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Robert Tople, front, prepares to snap the ball to Nick Mauer (90) during the Mitchell High School football team’s first practice of the season Thursday at the practice field south of Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)
Robert Tople, front, prepares to snap the ball to Nick Mauer (90) during the Mitchell High School football team’s first practice of the season Thursday at the practice field south of Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)
21 seniors to lead MHS football team this season
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sports Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mitchell High School football coach Kent VanOverschelde can’t recall a time when heat wasn’t a factor on the first day of practice.

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With overcast skies and cool temperatures, the Kernels set out Thursday afternoon for their opening practice to prepare for their season opener Aug. 31.

“Everyone was relaxed and I think it’s because of the cool weather,” VanOverschelde said. “We were in step and had a certain level of adrenaline in the excitement. We weren’t strained by the weather and had a real positive first day, and I hope it improves from here.”

The Kernels had one practice Thursday but have three practices today.

“Today we had a great start to hopefully a great season,” senior Micah Hettinger said. “The offseason lifting definitely helped a lot of guys. It was a big wakeup call for a lot of guys because the community put so much into it and they realized that they need to put in the effort and use it.

“We’re coming into the season much more excited about what we can do this year with the work we put in over the summer.”

The team has a different dynamic from last year’s squad as it has 21 seniors leading the group as opposed to seven seniors in 2012. The Kernels, who had a 1-8 record last year, also return eight starters on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball.

“With the returners, we feel comfortable but we don’t want to get too comfortable,” VanOverschelde said. “Our biggest fear of doing things the same is having the same result, and we want to improve on what we did last year.”

With a majority of the team coming back, VanOverschelde said he’s looking for his players to be competitive during practice because all spots aren’t set in stone.

“We have an anticipated idea of who will play what position, but what we need is competition at those positions because that’s how we’re going to get better,” VanOverschelde said. “We want to create an atmosphere within our practice that’s competitive. ... If they have that burning desire to fight for a spot, they’re going to accept that challenge.”

One starting spot VanOverschelde said must be decided in the next few days is the quarterback position. Junior Matt Larson, sophomore Kanin Nelson, senior Alex Herrick and sophomore Jacob Cersosimo are all fighting for the start behind center.

Last season, Larson started in eight of the team’s nine games, completing 74 of 134 passes for 705 yards and three touchdowns. Nelson and Herrick also saw varsity playing time with Herrick getting one start last season.

“There’s a lot of opportunities out there,” VanOverschelde said. “We’re looking for someone who can lead our football team, and we’re pretty fortunate to have that luxury of depth.”

The Kernels also return their top two running backs in juniors Mitch Johnson and Landon Neugebauer. Last season, Johnson led the way with 110 carries for 320 and one touchdown. Neugebauer had 73 carries for 282 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

The Kernels open the season on the road when they face Eastern South Dakota Conference foe Yankton at 7 p.m. Aug. 31. Mitchell’s first home game is Sept. 6 against Harrisburg.

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