No one is quite sure what to expect as Estherville Lincoln Central and North Union take the field tonight.
The Midgets are coming off a 1-8 season, but return a small (nine), but solid core of senior players with eight starting on both offense and defense.
North Union sees the joining of Armstrong-Ringsted, North Kossuth and Sentral on the gridiron for the first time-both with a tradition of success of the past few years. However that was in eight-man football. Armstrong-Ringsted last played the 11-man game in 2005 with a 5-4 record. North Kossuth last played 11-man in 2003 when they went 6-3. Sentral hasn't played 11-man football in the 21st Century, as they were one of the first schools to play eight-man teams in the late 1990s.
Estherville Lincoln Central junior Billy Snyder bulls his way for a couple more yards during last Friday’s fall showcase. Snyder returns to the backfield this season after leading the team in rushing in 2011.
EDN file photo
The three schools combined forces in all other sports starting in the spring of 2011.
North Union co-coach Tommy Elliott said while none of the players have competed in an 11-man game before, he's looking forward to the opener.
"We ready to play a game as both coaches and player," he said. I can't wait to see the first game and see what we have."
Troy Adams is co-coaching the squad with Elliott. While this is Elliott's first year as coach, Adams has coached for North Kossuth and North Sentral Kossuth for several years.
"He's been a lot of help to me," said Elliott."
Having played together in other sports, Elliott said he didn't have to worry about the players getting along.
"They're all good friends," he said.
The Warriors come into the game knowing little about the Midgets.
"We know what their record was last year and that they have a couple running backs that are supposed to be good," Elliott said.
While Armstrong-Ringsted graduated 15 from last year's Eight-Man playoff team, several returning letter winners return for North Sentral Kossuth.
Seniors dominated the team with nine staring on offense and six on defense.
Elliott believes the defense will be stronger to start the season.
One player who has to make the quickest adjustment is junior quarterback Jacob Braddock as the team makes the switch to 11-man football.
"We look good in practice, but everything could change in a game," said Elliott.
For the Midgets, seniors also dominate the lineup.
Eight seniors start on both offense and defense with quarterback Evan Hansen and defensive tackle Randy Leon, the only ones not listed on both sides of the ball.
Two sophomores start in the offensive line and give ELC size. Listed on the left side of the line is 6-5, 250-pound tackle Trevor Curry and 6-2, 240-pound guard Chase Bonner.
The rest of the offensive line is seniors with 6-3-200 pound center Jeff Perkins, 5-9, 180-pound guard Bryce Hansen and 6-3, 250-pound tackle Levi Peterson.
ELC coach Chuck Fandel enters his fourth season as head coach of the Midgets.
"I'm not totally confident yet, but we really need a game to see where we're at," said Fandel.
The coach said he doesn't know a lot about North Union.
"They had an excellent history between the schools and we have respect for the athletes we've seen in baseball," said Fandel. "They have a tremendous tradition in 8-Man football. We'll still have to play a good ball game."
While ELC doesn't have the numbers a coach likes to see in the program, Fandel said this current group has been part of the system for four years.
"This preseason, compared to the others-I think we're doing better," he said. "We got some young kids mixed in with the veterans.
"I like the chemistry of our team," he continued. "We've had excellent senior leadership through practices and the preseason. It will be interesting to see how we come out."
Statistically, Hansen passed for 759 yards last season, but had 12 interceptions to three touchdowns.
Matt Burrell returns as the team's top receiver from a year ago. He had 28 receptions for 348 yards. Andreas Blanco also is in the lineup. He had 16 catches for 191 yards.
Blanco joins junior Billy Snyder in the backfield. Snyder had the bulk of ELC's carries last season with 282 yards in 73 attempts.
The proximity of the two schools should be a crowd-pleaser.
"It will be a fun game for the communities," said Fandel.