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Ellsworth football: Athleticism, grit to be key

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There are positions of strength and talented depth for the Ellsworth football team.

While skill position groups are an area the Panthers have experience, the offensive and defensive lines are the opposite.

When Ellsworth gets its season started by hosting Colfax Friday, Aug. 18, co-coach Jason Janke said the team will be drawing on something different than past football experiences to fill the question marks in the offensive line.

“We feel like the culture of Ellsworth is good in terms of tough, strong kids that are ready to fight and what we want to do is take advantage of that,” Janke said. “We’re not huge, but if you take a look at St. Croix Central last year, they won the state championship and came from our league, they weren’t necessarily huge all over the place.”

In a word, Janke hopes Ellsworth will draw on its grittiness to create time and space for its athletes to be athletic with the ball in their hands.

“Frankly, we have some really decent ability (in our skill positions),” Janke said. “We will need to have a quarterback that can spread the ball around and have a line that allows you that kind of time.”

Top returning receiver Ryan McGregor said he thinks the depth on the edges will help open up the running game for junior Logan Melstrom, whose sophomore year was ended by a knee injury.

Ellsworth will be tasked with replacing Joe Tingelhoff, who transferred to IMG Academy in Florida.

“We weren’t expecting that, but we’re going to be fine,” Janke said. “We weren’t necessarily ready to lose him there, so we are learning in there. We’re moving a couple of linebackers, who will still play linebacker on defense, to the line on the offensive side.”

Senior quarterback Drake Flom pointed out two linemen that he expected to step up this season.

“I see guys like Caleb Linder who will be a key guy for us on the line this year,” said Flom, who won all-MBC quarterback honors. “I’m also excited to watch Wyatt Hines, who should be a run stopper for us when it comes to critical defensive moments.”

On the defensive side of the ball, co-coach Rob Heller noted the secondary as a strength.

“One thing you never want to see is big plays,” Heller said. “Obviously, it’s going to happen at the high school level, but a lot of times those big plays happen over the top. I’m very confident in those guys to be able to help eliminate the big play this year.”

Over the top, Ellsworth will have McGregor, Sawyer Hamilton and Alex Motley. Janke said he thought McGregor had a chance to earn all-state honors this year, which would be the second sport in which he earned that achievement. Last year, McGregor earned all-MBC honors as a defensive back and as a receiver.

Owen Matzek offers the Panthers some flexibility as he has played both outside linebacker and cornerback in the Ellsworth 3-5-3 defense.

While Heller was quick to point out the talent in the secondary, he also showed excitement discussing the possibilities for his linebacking group.

“We have a ton of athletic kids that can play any of our five linebacking spots,” Heller said.

Along with Owen Matzek, Heller said Alex Matzek would be a force to be reckoned with in the middle.

“Both of the Matzeks are going to be big players for us on defense. I think Alex could stand out,” Heller said. “He loves football and he loves to have fun with his other sports, but he’s a different cat when it comes to football.”

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