Veteran St. Mary’s coach Dan Smrekar is excited that his Saints put seven players on the 2013 Class AA all-state football team.
What makes it all the more exciting is the fact that five of those players will be back next season.
Junior linebackers Jacob Schwab and Noah Krebs, junior ffensive lineman Jackson Grad, and sophomore running back Jacob Heinert made the first team for the Saints, who went 11-1 and captured the school’s first football state championship since 1994. Junior defensive back Dillon Reiner was named to the second team.
Senior linebacker Darius Sparks and senior defensive back Brian Obritsch also garnered second-team honors.
With five all-state players as its core, St. Mary’s has reason to be optimistic in 2014.
“When you have that many kids of that caliber coming back the next season, you have to feel awfully good about things,” Smrekar said. “We had a great group of kids and the juniors and sophomores made up the meat of the team. We have a lot of starters coming back in addition to the five all-staters. We have a lot to look forward to.”
Defense played a major role in St. Mary’s championship season, and Schwab and Krebs were among the standouts.
Schwab, a 6-foot, 200-pound inside linebacker, led the Saints with 138 tackles, including 15 for a loss.
“Coming into the season, we knew we were going to be strong at outside linebacker, but we weren’t sure what we had in the middle. We put Jake (Schwab) and Jake Huber there and they did a terrific job,” Smrekar said. “The thing about Jake (Schwab) is he came in three inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier than he was last year. He spent a lot of time in the weight room and it paid off. He gave us a big, physical presence in the middle. He was in on a lot of plays and he has the numbers to back it up.”
The 5-11, 180-pound Krebs had 87 stops — 15 for a loss — and seven quarterback sacks.
“Noah is so quick. He really accelerates off the edge,” Smrekar said. “He did what outside backers are expected to do. He put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and did a great job forcing things inside where Jake Schwab, Jake Huber or one of our safeties could make a play.”
Grad, a 5-11, 245-pound guard, anchored the offensive line.
“Jackson was our best player up front,” Smrekar said. “He was the one we ran behind whenever we needed a big play. We expected a lot out of him this year and so did he. He put a lot of time into getting better.”
Grad also was stellar on the defensive line. He made 95 tackles.
“Jackson could have been an all-stater on defense, too,” Smrekar said.
The 5-10, 160-pound Heinert racked up 1,068 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns despite seeing limited action early in the season. He rushed for 103 yards and a score in the state championship game.
Heinert became the first St. Mary’s running back since 1999 (Travis Wald) to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
“Jake has a lot of speed and he runs hard for a kid his size,” Smrekar said. “When the year started, we thought Jake would give us great depth at running back. He’s a sophomore and we were planning to start him out slow. But we gave him more work after our other tailback got hurt and he responded with an outstanding season. He gave us that big-play threat in the backfield.”
Reiner, a 6-foot, 160-pound safety, led the Saints in interceptions with five. He also had 81 tackles.
“Dillon is a physical kid who has a nose for the football,” Smrekar said. “He was as good against the run as he was against the pass.”
The 6-3, 185-pound Obritsch had a solid season on both sides of the ball. He intercepted two passes and made 48 stops from his cornerback position. On offense, he was the Saints’ top receiver, catching 26 passes for 500 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught three scoring passes in the postseason — two in the state championship game.
“In order for your team to have good things happen, your good players have to make plays. Brian did that both defensively and offensively,” Smrekar said. “On defense, he was our best cover guy. We always put him on the other team’s best receiver. He didn’t get many interceptions, but he had quite a few knockdowns and there weren’t many passes completed in his direction. He was strong against the run, too.”
Sparks, a 6-1, 185-pound outside linebacker, topped the Saints with nine quarterback sacks. He had 64 tackles, including seven for a loss.
“Darius is a great athlete. Having him on one side and Noah (Krebs) on the other made us really difficult to stop off the edge,” Smrekar said. “Darius has both speed and strength. We usually put him on the strong side, meaning he had to go up against tight ends and fullbacks. But he fought through those blocks and made a lot of plays.
“Brian, Darius and our other seniors are definitely going to be missed next year,” the St. Mary’s coach continued. “What a tremendous group of kids.”
