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Experience will lead the way for the Mitchell football team

The Mitchell High School football team has 22 seniors on the roster heading into this season and coach VanOverschelde said experience will be the team's biggest strength.

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Monday, August 9 was the first day of football practice for the Mitchell High School Kernels as they started early on Monday morning at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell High School football team believes it has experience on their side heading into this season.

There are 22 seniors on the roster and head coach Kent VanOverschelde believes experience will be the team’s biggest strength. The Kernels’ season opens hosting Spearfish at 7 p.m. Friday at Joe Quintal Field.

“As a team, we need to use that experience that we have going forward because that’s our biggest strength,” VanOverschelde said. “That experience that we have coming back will be the biggest help for us.”

Offensively, Mitchell’s senior quarterback Tucker Vilhauer returns to the team and will be used differently in the offense than previous seasons. Last season, he rushed for 10 touchdowns and 990 yards on 138 carries, but his passing ability will be utilized more this season.

“We’re going to be able to use that passing game to move the football,” VanOverschelde said. “With both our quarterbacks Tucker Vilhauer and Treyson Schulz having a lot of experience from a year ago, we’ll be able to use the passing game purposefully to avoid second-and-longs or third-and-longs that force you to throw the football because we have the guys on the perimeter that do a good job catching the ball.”

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Vilhauer and Schulz will have a strong receiving core that consists of seniors Jace Larson and Carson Fahey, along with juniors A.J. Siemsen and Lukas Bennett. Despite losing Parker Phillips, who led the rushing attack for the Kernels last season with 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns, to graduation, VanOverschelde believes the run game will be just as stout being led by senior Josh Grosdidier, who had 432 yards on the ground with 13 touchdowns. Grosdidier is also a starting linebacker for the Kernels and had 89 tackles last season.

“We’re still going to be able to run the football, there’s no doubt about that,” VanOverschelde said. “Grosdidier is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he’ll be significant on both sides of the football.”

While the offensive line struggled last season, VanOverschelde has the confidence in his players to be better this season.

“We had a lack of experience on the offensive line last year, but that’s something that we addressed over the course of the summer,” VanOverschelde said. “It might be a question mark, but I have a lot of confidence in the guys.”

The Kernels had camps over the summer for the offensive lineman to develop chemistry and develop the proper techniques ahead of a new season. Kendall Fick and Adam Fahey will be the veterans on the offensive line, and Beau Foote will return for Mitchell, but he didn’t play football during the 2020 season.

Offensive coordinator Eric Witte now has full responsibility of the offensive scheme, stepping into the lead role after shared coordinator duties for the previous three seasons. VanOverschelde is excited to see Witte as the one putting his stamp on the offense.

“I’m excited about his preparation to this point and also about what he can do in that position with the experiences that he has,” VanOverschelde said.

On defense, Zack Clement has moved from defensive line coach to the defensive coordinator. The Kernels have worked in the offseason to inject some life into the defense and play with more confidence.

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“Every year, we try to evaluate every aspect of our program,” VanOverschelde said. “Probably the biggest thing from a defensive standpoint, it appeared in the past we were sound, but we seemed to be stagnant and that’s a big thing we prioritized this summer.”

The defense is led by senior Joseph VanOverschelde who had 124 tackles last season, 65 of them solo. VanOverschelde will also be playing fullback for the Kernels on offense.

Coach VanOverschelde is excited for this upcoming season and said the work the team put in this summer makes them a different team from last season.

“I’m excited about the ways I’ve seen this team respond to being held accountable,” VanOverschelde said. “We’ve developed trust, but trust through accountability. When someone holds you accountable, you take it as constructive criticism and that’s helped us this offseason. We want to simply do things the right way and our guys have bought into that.”

Mitchell will play three of its first four games of the season at home, visiting four-time Class 11AA state champions Pierre on Sept. 3, before hosting the Kernel Bowl against Aberdeen Central on Sept. 11. The Kernels will play the 2020 Class 11A champions Tea Area at home on Sept. 17, with the Titans moving up to 11AA this season, with a third defending state champion — Class 11AAA’s Brandon Valley — visiting Mitchell on Oct. 8, following a homecoming game with Yankton on Oct. 1.

The Kernels close with a pair of road games at Watertown (Oct. 15) and Huron (Oct. 21) to close the regular season. With the addition of Aberdeen Central, Tea Area and Watertown, 11 teams are now in Class 11AA and the playoffs will include the top-8 teams from the regular season starting Oct. 28.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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