Spring Grove football reloads, could contend again


All-Conference Kyle Hagen (left) and two-year letter winner Wyatt Murphy are the two returning Lions who started on both defense and offense last fall. Photo by S. Lee Epps
By: 
S. Lee Epps

How much success can Spring Grove football fans expect after graduation claimed three All-State performers and an All State Honorable Mention from last year's second straight state 9-man championship team? 

The Lions start the 2019 season with seven letter winners, including four of last year's most productive 11 players. They need to replace all of the kicking game specialists and bring back only three starters on offense (two linemen, one back) and only three starters on defense (line, linebacker, defensive back). 

But this time last year, before a repeat state championship run, Spring Grove returned only three of its top 10 players from the 2017 state title team. Obviously, replacement starters stepped up to get the job accomplished last autumn. Can that, will that happen again?

Last year's squad had the fewest ever in number of players but did return two All-State standouts. Although numbers are greater this year, the Lions bring back only one of four All-District selections, senior guard/linebacker Kyle Hagen. Wyatt Murphy and Hagen are the only two returning Lions who started on both defense and offense last fall.

Quarterback

Senior two-year letter winner Chandler Bergrudhas patiently waited for this opportunity while backing up the most prolific, record-setting quarterback in Spring Grove history.

Bergrud appears to be more than ready for the responsibility as his preparation credentials are impressive. With large leads late in games, the Lions did not pass a lot. But in mop-up duty during his freshman through junior seasons, Bergrud has completed 68 percent of his varsity passes (17 for 25) with twice as many touchdowns (4) as interceptions (2).

In B-team games during that same period, he completed 63 percent of his passes (79 of 126) with nearly five times as many touchdowns (14) as interceptions (3).

During summer 7-on-7 (all-passing) competition, Bergrud had a 55 percent completion rate with more than twice as many TDs (22) as interceptions (10).

The back-up quarterback this fall is 6-foot junior Isaac Griffin, who will otherwise be a key member of a promising corps of receivers. Caden Grinde can also take snaps, and eighth grade quarterback Elijah Solum (6-0, 175) is also practicing with the high school boys.

Receivers

Graduation claimed last year's top four receivers, including All-State Noah Elton and Ethan Matzke. This is a critical crew, since Spring Grove's spread shotgun attack often uses a four-receiver formation. 

Sure-handed junior Caden Grinde(6-3, 155) was the most targeted receiver during 7-on-7 this summer. At 6-foot-3, the athletic letter winner will be difficult to cover. As a key reserve, he caught passes in eight of 13 games last year, averaging an explosive 12.1 yards per reception while grabbing 13 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Last fall as a sophomore, Grinde was the leading B-team receiver while averaging 15.3 yards per grab with 19 receptions for 292 yards, five touchdowns and two extra-points catches.

Griffin(6-0, 155), another reliable, tall target, had a promising summer after averaging an outstanding 20.5 yards with six B-team catches for two TDs last autumn.

Defenses will also have to contend with junior receiver Carson Gavin(5-11, 160), seniors Payton Leahy(5-8, 135) and Tyler Kersten (5-11, 155) as well as new-to-football sophomore Reid Bjerke(6-1, 155). Freshman Tysen Grinde (6-0, 140) is another wide receiver.

Hagen (6-1, 170) will likely move from last year's guard position to be a tight end target this fall. Freshman Ty Cleven (5-11, 185) supplies depth at tight end.

Head coach Zach Hauser was pleased with the passing game in the late-July team camp. "Receivers looked good."

Interior O-line

Nothing new, the Lions will again need to replace half of the offensive line, a crew that allowed only nine sacks in 13 games, half as many as the previous state title season. But once again, there appears to be enough talent to expect quality production from this critical unit. 

Returning starters, both two-year letter winners, are senior center Murphy(6-4, 245) and senior (was guard/now tight end) Hagen. Junior Tristan Hammel(5-11, 170), who also saw significant playing time and was voted Scout Team player of the Yearfor a second season, will start at one guard position.

New-to-football senior Carter Bratland(6-3, 195) is expected to earn the other guard assignment. Senior Brandon Anderson(6-4, 220) and Gavin are other possibilities.

