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Experienced, driven Kernels prepping for new season

Mitchell's Drew Kitchens (22) breaks free for a touchdown run during a game against Brookings on Sept. 2, 2017 at Joe Quintal Field. Tegan Alm (71) blocks on the play. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Kent VanOverschelde says the summer is his laboratory time as the Mitchell Kernels prepare for their season opener against Watertown on Aug. 25.

VanOverschelde, now in his 12th season as Mitchell's head football coach, has had a chance to evaluate his team, which went 7-4 last season, during weekly Monday night football practices this summer. Monday night football continues through July, with training camp beginning Aug. 9.

"The attendance has been good, but the significant thing is that it's been productive," VanOverschelde said. "We feel that we've not only done a good job preparing for the season, but we've done a good job developing our younger players."

VanOverschelde mentioned the development of younger players like Nick Lord, Carter Jacobsen and Austin Kerr. However, there's no question Mitchell's roster is scattered with experienced upperclassmen, including starting quarterback Kiel Nelson.

"Kiel is geared up for his senior season," VanOverschelde said. "Basically, in my opinion, there's only one position that's set, and that's quarterback. And I say that just because I coach that position, and Kiel Nelson is a two-year returning player for us."

Nelson might be the starting quarterback but VanOverschelde says improving the passing game has been the Kernels' main focus this summer.

And keeping Nelson upright in the pocket would help the passing game. VanOverschelde is excited about the many offensive line options Mitchell has to protect Nelson, highlighted by Mitch Schladweiler.

"Within that offensive line, it's going to be very competitive, and that competition will help our line improve," VanOverschelde said. "There's some pieces in there, where we have sophomores and juniors come in and compete for jobs."

VanOverschelde is excited to see how the numerous position battles turn out leading into the season because, "that's what makes it fun as a coach."

When Mitchell starts its season, it will run out onto a brand-new Joe Quintal Field, which is being outfitted this year with artificial turf. The change means seven of the nine regular season games will be played on the synthetic surface. (Road games at Douglas and at Pierre are the outliers.)

"I think it'll help bring some energy to our program and for our players," VanOverschelde said. "It has to be exciting for this community. To see that completed in August will be very satisfying for people who have been really committed to Mitchell football and athletics."

That said, the new field won't be the center of attention forever. With an experienced roster, including seniors that know what it takes to win a state championship, having done so in 2016, VanOverschelde points to the team's leaders as a reason why the team has, "developed a certain level of confidence," at this stage of the summer.

"I think there is a certain level of expectation, but the most important thing to me is the expectations our players have," VanOverschelde said. "Everybody downtown or in the state can think Mitchell has a certain amount of potential, and that's all fine and well, but the expectation is high within our team, as well. That gives us an opportunity to be successful."