Storm Lake scored a shade under 18 points a game last season, sixth best in Class 3A, District 2.
Senior running back Aaron Krier leads the Tornado returnees after running for 779 yards on 127 attempts last season. Krier led the District in rushing before going down with an injury late in the year as he averaged 6.1 yards a carry and scored 11TDs on the ground. Krier had 277 yards and 5TDs as a sophomore. Also back in the ground attack for the green and white is Brian Thephavong, who had four carries for 51 yards and a score last season. Gone, however, is lead blocker Nate Lenhart, who is continuing his career at Buena Vista.
"Aaron was our leading rusher last year but didn't play the last couple because of a concussion," said Storm Lake head coach Craig Lyon. "He had a lot of carries and yards rushing for us. He's stronger now. He's a little quicker. People are going to see a difference. Brian played a little last year before he broke his leg. Ryan Peters also ran a lot for the JV team last year."
Back under center for his second season at quarterback is Nic Seaman, who completed 51% of his passes for 1337 yards last fall. Seaman will look to cut down on his interceptions after throwing 21 to 8TDs a season ago.
"Experience-wise, we expect more out of Nic this season," said Lyon. "He's been through a year and half of playing varsity quarterback. He knows what to expect and knows our offense. He's gotten stronger is the one thing. He's stronger than he was last year. He's a good kid who works hard every day."
Seaman will have four of his top five receiving options back, led by senior Luke Lenhart, who pulled in a team-high 44 receptions for 442 yards and a score last fall. Tight end Ethan Kenkel had 28 grabs for 342 yards and three scores, Jay Grant had eight catches for 104 yards, and Krier had seven grabs for 82 yards. Graduated is Trey O'Brien and his 29 receptions for 452 yards and four scores.
Up front, the green and white bring back some experience along the line, led by senior Joe Sandhoff.
"Joe played a lot last year," said Lyon. "Also, Josh Scuffham, Zack Dicks, Jeff Khamsouk and Jack Hartnett saw a lot of time. Jack played center, but we've moved him to full back. We'll have some other seniors and a couple juniors jump into the mix with them. Some of those kids have done a great job lifting. A year's experience has also done wonders. They know what we want them to do. They're the key for how our season goes. In this district, you're only as good as you are up front. To do well in our district, you have to be a team capable of running the ball when you want to run it. That's what we want to be able to do. We've got a lineman coming back, and that will be our emphasis."
Defensively, the Tornadoes must replace their top three tackles, including Lenhart's 90 tackles, with 10 coming for loss, 58 from Robert Ruiz and 48 from Tyler Munden.
Kenkel leads the returnees at defensive end after totaling 47 stops, including 11 or loss. In the secondary, Lenhart made 40 stops and three fumble recoveries, Jay Grant had 34, Krier 15 and Hartnett 14.
After giving up over 35 a contest last year, clamping down on the defensive side of the ball will be a primary focus for the Tornadoes.
"We played a lot of kids on defense due to injuries," said Lyon. "I'm sure we'll rotate 15 or 16 through there again this year. We don't have the most number of starters coming back, but we have kids capable of stepping up and doing a good job. Stopping the run is the main focus. At times we did a good job. That was the key last year. We couldn't stop the run when we needed too. That's a big emphasis this year."
On special teams, Edgar Raya came on to shoulder most of the kickoff and punting duties. Krier also spent time at punter and was the primary kick returner. Lenhart split time on punt return duty with O'Brien.
District two receives a bit of a shakeup this season, with reigning district champion Boyden-Hull/Rock-Valley (11-1) and MOC-Floyd Valley (5-5) departing. Stepping in, however, is a tough Carroll squad who returns a 1-2 running back tandem that accounted for 1338 yards and 18TDs during an 8-3 campaign. Spencer (5-7) closed the season strongly and made a nice playoff run, and Bishop Heelan (8-2) should again be a tough 3A squad. Rounding out the district is Dension-Schleswig (5-4), Sergeant Bluff-Luton (5-4) and LeMars (1-8).
"The team has been real focused," said Lyon. "We've had good practices. They've given a good effort so far. It's my second year back at the helm, but I've been around a long time. The kids know what to expect, and we've got about 20 seniors leading the way. Looking at the district, Spencer's going to be a good team. They really came on last year. Heelan will be good again. Carroll's new in the district and should be solid. Those three are the early favorites. Our goal is to make the playoffs, as it is every year. We've got a good squad. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out."