PREVIEW: NB football

The seniors will be key to the Vikings’ fortunes. Front row, from left: Tyler Adams, Zack Pilz, Lucas Jensen-Schneider, Colton Bauer, Aaron Robillard and Ben Roettjer. Back row, from left: Evan Amunrud, Cam Irvin, Darien Fair, Trenton Reynolds, Jordan Bauch and Nick Johnson. Not pictured: Jaden Wisti. (Photo by John Olson)

Vikings expect big things in 2017

There is a lot of optimism within the ranks of the North Branch football team. With most of last year’s starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Vikings have high hopes for a winning season, and perhaps a deep playoff run.

“It’s exciting to see what’s going on this year,” head coach Sam Ferraro said. “We have a lot of returners and a lot of experience, so hopefully the nerves aren’t there and we just go out and play.”

Senior quarterback Aaron Robillard returns to lead an offense that should be strong in the air and on the ground. Senior wide receiver Darien Fair will be Robillard’s top target in the passing game.

“With (Fair) and Robillard going back and forth, I think we can do some pretty amazing things,” Ferraro said.

Among the running backs, seniors Tyler Adams and Evan Amunrud and junior Thomas Wurdemann will all get plenty of carries.

“Our passing game and our running game are both really strong this year,” Ferraro said. “Teams are going to be a little surprised at what our offense can do.”

To begin the season, the starters on the offensive line are tackles Cam Irvin and Dawson Drost, guards Nick Johnson and Jordan Bauch, and center Isaac Maki. All except Maki saw significant playing time last year, though some have shifted to a new position.

“Our O-line spent a lot of time in the weight room. They had their technique down last year, and now they’ve got their strength,” Ferraro said.

Senior inside linebacker Lucas Jensen-Schneider returns to lead the defensive unit. Senior Colton Bauer and junior Austin Stephens will start at defensive end, while junior defensive tackle Brandon Swanson returns to shore up the middle of the line alongside first-year starter sophomore Johnny Snaza.

Senior Zack Pilz has one cornerback job locked down, while the other corner spot will likely be manned by committee to begin the season.

Some of the offensive contributors play both ways, including Wurdemann (linebacker) and Amunrud (free safety).

The Vikings’ motto this season is “Journey to Success.”

“Success has a lot of different meanings — we’ve already taken some of our success with the character of our players and the hard work in the offseason,” Ferraro said. “The next journey is to take one game at a time.”

The Vikings got their campaign off to a winning start when they blasted Princeton 50-30 on the road Sept. 1. They will hit the road again for a game against Hermantown Friday before playing two straight home games against Duluth East (Sept. 15) and Cloquet (Sept. 22). The other home games are against Duluth Denfeld Oct. 6 and Proctor Oct. 18; the other road trips are to Hibbing Sept. 29 and Grand Rapids Oct. 13.

This schedule gives the Vikings a chance to play every other Section 7AAAA team before the section tournament begins on Oct. 24. Ferraro declined to name a preseason favorite for the section title, noting that the balance of power often swings quickly in 7AAAA.

“Last year Cloquet went; the year before we beat Cloquet in the section,” Ferraro said. “Anything can happen — things go up and down. It’s going to be an exciting year.”

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