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Panthers gridders move fast to turn around fortunes

Dan Giese runs the ball for Ellsworth last season. He's one of 17 returning lettermen on this year's squad.

If there's a defining quality for the 2013 Ellsworth High School football team before the season begins, it's speed.

"Our overall team team is big positive for us," EHS head coach Clair Austin said. "How we use our speed and quickness to fashion what we do on both sides of the ball is to be determined. But it will be important in how we fare."

Indeed, with the team's lack of size across the line-up, the Panthers will have to try and spread out and dice up their opponents and avoid any kind of battle of mass against mass. Otherwise it could be another long season like last year when a team with high hopes after a playoff run was knocked down to a 2-6 record, 2-5 in the Middle Border Conference.

EHS only loses seven seniors from that squad, including their lone all-conference player Alex Campbell, along with Jake Murphy, Logan Blodgett, Matt Stoetzel, Brady DeGross, Dan Langer and Hank Holdorf (plus several others who would have been lettermen but declined to come out for football).  They have 17 returning lettermen and plenty of backs and receivers in letter winners like seniors Brandon VanderMarliere, Nick Taranto, Brett Freier, Dan Giese  and Dennis Schutz along with juniors Evan Klawitter, Jarek Fischer and Devrin Meyers.

The Purple will try to pick a quarterback between senior Kyle Kurrelmeyer, who started the last two games of 2012 and junior Emery Whalen.

"Because they bring different skills to the position, we'll have to take our time in the next few weeks to see who can run the offense best." Austin said.

Austin is confident Ellsworth's defense will be solid this season thanks to players like Brock Steldt, Brodey Kemmerer, Reese Sager, Jacob Fuchs and returning middle linebacker Logan Kemmerer.

"He's the leader on the field for our defense and the kids look up to his leadership," Austin said.

This was evident against New Richmond last fall when an injury to Kemmerer put him out the ballgame and allowed the Tigers to run at will up the middle against the Panthers. Still, Ellsworth only lost by a 14-7 score. In fact, Ellsworth was 2-2 and 2-1 in league play midway through the season before the squad went into a tailspin with close losses to NR, Osceola and Prescott in overtime.  Austin thinks the team's better depth will fix this problem.

"Last season when we lost Logan to injury it hurt us very much," Austin said. "It was true at other spots as well. We finished the season with seven starters on the bench against Durand due to injuries and it wasn't pretty to watch. But I believe this season will be different because we have quality depth. We have kids who can step up an fill roles if someone goes down."

This depth comes from player on a JV squad that finished undefeated last season and are now moving up to the varsity level.

"They bring confidence and swagger," Austin said. "You have players with a winning mentality you can build a foundation on it.  One thing I found out from beging coach here for two seasons is that you cannot win in the Middle Border Conference with team that doesn't have a lot of upperclassmen on it. We've got 30 seniors and juniors out this season and that's going to be big for us."

Austin predicts another strong year for the MBC with Somerset and Durand the top two squads in the preseason with Ellsworth in a large mix of teams, including Prescott and Osceola, after them.

Ellsworth's season opener is on Aug. 23 at Fuller-Symes Field against Spooner with the kick-off at 7 p.m. EHS plays four of its first games at home including a non-conference clash against Red Wing over the Labor Day weekend. The Panthers first MBC game will be against defending champ Durand at home Sept. 6. This year's Homecoming game will be against defending state champ Somerset on Sept. 20.