Another new season of Mitchell High School football dawned on Thursday.
As fall practices commenced, ‘new’ is the operative word for the Kernels. Players broke out new cleats and a new sense of optimism, but after graduating 25 seniors and undergoing a coaching overhaul from last year’s 4-6 team, Mitchell is set to implement a variety of new changes for the upcoming season.
Players are stepping into new roles on and off the field, and with head coach Kent VanOverschelde relinquishing the offensive play calling duties to Joe Kramer and taking the defensive reins, the Kernels continue to install new schemes on both sides of the ball.
“It really is a crash-course on the fundamentals and the basics,” VanOverschelde said. “Those 25 guys we graduated were special people and it is exciting to have a new group of players. It’s a mix of experienced and new guys, because it allows us -- as coaches -- to focus and players know it’s going to be competitive for positions. It creates a level of excitement.”
In addition to the new schemes, Mitchell is replacing 11 starters on offense, including three-year starting quarterback Kiel Nelson, along with running backs Drew Kitchens and Carson Max.
The trio combined to rush for 5,069 yards and 62 touchdowns the last three seasons, leaving new senior quarterback Austin Kerr (365 yards) and senior running back Carter Jacobsen (120) as the ball carriers with most returning experience.
Jacobsen, Colby Gillen and Parker Phillips are all vying for touches and it is just one of several position battles taking place during the first two weeks of practice, which is a change from recent years with veteran players in place.
Even repetitions at quarterback will be spread out as Kerr is still recovering from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder and won’t be cleared to participate for the first week of practice.
“That creates excitement for (coaches), evaluating where all the players are,” VanOverschelde said. “Because there is no position set in stone yet within this team. Players understand that it is competitive and the challenge is in front of them. There is also opportunity.”
Mitchell does have some time before beginning play against Douglas on Aug. 31 at Joe Quintal Field, but the Kernels may need all 12 practices to prepare and define roles.
Throughout the summer workout sessions and into the first day of practice, though, VanOverschelde has been impressed with the work ethic displayed by this year’s group of players.
“There is a lot of newness and excitement (this year),” VanOverschelde said. “As a coaching staff, we’re going to trust in our experience that everybody gets an opportunity and we’re doing it for the right reasons and that’s for our players to have a positive experience. When you take the pressure off winning a state championship off, you can dig in and get to work.”