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Size there but skill spots still waiting for Prescott gridders

New Prescott quarterback Payton Bartsch throws to the flat during a recent practice.3 / 3

PRESCOTT - It's a reversal of the usual order.

Normally the Prescott High School football team is set when it comes to the skills positions and features a good deal of team speed offsetting their lack of size up front.

But as the 2014 gets underway this evening for the Cardinals against Barron (Kick-off is at 7 p.m. at Laney Field), it's the up-front which has what it needs far more than the backfields do.

"We have a lot of experience and a lot of size and strength on the line and it means we're going to be a more north-south team than a finesse squad on offense to take advantage of this," PHS head coach Matt Smith said. "But our experience in the skill positions and team speed on the edge is still coming along."

Although All-Middle Border Conference lineman Tyler Miller had graduated the Cardinals return starters, lettermen and experience footballers on the scrimmage line like seniors Charlie Brookshaw (6-4, 205 lbs.), Joe Haas (6-7, 309) Jack Farrell (5-11, 175) and Cam Christiansen (6-0, 311) along with junior Garrett Ryan (6-1, 210).

“Some will start on one side of the ball or the other or both,” Smith said. “They’re big and they’re going to set a physical tone for our team. Our bread and butter is going to be on the ground. It’s not going to be as glamorous as previous seasons but it will be where we’re the most effective.”

Indeed, because PHS saw the graduation departures of All-MBC players like quarterback/defensive back Alex Helmer, running back/linebacker Tate Nahorniak, wide receiver Danny Cobenais, kicker Owen Schommer along with athletes like Alex Stuhl, Troy Urman, Nick Opdahl, Ben Brotka, Connor Wescott, Alex Lubich, Brady Carlson and Matt Goeppinger from last season’s 7-4 team which finished 4-3 in the MBC.

This lack of experience in the skill set has forced PHS to switch one of the few returnees with experience, junior Payton Bartsch - the team’s leading returning receiver from a year ago - from wide out to quarterback where he was a back-up to Helmer last season.

“Having played both positions he has a good understanding of reads, routes and timing,” Smith said. “All those things still have to be worked on but his knowledge will give him some advantage even though he’s technically our new quarterback. He’s physical and can run as well as well as throw the ball and he’s spent time in the offseason in 7-on-7 passing leagues, so he’s ready to be behind center when we start the season.”

The running backs and receivers will be new this season for the Cards’, moving up from the JV and C-team level. They are seniors Justin Lynner, Max Rawson, Monty Stenroos, juniors Nolan Schock, Tristen Eicher and Bailey Langer. Sophomore Nick Simon and senior Mason Syverson will be the split and or tight ends in a two-split set-up on offense.

“We don’t have the burners like we had in the recent past,” Smith said. “But our players have good size, good hands and can grind out yardage. They did a good job on the JV level and now they have the chance to do the same with the varsity.”

With the same linemen, PHS will count on Bartsch, Ryan, Eicher, Simon, both Mason and Jacob Syverson and Stenroos to be the team’s linebackers and defensive backs. Only Bartsch and Ryan are returning starters, but Ryan, a senior captain, is as good a player as any to be the Redbirds’ anchor on defense as he’s been a starter since his sophomore season.

“He’s a great football player,” Smith said. “He’s one of the best in a conference with a lot of good football players. He does a lot for us.”

Smith sees the conference again being led again by Somerset and Ellsworth as it was last season.  After the top two, Smith doesn’t see why Prescott can’t be part of the upper portion of the MBC which would secure another playoff bid and PHS’s fourth straight winning season.

“We have to control the line of scrimmage both ways and win the turnover battle,” Smith said. “If our new varsity players get up speed, literally, early on in the season and we stay healthy, we can continue the success our program has had over the past few seasons.”