The day many of us have been waiting for since November has finally arrived. The return of the high school football season in South Dakota.
As nine-man and Class 11B football teams commence play tonight to mark the first of what hopes to be 12 weeks of Friday night football filled with excitement.
During the course of the season, new stars will emerge across the state and some surprise team will make a deep run into the playoffs. For now, here is a list of five of the area’s top football players -- in no particular order -- for fans to keep an eye on this season.
Nash Hutmacher, Chamberlain
There may not be a more disruptive defensive lineman in South Dakota than Hutmacher. The University of Nebraska commit totaled 105 tackles and 10 sacks last season, while also forcing 10 fumbles and recovered four.
The three-time heavyweight state champion was a Class 11B all-state selection last season and is also a dominant blocker as an offensive tackle for the Cubs. If that wasn’t enough, Hutmacher also lined up in the backfield in goal line situations and proved difficult to stop as a 6-foot-5, 305-pound ball carrier.
Jesse Hastings, Mount Vernon/Plankinton
Only a late-season leg injury managed to slow down Hastings last season. The 6-0, 230-pound running back ran for 1,468 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior, averaging 10.3 yards per carry for the Titans.
There may not be a more imposing running back to tackle in Class 11B, and he uses a combination of power -- as a two-time state wrestling runner-up at 220 pounds -- and straight-ahead speed to batter opposing defenses.
Hastings surpassed the 100-yard barrier in seven of Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s 10 games a year ago, including a 326-yard, four-touchdown performance against Chamberlain. He also managed to take four of his nine carries into the end zone against Lead-Deadwood, racking up 218 yards in the process.
He is already a three-time all-conference player and has 3,285 yards and 53 touchdowns to his name. Hastings is prepared to walk-on at North Dakota State University.
Brady Hawkins, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan
Hawkins may be committed to play baseball at South Dakota State University, but he had plenty of interest from Division I schools for his talents on the football field.
The senior has done it all for the Seahawks, playing quarterback, middle linebacker and serving as the team’s kicker, punter and kick return specialist.
Hawkins went 73 of 123 for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns, while only throwing three interceptions. He also ran for 689 yards and nine touchdowns as he helped guide BEE to its second consecutive Class 11B championship game.
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Hawkins is also one of the top linebackers in the state. He led the team with 126 tackles and made an interception.
With the graduation of running back Jamin Arend, Hawkins could see his role increased in the Seahawks’ rushing attack this season.
Trey Ortman, Canistota/Freeman
Efficiency was the name of the game for Ortman last fall as the leader of a high-powered offense that led Canistota/Freeman to the Class 9A state championship last season.
Ortman completed 66.9 percent of his 136 passing attempts and only threw four interceptions for the Pride. He also threw for 1,625 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also running for 762 yards and 15 scores on 6.7 yards per attempt.
As a junior, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound quarterback also became proficient in Canistota/Freeman’s option attack, knowing when to pitch the ball at the precise moment, even if it meant taking a big hit.
Although the Pride wants to run the ball first, Ortman also threw for 313 yards -- on 19 attempts -- and four touchdowns against Ipswich, one of his eight multi-touchdown passing games of the year. Another of those outings was a 9-for-10, 173-yard, two-touchdown performance against Howard in the state championship game to earn MVP honors.
Ortman also eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier twice, including a 195-yard, three-score game against Irene-Wakonda.
Trevor Peters, Winner
Peters had a standout season for the Warriors on both sides of the ball, leading the team with 895 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, while also notching 42 tackles to earn Class 11B all-state honors at defensive back.
The 5-10, 150-pound senior not only displayed his prowess as a runner, but as a blocker and a sure tackler from his strong safety position.
In a 42-40 shootout win over Chamberlain last season, Peters scored a pair of two-yard touchdowns, including the game-winner with 14 seconds left on the clock. He also ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns against Valentine, Nebraska and racked up 162 yards against Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central.
He also scored two touchdowns apiece in five different outings to earn team MVP honors for the season and should be a major factor if Winner moves back into the Class 11B title picture this fall.
Honorable mention: Josh Crownover, QB/LB, Bon Homme; Cole Bares, TE/DL, Bon Homme; Tyce Ortman, RB/DB, Canistota/Freeman; Brady Fritz, QB/DB, Winner; Oscar Pravacek, OL/DL, Winner; Grant Thomas, QB, Gregory.