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Airing it out: Kernels preparing more efficient passing attack

Mitchell defensive back Landon Huls, right, puts his arm up to deflect a pass intended for Ryan McGinnis during a practice on Aug. 9. (Matt Gade / Republic)

For the Mitchell High School football team, running the ball has been a staple of the offense over the years.

In fact, during the last five years, the Kernels have run the ball on nearly 77 percent of their offensive plays, including 82 percent the last three seasons.

Mitchell has had capable quarterbacks, but only felt the need to pass when necessary. This season that may change. Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde spent a chunk of his summer working to make his passing attack more efficient.

"So many times over the years, we threw the football just because we couldn't run it," VanOverschelde said. "What we want to do is do it with a purpose and have it be part of our offense, where we advance the football. Even if it's four years, we have to have that mindset that it's productive."

In high school football—and largely in college—the rushing attack is still king. Most quality high school football teams like to hang their hats on running the ball. After all, there is a reason quarterback is the most difficult position to develop.

VanOverschelde admits his team has been guilty—like many other high school squads throughout the country—of throwing the ball deep every time they drop back to pass, partly because of the lack of opportunities to do so.

The Kernels believe they have the right signal caller to execute the new passing attack in third-year starter Kiel Nelson. The senior and Dakota Wesleyan University commit has thrown for 1,298 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career, but has only completed 37 percent of his passes. The throws he has completed have averaged 18 yards per catch.

Now, Nelson is excited to work in an offense that gives him some more high-percentage throws, which inevitably sets up Mitchell's talented running backs.

"It made me excited and made me more excited for the guys because those receivers, all they do is just block," Nelson said. "That would probably get old pretty quick if you were playing. All the receiving corps are excited about it. They can get out and run a little bit and get some balls."

The Kernels have taken advantage of Nelson's running ability in the past, racking up 982 rushing yards and 10 scores in his career, but haven't had to use his arm as a primary weapon. Now, the time has come to put that right arm to work.

"His comfortability and poise in the pocket, we hope to use that as an offensive tool to continuously keep drives going," VanOverschelde said. "And maybe to take the wear and tear out of our running backs."