The Cyclones' dominant running game may have them sprinting all the way to state
The Alta Cyclones should have plenty of motivation for a playoff run this fall. If the challenge of moving to a new district wasn't enough, the Cyclones can still taste the bitterness of last season's overtime playoff loss to West Hancock.
"We were obviously disappointed not moving on last season," said head coach Kevin Hammer. "A bounce of the ball here or there and it's a different story, but we came up short. It's definitely been in the mind of the juniors. They want to get to that next level and they worked hard all offseason to do so."
The Cyclones now find themselves moved to district one in Class A where they will be going up against the likes of Lemars Gehlen Catholic, Woodbury Central, and Akron-Westfield. Last season's undefeated champ, Lawton Bronson, has moved up to class 1A.
Alta finished 7-3 last season bringing Hammer's career record at Alta to 54-56 heading into his 13th season.
The Cyclones graduated a stellar senior class that featured seven all-district selections, but they will bring back four others that earned honors last season. Jake Syndergaard was a first team choice. Jack Mills and Andrew Allerdings both received second team nods while Caleb Husman was an honorable mention. All four look to step up and have another big season for the Cyclones.
Alta's offense was an unstoppable force last season as they led the district with 329 points scored. They put up 35 points or more on five separate occasions led by a dominant running attack.
"We had two very good classes back to back last season," said Hammer. "We're not quite that deep this year, but we should still be very good. We have a lot of size and quickness on the offensive line and a great amount of speed in our backfield. "
Alta's ground game will have to replace the all-district duo of Chris Schmitz and Cody Nesbitt after the Cyclones rushed for over 2600 yards last season. Jake Syndergaard, a full back, played a big role as he cleared the way blocking while also rushing for over 400 yards of his own. His carries should increase this season. Syndergaard was also second on the team in scoring with 64 points as he also took care of the kicking duties.
Jack Mills appears to be the heir apparent for one of the starting running back positions after running for over 350 yards on limited carries last season.
Mills is also a star sprinter for the Cyclones who took first in the 4x200 and second in the 4x100 at the state meet last season.
The other half of Alta's running back duo will be Michael Huseman. Another sprinter on the state track team, Huseman averaged over seven yards a carry in relief duty last season.
The quarterback position sees Alta lose all-district signal-caller Aaron Hansen, but senior Jeremy Lambert looks poised to take over the duties. After being forced to sit out of varsity games after transferring, Lambert led the JV team to an undefeated season.
"He wasn't able to get any varsity reps in," said Hammer. "But he did well with the JV squad. He's got a good arm and has looked good so far. He should do fine."
Austin Stille is another player the Cyclones will try to work into the mix offensively. Currently slotted at guard, Stille will see some snaps at tight end or wing back positions if some depth emerges on the Cyclone offensive line.
The Alta defense was just as intimidating as its offense last year. They gave up less than eight points a game as they led the district in scoring defense as well. The defense will need to replace all-state performers Scott Radke and Nesbitt, but they appear ready to so.
"Matt Sefcik had a great offseason and really improved from his sophomore year to this year," said Hammer. "He's got great size and good feet. He's capable of dominating both sides of the line. Syndergaard is an all-state player on the line, and Cameron Manteufel will be one our anchors at down lineman."
Alta's linebackers should be among the top in the district with their speed and athleticism.
"Stille will be our middle linebacker," said Hammer. "He does a good job filling and he's not afraid to mix it up. Mills covers the flats very well. He's got great speed and very good instincts. We threw him outside last year and he did a great job."
The Alta secondary will be anchored by seniors Huseman and Ryan Vonnahme.
"We've got Huseman back at safety," said Hammer. "He can definitely fly around and cover a lot of ground out there. Vonnahme will start at corner for us. He's a very solid tackler and our shut-down corner."
The Cyclones special teams head into preseason fairly solidified with Syndergaard assuming kicking duties and speedsters Huseman and Mills on the returns.
"This is a pretty wide open district," said Hammer. "There are four of five teams that could compete. No one really stands out above everyone else. We need to get our younger guys ready to go early on. We've got a 1A team in Sioux Central up first followed by a 2A school in Pochahontas. We open up districts with the favorites, LeMars Ghelen and Woodbury Central, so we're getting right into it . The kids have big goals this year. They want to win the district and go beyond that. I like our chances. We put in the time during the offseason and it shows. We'll see who's where after about week four.