Beulah, 6-4 and a playoff team this season, placed two players on the first team — senior running back Kamron Unruh and junior defensive lineman Luke Blood.
The 6-foot, 160-pound Unruh was outstanding in his first season as a running back. The former wide receiver carried 229 times for 1,566 yards and 15 touchdowns. He rushed for more than 100 yards seven times and more than 200 yards three times. His best game was a 330-yard, 38-carry effort against Griggs-Barnes County on Oct. 4.
“What Kamron did this season was amazing for a first-year running back. It would be amazing for any back,” Beulah coach Jim Dooley said. “It was the result of a lot of hard work. Kamron made up his mind back in January that he was going to do everything he could to be a better football player. He asked us at the start of the season to let him play running back, a position he was unfamiliar with. We decided to let him try it and he far exceeded the expectations we had. He’s not overly fast and he’s not very big, but he runs hard and he’s durable. He picked up a lot of yards after contact.”
Blood, a 6-2, 255-pound tackle, was in on 47 tackles — seven for a loss.
“Luke wreaked a lot of havoc up front,” Dooley said. “He’s got good size, he’s strong and he’s quick. He doesn’t have a ton of stats, but a lot of that is because teams like to run away from him. There’s a reason for that.”
Beulah’s Derek Morris, a senior linebacker, was named to the second team, as were senior running back Brandon Allex and senior offensive lineman Mitchel Leibel of Watford City, and junior wide receiver Joe Mayer of Dickinson Trinity.
Morris led the Miners with 120 tackles — 78 solo. Allex rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
Running back Danny Stasch of Fargo Shanley, defensive lineman Mason Kramer of Ryan and defensive back Dylan Urbach of Lisbon are repeat first-team selections. Shanley quarterback Chase Montplaisir was a first-team pick in 2012, but was put on the second team this season.
West Region champion Minot Ryan had five first-team picks. State runner-up Wahpeton had four.
Class AA all-state team
Quarterbacks: Austin Eggl, sr., Minot Ryan. Eric Bachmeier, sr., Kindred. Jack Christensen, sr., Wahpeton.
Running backs: Jacob Heinert, soph., St. Mary’s. Kamron Unruh, sr., Beulah. Danny Stasch, jr., Fargo Shanley.
Wide receivers: Brody Bosch, sr., Ryan. Adam Breske, jr., Central Cass.
Tight end: Kameron McNary, sr., Wahpeton.
Linemen: Jackson Grad, jr., St. Mary’s. Tyler Smith, sr., Lisbon. Charlie Plankers, sr., Kindred. Justin Hanson, jr., Griggs-Barnes County. Jesse Hass, sr., Valley City.
Linemen: Luke Blood, jr., Beulah. Mason Kramer, sr., Ryan. Nick Kjera, jr., Shanley. Mike Dassenko, sr., Wahpeton.
Linebackers: Jacob Schwab, jr., St. Mary’s. Noah Krebs, jr., St. Mary’s. Jake Magnusson, sr., Ryan.
Backs: Tanner Sanders, jr., Ryan. Dylan Urbach, sr., Lisbon. Brock Lingen, sr., Wahpeton.
Brandon Allex, sr., and Mitchel, sr., Watford City. Nick Berentson, sr., Ryan. Chase Montplaisir, sr., and Tre Fort, jr., Shanley. Jenner Manske, sr., Lisbon. William Moffet, sr., Kindred. Ryan Nelson, sr., Central Cass. Dustin Lindgren, sr., Valley City. Wyatt Steckler, sr., Griggs-Barnes County. Geraldo Fox, sr., Turtle Mountain. Joe Mayer, jr., Dickinson Trinity. Daniel Lindgren, sr., Maple Valley-Enderlin.
Brian Obritsch, sr., Darius Sparks, sr., and Dillon Reiner, jr., St. Mary’s. Derek Morris, sr., Beulah. Beau Heiser, jr., Watford City. Austin Krause, jr., Wahpeton. Dakota Johnson, jr., Ryan. Joe Nelson, sr., Lisbon. Tyson Tallakson, jr., Kindred. Connor Rieniets, sr., Central Cass. Philip Mundfrom, sr., Valley City. Dylan Claus, sr., Maple Valley-Enderlin. Levi Hoiby, sr., Stanley-Powers Lake.