Sept. 28 at MOC-FV
*Friday, Oct. 5 vs. Spencer
*Friday, Oct. 12 vs. Spirit Lake
*Friday, Oct. 19 at Sergeant Bluff-Luton
*Friday, Oct. 26 vs. Sioux City Bishop Heelan
*Denotes 3A District 1 game