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Howard one of four area teams ranked No. 1 in preseason poll

Jordan Kuhle, right, runs with the ball as Bailey Neises (45) blocks for him during a Class 9A semifinal game against Potter County last season in Howard. (Brooke Cersosimo/Republic)

HOWARD -- Luke Loudenburg has been a force on the football field in recent years for the Howard Tigers, and the senior isn't looking to hold back now.

The 5-foot-8, 150-pound running back has the all-time nine-man rushing record on his radar this season. The record is held by Jim Williams, an Alexandria native, with 6,010 yards, while Loudenburg has 4,142 yards heading into his senior campaign, needing 1,869 yards to become the record holder.

"Luke gets a lot of attention and rightfully so, but we do have a lot of good football players and supporting cast," Howard head coach Pat Ruml said, adding he didn't know of the record until recent weeks. "Everybody else knows that if they don't do their jobs, his stats aren't going to come. It's a pretty level-headed group of kids."

Loudenburg rushed for 2,200 yards as a junior and is 858 yards away from becoming the sixth nine-man player to reach 5,000 career rushing yards.

Howard was one of four Mitchell area football teams to be picked No. 1 in their respective classes in the South Dakota Sportswriters Association preseason poll, which was released Tuesday. Howard took top ranks in Class 9A with five first-place votes and 32 points. Other area teams that were polled No. 1 include Avon in Class 9B with seven first-place votes and 39 points, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan in Class 9AA with seven first-place votes and 39 points and Parkston in Class 11B with six first-place votes and 38 points.

Parkston, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan and Avon kick off their seasons Friday, while Howard has a bye week. The Tigers open their season against Chester Area Sept. 5 in Howard.

Howard returns eight starters from last year's team and two players -- Loudenburg and Jordan Kuhle -- who received valuable playing time in the 2012 Class 9A title game. Last season as a junior, Kuhle rushed for 1,100 yards and was named an all-state defensive back.

Last season, Howard fell in the semifinal game to eventual Class 9A champion Potter County, finishing its season 10-1.

"With the way it ended last year for us, the guys spent a lot of the offseason with that in mind," Ruml said, adding his team doesn't pay attention to rankings. "With the experience it should be a good year, but we also know what happened last year could happen again. We have a really good group but you have to be cautious because there are a lot of good football teams out there."

The returning starters for the Tigers, in addition to Loudenburg and Kuhle, are Kaleb Haas, Bailey Neises, Gunner Gilbertson, Dane Dornbusch, Tanner Henkel and Thad Henkel. Other key players include Adonis Ruml, Chris Gold and Jordan Genzlinger. This returning group is made up of all juniors and seniors.

"This group pays a lot of attention to detail," Ruml said. "It's all business and they want to get better every day. It's one of those things where you can turn your attention to fine tuning what we do and adding some things in here and there. Our practices right now are like we are in the middle of the season."

Because Howard has a bye week, Ruml said his coaching staff and team will be heading to area towns to watch some games.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.