Sabres have all the parts but need experience

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by Dave DeMars

It’s the second week of practice and football coach Scott Hentges is carefully evaluating and watching his crop of players for this year. Last year Sartell was 6-4 for the season with a fairly seasoned cast of starters. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. To make that improvement, Hentges will be looking for a little help from some talented sophomore players this year to fill out a roster that has been left a little thin from graduation.

“Right now we have 30 players for juniors and seniors and 55 grades 10-12,” Hentges said.

Overall the numbers are about what Hentges expected them to be, but it’s a little lopsided when it comes to positions.

“We’re pretty inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball,” Hentges said. “We don’t have any returning starters, so we’ll have a lot of guys that are going to be new.”

That means there are open positions for hungry sophomores to fill. And Hentges is confident he will find those players. The ninth- and 10th-grade teams serve as incubators for the varsity and Hentges said he likes what he sees happening down at that level.

“They do a nice job with our ninth- and 10th-grade teams as far as developing players,” Hentges said.

Mistakes are to be expected, especially with inexperienced players, but Hentges said he’s confident in the long run they will figure it out and eliminate those mistakes and the team will be OK. Football, especially defensive football, is a game that calls for quick recognition and reaction. The more the players see a play or a set, the quicker they are to react, and if they get it right, the more confident they become in their abilities to recognize the different sets.

On offense, Hentges said he’s old school. He likes to establish the running game.

“Our offensive line is eventually going to be one of our strengths for this team,” Hentges said. “I like the way they’ve practiced so far and running the ball is important for us.”

He laughs when asked if he is a Woody Hayes type of coach – three yards and a cloud of dust.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Hentges said. “We do a fair amount of play-action passing, but it’s no big secret the teams that win in high school football are able to run the ball and pass when they want to. And when they can pass when they want to, there is always the chance for big plays.”

The goal is to make sure the opposing defense never puts Sartell in a position where the team has to pass, rather than being able to choose to pass.

In the Central Lakes Conference, Hentges is looking at Tech, Sauk Rapids and Brainerd for the stiffest competition. Those are schools with which Sartell has developed long-term rivalries, in part because of proximity.

“We’ve battled Moorhead in the second championship game three times,” Hentges said. “The fact is there are no easy games. They are all tough, but those are the big ones.”

Slipping back to discussion of the offense, Hentges said at skill position Gavin Reitz and tight-end Riley Hartwig are going to be very important to the team. They are the two major skill players. He also has a lot of confidence in Jordan Och at the quarterback position.

“He’ll do a good job,” Hentges said. “He’s a good leader and a good athlete, so I think we’ll eventually get it all going in the right direction.”

To have a good quarterback, there has to be targets to throw to and Hentges said he has a few of those. One is a transfer student who is probably the fastest player on the team. So while Hentges may put a load on Reitz to pound the ball up the middle between the tackles, he’s also counting on that philosophy of throwing the ball when he wants to.

Reitz is a converted tail-back and linebacker. His positions are definitely physical. At 5’9′ and 195 pounds, Reitz can put more than a little sting into his blocks and tackles.

“Fullback is a lot of hitting – a lot of physicalness,” Reitz said. “I’m looking forward to Cambridge (first game) – its a new face in the competition. Something we haven’t seen yet.”

Having a couple of flyers with good hands on the wings will help keep opponents from stacking the middle and shutting everything down.

“We’ll have guys that can do something with the ball after they catch it,” Hentges said.

One of the guys who will be catching the ball is senior tight-end and safety Hartwig.

“He’s a big target to hit,” said senior quarterback Jordan Och.

Och, who characterizes himself as more of a drop-back passer, said if he has to, he can scramble and get the needed yards. Och is also a kicker who last year managed to put up the first points in the section finals.

“I think it was a 31-yard field goal at St. John’s,” Och said.

Och’s favorite target, Hartwig, is looking forward to catching a few of those passes. Last year he snared a few but wasn’t able to score points. This year he would like to change that.

“I’d say I’m more of a receiving tight-end, but we do block a lot in our offense,” Hartwig said. “It’s going to be a new experience with all the new people, but they’re a great group of guys. It’s going to be fun.”

The home opener will pit the Sabres against Alexandria at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8.

“It’s the first time we’ve played them in school history, so we don’t know much about them,” Hentges said. “They are quite a bit bigger school than we are. They’ll be good. They run the ball – I know that, and I know their coach a little bit.”

It’s a bit of a handicap for Sartell, but Cambridge is handicapped in the same way. The teams have exchanged game films from last year, but that can’t be relied on too heavily since entire offenses and defenses can change in a year’s time thanks to shifts in player personnel. But Hentges said he’s optimistic and he sees big improvements in a short period of time. What helped was a summer camp the end of July where a lot of players showed up and got some extra work in the weight room. That segued nicely into the start of the season and the full regimen of two-a-days and some scrimmage work.

“I want our guys to enjoy their summer – to play other sports,” Hentges said. “Those are the kids (who) tend to be good team players and they know how to compete and help each other out.”

photo by Dave DeMars
Senior captains (left to right) Gavin Reitz, Riley Hartwig and Jordan Och will play key roles on a Sartell Sabre team that has all the parts but lacks experienced players at the majority of positions.

photo by Dave DeMars
Center Michael Lindstrom gets ready to start a play with the snap of the ball while number 81, linebacker Jameson Weide, awaits the chance to crash the line and make the tackle.

photo by Dave DeMars
Coach Scott Hentges (left) gives Jack Engle (center), a pat on the back for making a good read on a play. At right is James Fulgham.











photo by Dave DeMars
Wideout Alex Virnig hauls in a pass during practice. Coach Hentges and the rest of the team would like to see a lot of this kind of catch during the season.

photo by Dave DeMars
Two-a-day practices means players lose a lot of fluid. Thomas Gieske (left) and Jameson Wiede (right) try to replenish and rehydrate during a water break at practice.

Author: Dave DeMars

Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at

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