Nine of the 22 players are interior offensive linemen, including senior Michael Blackburn (6-3, 265). Striving to gain experience are sophomore Camron Kraus (6-0, 180) and freshmen Cooper Olson (6-0, 245), Noah Blackburn (6-0, 220) and Xander Lewis (5-10, 205).

Running backs

The season begins with no heir apparent; the graduated quarterback was the leading rusher by far last year (2,605 yards). Quarterback Bergrud can run and will on read-option plays.  But expect more carries from the running back position this year. 

Junior transfer (from Byron) Mitchell Reynolds(5-7, 170) took the varsity handoffs at team camp in July. Once again, Gavin can contribute here as well as promising freshman running back Hunter Holland (5-7, 145).

On defense

Murphyshould start again at nose guard and Bergrudreturns at cornerback. Hagenstarted at middle linebacker and was voted Lion Defensive Player of the Year after leading the team in tackles (146) and sacks (5.5). But six of the top seven tacklers graduated.

Hammelwas a key reserve, mostly at defensive end, and was second in tackles for loss (9.5) and tied for second in sacks (4.0). He was a dominating defender in B-team games with twice the number of total tackles than any teammate. He also led in B-team tackles for loss and sacks. 

Bratlandis the early leading candidate to be the other D-end. Clevenis also available.

In addition to Bergrud, other cornerback candidates include Griffin, Bjerke andLeahy.

Flanking Hagen, there are two other linebacker posts to fill. ReynoldsandGavinare good possibilities along with Kersten, Cleven and Holland.

Caden Grindewill start at safety.

Kicking game

All of the kicking game specialists picked up diplomas. Caden Grinde was the back-up punter last year, averaging 33.8 yards with four varsity punts and 32.4 with five B-team attempts. 

There are vacancies in place kicking duty (both kickoffs and extra points) as well as deep snapper, holder and kick returner.

Outlook

No one doubts the quality of the graduated All-State seniors. But the Spring Grove program was strong before their tenure and should continue to be after their departure. The question is how strong.

Under head coach Zach Hauser, two-time 9-Man State Coach of the Year, the Lions have won at least nine games during the past eight seasons and have played in the last eight section championship games, winning three. Last season's section title game was his 100th career win, all at Spring Grove.

The coaching staff remains intact with offensive coordinator Kody Moore, Kaare Sanness, Aric Elton, Don Hagen and Brian Anderson.

Hauser is impressed with the results in the weight room for those players who have taken advantage of the opportunity. 

Several former backups have paid their dues, played well, progressed and are eager for their opportunity in the spotlight. The B-team went undefeated in their four games last year by an average score of 30-5. 

One of last year's most productive seniors was playing football for the first time. There are a few of this year's Lions on the gridiron for the first time.

In the recent past, some heretofore unheralded player or two has turned in a stellar season.

The start

The annual multi-team scrimmages are again hosted by Grand Meadow, this Saturday, Aug. 24, at 9 a.m.

The Lions open the season on Thursday, Aug. 29, at Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman. Spring Grove brings a 28-game winning streak into the opener, while the Jaguars will seek to snap a 16-game losing slide. Next week, the Herald will survey the 2019 East Sub-district football race.

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Lion Football - The last 6 seasons

2018….14-0 (7-0 East, 1st of 8) state champion

2017….14-0 (7-0 East, 1st of 8) state champion

2016……9-2 (7-1 East, 2nd of 10 section runner-up

2015……9-2 (7-1 East, 2nd of 10) section runner-up

2014……9-2 (7-1 SEC, 2nd of 9) section runner-up

2013.......9-2 (6-1 SEC, tie 1st of 8) section runner-up

State championships: 2017, 2018

Section championships/state tournament: 2003, 2011, 2017, 2018

Section runners-up: 2004, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

Conference/sub-district championships: 1951, 1959, 1960, 1978, 2003, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018

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Spring Grove on the gridiron

(Aug. 24 multi-team scrimmages at Grand Meadow, 9 a.m.)

Aug. 29 at GHEC/Truman 

Sept. 6 home vs. LeRoy-Ostrander 

Sept. 13 at Mabel-Canton

Sept. 20 home vs. Kingsland 

Sept. 27 at Houston 

Oct. 4 home vs. Grand Meadow 

Oct. 11 away at Lyle/Pacelli

Oct. 16 home vs. Southland

 

 

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