Hawley's goal is still a long postseason
There has been a tradition of an extended season for the Hawley football team and the 2010 version isn't about to break that tradition.
The Nuggets are five-year Section 8-2A reigning champions and despite losing a bevy of big-time producers from last year's squad, they are favorites to add on No. 6.
A total of 16 seniors graduated off of last year's squad, which played to the Class 2A state quarterfinals in 2009, before losing to Moose Lake/Willow River 41-35 in overtime.
"There are high expectations here," said Hawley head coach Peder Naatz. "We expect to win and we expect to be playing in the Section championship game. But everyone understands that it just doesn't happen.
"Our seniors last year made three trips to the Metrodome during their careers. But it just doesn't happen, these kids have to work for it."
The Nuggets lost a host of offensive producers, including 1,000-yard rusher Nate Mattson and four of the players who created those gaping holes for him on the offensive line.
But, now, it will be senior running back Kevin Olson's time to shine, after he split much of the rushing duties with Mattson the last two years.
The three-year starter Olson missed part of the season last year due to an injury and he will still gain some help in the backfield from some younger backs, but the versatility of speed and power makes him the Nuggets' most potent weapon.
"He brings power and speed and it can take up to three to four guys to bring him down," Naatz said. "He creates a lot of yards after contact."
But Olson will not be going at it alone, with up to six different running backs touching the ball throughout the season.
"We have six capable running backs, too," Naatz added.
Senior Jay Boyer will also get his chance of making an impact as Hawley's quarterback.
There is a close competition at QB along with junior Keifer Hinrichs and sophomore Hunter Lawson, but Boyer does hold the edge in experience.
"Jay can play his way out of the job or he can play to keep it," Naatz said. "I do have complete confidence in his ability, though."
The offensive line will be the most affected by the loss of the 16 seniors, with four very good blockers graduating.
The lone returner is senior tackle Tyler Sparrow.
"The past three to four years, we have been blessed with good size, but this year, we won't be as big with linemen ranging between 190 to 210-pounds," Naatz said.
Juniors Cassidy Violet and Tabor Formo will join Sparrow on the line, with the remaining position still open.
Three tight ends will see playing time in junior Alex Schwendeman, seniors Luke VanHavermaet and Kyle Hall.
"They all are good blocking tight ends, but can also sneak out for a pass if the defense is cheating," Naatz said.
The Nuggets won't just be strictly running the ball, either, they'll open it up some with wide receivers senior Joey Bryant-Sowka and junior Riley Burns supplying big-play ability on the outside.
But where the biggest questions will come is on defense.
Last year, the Hawley defense was absolutely dominant, but there are many voids to start the 2010 campaign.
The deepest position will be defensive end, where VanHavermaet, Violet, sophomore Devon Pekas and junior Isaac Kelly will man.
Sparrow, again will be the only returning defensive lineman with good experience at the tackle position.
Naatz will have up to 14 different players vying for playing time at linebacker, where good athleticism will be key.
Olson will anchor the secondary as a hard-hitting free safety with spectacular range, while other secondary players include junior Nick Bjorndahl and Brady Pekas.