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Mayer: VanOverschelde has set Kernel football on path for more success

Mitchell High School football head coach Kent VanOverschelde, right, leads the team on to the field prior to a game against the Harrisburg last year at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

A new era began for the Mitchell High School football team on Thursday.

The Kernels' 2017 season officially got underway with the school's first allowed practice, as sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

It also marked the start of the post-championship era for MHS. Last year's 11-1 season and the school's first Class 11AA state championship are in the rearview window.

So what's next for the Kernels on the gridiron?

"There's a lot of unknowns and that creates some excitement," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said after the team's first practice. "That'll challenge us as a coaching staff and that helps revitalize you. Every year is a blank slate."

In the Class 11AA picture, Harrisburg is an early favorite, returning plenty from last year's runner-up squad. Pierre and Yankton will be strong, and where the defending champions fall in the title race will be fun to follow once the season starts on Aug. 25 in Watertown.

And with VanOverschelde set to start his 11th season as Mitchell's head coach, it's safe to say the Kernels are in good hands.

VanOverschelde, who was named the South Dakota High School Coaches Association's football coach of the year in July, has been Mitchell's longest-tenured football coach in the playoff era (since 1981). After 10 seasons, he does not have a shiny winning record (46-55), but he's done what no other coach before him did—stuck around long enough to turn the culture tide with the sport of football in Mitchell.

In today's world, filled with more and more high school activities than ever before, that feat is much easier said than done.

A program that often went year-in and year-out with very little recognition and sometimes an unclear direction, has found long-sought stability.

Hired on June 11, 2007, VanOverschelde told The Daily Republic then about his vision for the MHS football program. Much like any of the previous four coaches in the 26 years before him, he foresaw newfound success and the program becoming a traditional power.

"We're going to do everything within our means to make Mitchell football great," VanOverschelde said in 2007. "Obviously, there are some obstacles. But our philosophy is going to be not to make any excuses and to work hard to get to that point."

After hoisting the state title last year, Mitchell's next 10 years under VanOverschelde should have the Mitchell community excited when every autumn rolls around.