Every top-flight football team with playoff aspirations needs playmakers.
The 2010 AAA all-state football team is flush with such players, several of them from Bismarck-Mandan.
First-team picks Channing Mann of Bismarck, Carson Wentz of Century and Aaron Janz of Mandan combined to alter the course of many games over the season.
They were among 10 Bismarck-Mandan athletes named to the first team. The others included defensive lineman Nick Nelson and offensive lineman Deon Paulson and Dan Daffinrud of Bismarck.
Century was represented on the first team by Wentz, offensive lineman Conrad Schwarzkopf, defensive lineman Meyer Bohn and linebacker Jordan Erdmann.
Defensive back Dereck DelValle joined Janz as Mandan's representatives on the first team.
Wentz, a one-year starter at quarterback for Century, made the season memorable, winning Class AAA senior athlete of the year award. He piled up 1,383 yards total offense, scored 13 times and threw 12 TD passes in limited playing time. Wentz missed all or part of three games as a result of two concussions.
"Wentz was the AAA senior athlete of the year but he didn't get the all-state quarterback position, that's what's ironic," Century coach Ron Wingenbach said.
Injuries limited Wentz's quarterback career to one season, but Wingenbach had high expectations of the 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior.
"He was all we expected and more," Wingenbach said. "... He just made everyone around him better every time we went out onto the football field and that is a great tribute."
"He would probably have broken some school records or gotten into the top five in a lot of categories if he could have played all the games he'd have liked," Wingenbach added. "He's a really heady quarterback who understands the game and understood what we expected of him."
Mann, a 6-foot, 170-pound tailback, was also a one-year starter. He backed up all-state tailback Jake Miller for two years, but played brilliantly as a senior. He broke Weston Dressler's school records for rushing in a game (389 yards) and season (2,219 yards), scoring 32 touchdowns along the way.
"The season he had was remarkable," Bismarck coach Mark Gibson said. "... Certainly Channing being able to pass Weston is something special."
"I don't want to compare them," Gibson continued, "but the amount of yards he gained is truly incredible."
Gibson said Mann did all that damage running into the teeth of defenses geared to stop him.
"Our offense was centered on him. ... People put nine or 10 players in the box and he still gained yards," Gibson said. "That's a credit to him and also to the guys who played in the line in front of him."
Janz, a multi-sport junior, missed his sophomore season due to health concerns, but was cleared to play this fall. He used his center fielder's speed and basketball leaping ability to wreak havoc in opposing secondaries.
Teaming with junior quarterback Devin Coyle, Janz hauled in 39 passes for a regional-best 844 yards and nine touchdowns.
"He was a great addition to our team. He goes 100 percent all the time," Mandan coach Pat O'Brien said. "... He's a great athlete. He's very competitive and goes and gets the ball, which is what you want in a wide receiver."
O'Brien said DelValle, a 5-9, 150-pound strong safety, became a standout football player through study and hard work.
"He's a very smart young man and that's what makes him so tough in football," O'Brien said. "He's undersized, but he's part of the 1,000-pound (lifting) club. He put in the time in the weight room to build himself."
O'Brien said DelValle had the ability to catch on to defensive plans almost instantaneously. "He's been our defensive leader the last two years. He ran the defense and he was one of our team captains. When you teach him something in practice he understands why. He thinks about the game."
Wingenbach said Schwarzkopf, a 6-3, 265-pound junior, and Bohn, a 6-foot, 225-pound senior, complement one another.
"Bohn was a mainstay along with Conrad on our offensive and defensive lines. Both of them are just great competitors," Wingenbach said. "It was nice having those two flanking our center on offense. A lot of times they'd play on the same side of the center at defensive tackle and defensive end. ... I think they kind of had a special way of playing together."
Wingenbach said Erdmann, a 5-10, 190-pound senior, moved up from a backup role as a junior to the leader of the linebacker corps. He was in on 105 tackles, including 45 solos, and recovered two fumbles.
"He was by far our leading tackler," the coach said. "He had a knack for finding the football. He isn't the most physically gifted athlete, but he got to where the ball was. It was a situation where he just matured ... and gave it everything he had every night."
Gibson said it was gratifying to see his linemen so well represented by Nelson, Paulson and Daffinrud.
He said the linemen became the heart and soul of the team after the Demons lost to Century to slip to 2-2 on the season.
"Those kids are pretty close to me because of the positions I coach, and (after the Century game) we had a heart-to-heart about the season," Gibson said. "I kind of challenged those kids to step up their games and take it to a new level. ... As the season went along they got a lot better."
The 6-3, 305-pound Paulson and Nelson, 6-3 and 275, were the offensive tackles. Daffinrud, 6-1 and 240, played guard. Nelson started on both sides of the ball.
Century enjoyed a bonanza in the second-team voting, garnering six spots - running backs Mitch Ohlhauser and Josh Jahner, wide receiver Kameron Wingenbach, tight end Zach Rhone, placekicker Zack Haakedahl and kick returner Deion Volk.
Mandan running back Billy Binstock, Coyle and defensive lineman Brock Russell also earned second-team honors.
Coyle was the West Region leader in passing yardage (1,615) and touchdown passes (18).
Binstock finished second to Mann with 1,413 yards rushing.
CLASS AAA ALL-STATE TEAM
Quarterback - Griffin Neal, sr., Fargo South.
Running backs - Channing Mann, sr., Bismarck; Peter Saintal, soph., Fargo North.
Receivers - Andrew Okland, sr., Fargo South; Nate Moody, sr., Dickinson; Aaron Janz, jr., Mandan.
Linemen - Deon Paulson, sr., Bismarck; Dan Daffinrud, sr., Bismarck; Chase Muhonen, sr., Fargo North; Levi Keck, sr., Dickinson; Conrad Schwarzkopf, jr., Century.
At-large - Adam Boe, sr., Fargo South; Brock Larson, sr., Fargo South; Carson Wentz, sr, Century.
Linemen - Meyer Bohn, sr., Century; Tyler Kennedy, sr., West Fargo; Joe Swegarden, sr., Fargo North; Nick Nelson, sr., Bismarck.
Linebackers - Jordan Erdmann, sr., Century; Kolton Larson, fr., Minot; Taylor Parker, sr., Fargo South; Connor Schweitzer, sr., Fargo South.
Backs - Zach Neer, sr., West Fargo; Jon Pistorius, sr., West Fargo; Dereck DelValle, sr., Mandan.
Century - Zach Rhone, jr.; Josh Jahner, sr.; Mitch Ohlhauser, sr.; Kameron Wingenbach, sr.
West Fargo - Matt Ruff, sr.
Minot - Dustin Adams, sr.; Jonas Tengesdal, sr.
Mandan - Billy Binstock, sr.; Devin Coyle, jr.
Grand Forks Red River - Jace Hellman, sr.; A.J. Johnstone, sr.
Dickinson - Tyrell Parker, jr.
Jamestown - Jordan Lynch, sr.
Fargo South - Brad Kepler, sr.
Century - Zack Haakedahl, jr.; Deion Volk, soph.
West Fargo - Tanner Fontaine, sr.; Alex Fontaine, sr.; Jordan Gleason, sr.; Drew Lemke, sr.; Jake Hermanson, sr.; Brady Schwartz, sr.
Minot - Dillon Bercier, sr.; Michael Nelson, jr.
Mandan - Brock Russell, sr.
Fargo North - Delson Saintal, sr.