By Jay Davis
The Tiger football team will be kicking off a new era when the Linton-HMB Lions come to Tiger Stadium on Friday.
Not only did 14 seniors graduate from last year’s team, the coaching staff is brand new in two of the three positions.
New head coach Nathan Lamb takes over a program that lost a lot of starters, from quarterback to defensive back, linebackers to linemen. Even the kicker will be booting his first extra points.
That does not make it a rebuilding year for the Tigers. The team does return talent in a lot of positions, starting with senior all-state lineman Daniel Roberts. Even though the roster is smaller this year with a 32-man team, it is still senior-heavy with Pearson Wientjes, Alex Greger, Jayson Van Vugt, Cody Hanson, Cody Schaefbauer, Taten Rau, Teddy Lopez, Brady Spiry, Quinten Fish, Daniel Hintz and Stephen Gemar joining Roberts. Also returning with plenty of varsity experience are juniors Conner Stoick and Austin Borah and sophomore Mason Keller.
Like any football team in rural America, depth will be a problem at times for the Tigers.
“We’ve got depth at some positions and not at others,” said Lamb. “But we’ve got a lot of quality players.”
Even though there has been so much change around the football squad, one thing remains exactly the same; the players are tired of the preseason and ready for the games to begin.
“They’re ready to rock,” said Lamb. “For a lot of them it is their first start. I told them it’s not time to be nervous, it’s time to be excited.
A graduate of Watertown High School and Mount Marty College, Lamb started coaching in 2000. With a little time off in between for schooling, he has been an assistant coach at Watertown, Brookings and Waverly-South Shore. As the varsity assistant and offensive coordinator for Waverly-South Shore, Lamb was a part of a state championship team that put up historic numbers.
The Coyotes went 12-0 and won the State 9B championship. They set national 9-man records for most points scored in a season (678), most touchdowns scored in a season (91), and most points scored in one quarter (48). They were named the 2011 South Dakota Sportswriters Boys Prep Team of the Year.
The Tigers will not have those grand expectations this year. While Lamb and assistant coaches Paul Goehring and Keith Mayer have seen a lot of progress and a lot of good things, they and the players are still getting to know each player, still learning strengths and weaknesses.
Lamb gives a cautiously optimistic projection.
“Hopefully we can win more than we lose,” said Lamb. “We just want to be competitive and be ready for the playoffs.
Lamb added that they have seen some leaders emerging through the sweat and toil of preseason practice. Team captains will be seniors Roberts, Schaefbauer and Rau with a fourth captain rotating every game from among the remaining seniors.
But enough looking ahead, the here and now is the Linton-HMB Lions at Tiger Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.
“They’re ready to rock,” said Lamb.
The Tigers hold an 8-4 lead in all-time record after winning 26-12 in Linton last fall. Linton holds a 3-2 lead since rivalry restarted in 2007. The Tigers are looking to buck a trend as the visiting team has won four straight games.