To their credit, the Warriors took on one of Class 1A's toughest Districts that featured State semifinalist Emmetsburg (12-1), as well as perennial football power West Lyon (9-3).
Alta-Aurelia will look to boost the number in the win column as they drop down to Class A this season, moving from 1A-2 to Class A-District 1.
The field in District 1 is no slouch, however, as West Lyon joins them in the jump down, as does fellow former district foe Sibley-Ocheyedan (4-5). Also making the move down from 1A, District 1 into the new Class A, District 1 will be Lawton Bronson (9-1) and Hinton (2-7). Holdovers remaining in the district from a season ago will be Akron-Westfield (8-3), Woodbury Central (7-4) and West Sioux (3-7).
"We do move down a class, but it doesn't get a whole lot easier," said Alta-Aurelia head coach Kevin Hammer, entering his 17th season at the helm. "Still a whole lot of quality teams in the District. We'll have our work cut out for us."
Offensively, the Warriors will have to replace All-District running back Jalen Henningsen, who ran for 1230 yards on 7.6 per carry with nine touchdowns on the ground last fall. Henningsen was also the team's leading receiver with 17 grabs for 157 yards.
Alta-Aurelia, who averaged over 200 yards per game on the ground last season, will look to offset the loss in the aggregate, starting with 5'11", 180 senior fullback Garrett Van Houten, who ran for 567 yards and 6TDs on 107 carries last fall. 5'8", 165-pound back Manuel Murillo is also back as a junior after turning in 37 carries for 111 yards and 3TDs. 6'2, 170-pound Alex Stephan also steps into the backfield after pulling down six grabs for 158 yards and 3TDs last season.
Returning to start at quarterback will be 5'11", 175-pound senior Joe Napierala, who completed 27-of-67 passes for 319 yards. He had three touchdowns to seven interceptions.
6-foot, 235-pound Spencer Bezoni and 6'2, 285-pound center Brett Stange return as starters to anchor the Warrior offensive line as a juniors. Junior Ben Wetherell (6'2",180), sophomore Jacob Berg (6'2,180), and sophomore Connor Napierala (6',175) look to bolster the offensive front for Alta-Aurelia.
Split out, Mitchell McDonald (6'2",175) returns as a starter at tight end as he finished third on the run-heavy Warrior squad with two receptions for 17 yards.
"Our running backs and receivers should be much improved overall from last year," said Hammer. "The graduation of Jalen Henningsen, an all-district player, will definitely hurt, however, we should be more balanced in our offensive attack this year. Garrett Van Houten is a three-year starter at fullback and is a very powerful runner. Joe Napiearala will be a two-year starter at QB. The offensive line has an opportunity to be very solid, depending on how quick the younger guys pick up their blocking assignments."
Defensively, Van Houten led the Warriors at linebacker, totaling 104 tackles. including nine tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and one sack. Also at linebacker, Stephan follows with 67 tackles a season ago, and Murillo had 64. Senior defensive back Steven Handwork returns as a starter with after making 38 stops last fall.
Alta-Aurelia will look to clamp down on the defensive side of the ball after allowing 34 points per game last season.
"Our overall team speed will be improves from last year on the defensive side, and we will be bigger up front," said Hammer.
With only four senior letterwinners returning, and five juniors, Alta-Aurelia will be a young group that could be short on depth.
"Our depth could be a factor if we fall into the injury bug," said Hammer. "Along with the lack of depth with be our youth at some positions. If we can stay healthy and make strides early on in the season, this team has the ability to turn the corner and get back to playoffs and a winning season, something that has eluded them the last two years."
The Warriors begin play on August 24th on the road at Pocahontas Area. The following week they'll meet Sioux Central at home, before visiting Sibley Ocheyedan. They alternate away and home the rest of the way out with Woodbury Central, Lawton-Bronson (Home), West Lyon, Akron-Westfield (H), Hinton and West Sioux (H).