Wahlen ready to orchestrate Kernel offense
For the past three seasons, the Mitchell High School football team had the same starting quarterback--Kanin Nelson. Nelson, now a third-string quarterback as a freshman at South Dakota State University, is long gone and the Kernels will have a ne...
For the past three seasons, the Mitchell High School football team had the same starting quarterback-Kanin Nelson.
Nelson, now a third-string quarterback as a freshman at South Dakota State University, is long gone and the Kernels will have a new signal-caller heading into the 2016 season-Chris Wahlen.
Wahlen served as Nelson's backup the past two seasons and gained varsity experience with the Kernels last year. The senior quarterback played in four games, completing 2-of-3 passes for 29 yards and one touchdown.
"My role has changed, but I've worked hard, prepared hard for it and I'm ready," said Wahlen, who added Nelson helped him grow as a quarterback. "We want to get over the hump this year and finish strong at the end of the season."
On Saturday, Wahlen will be in charge of orchestrating No. 2-ranked Mitchell's high-powered offense against No. 3 Harrisburg in the inaugural Kernel Bowl. Replacing a three-year starter is a tall task for any player, but Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said he's been impressed with how Wahlen has adapted to being the Kernels' quarterback.
"He knows the role he's going to play within our offense," VanOverschelde said. "He's the one kid throughout camp and throughout our offseason was talking about the team first."
It's the team approach and previous varsity experience that really stood out for VanOverschelde when he named Wahlen the starting quarterback over sophomore Kiel Nelson, who is the younger brother of Kanin Nelson. Nelson, who also gained some varsity experience last year, still plans to be a factor as a possible option as Mitchell's quarterback and will serve as Wahlen's backup throughout the season.
"It's been healthy to have a competition because Kiel Nelson has been right there working with (Wahlen)," VanOverschelde said about the two quarterbacks. "That competitiveness helps drive you to do the things you need to do to keep your spot."
The Kernel offense returns nine starters from last year's 7-4 team, including the entire offensive line anchored by all-state honorable mention linemen Spencer Mohr and Bryce Geraets.
"The big guys up front are so important and they're so good," Wahlen said. "They're the most important people out there, if you ask me."
Joining the offensive line are proven playmakers Spencer Neugebauer (running back), Sam Michels (running back) and Reed Overweg (wide receiver). With so much talent returning around him, the Kernels' won't be counting on Wahlen to be the team's No. 1 playmaker.
"He's very good at focusing on what he needs to do and he keeps things simple," VanOverschelde said. "I don't think he wants to go out and make that big play every single play. He just wants to execute the offense. He understands the group around us will be successful if he leads us to the line of scrimmage, gets us in the right position and executes the play."
Mitchell racked up a total of 3,757 yards of offense and rushed for 2,994 yards in 11 games last year. Both were single-season MHS program records since the playoff era (1981) and Wahlen will be asked to help keep the Kernels' ground-and-pound offense rolling.
VanOverschelde said the team feels confident with Wahlen under center and called the Kernel quarterback "humble."
"He understands he's a piece of the whole picture," VanOverschelde said. "Because of that humility he has, it makes him a really good teammate and he'll be a good leader for us."