Hemingford's Ethan Skinner (#45) gives the stiff arm to an Exeter-Milligan defender in last year's D-1 final at Memorial Stadium.
We're down to the last 4 thousand yard runners who will return for the upcoming 2014 football season. This will be the final hurrah for all four of these young men who have each played in at least one state football final at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Three of these young men have a legitimate shot at reaching the 5000 yard career rushing mark. The 4th is already there. Of course when you run for 3,008 yards in a single season, it shortens that path to 5000 by a ton.
The Final Four, if you will.
*Alex Kunz-Stuart - 1,746 (34 Tds) (5-11, 180) (QB/CB) #7
I'm not going to pull any punches here. I really like this young man, I love his coach, and I respect this football program more than I can tell you.
Flash back to 2006 and the Stuart Broncos are D-1 and pretty thin on bodies out for football. But coach Lance Howitt, who is entering his 12th season there, took that football team all the way to the quarterfinals before the Broncs lost to Glen Snodgrass and his powerhouse Overton team 39-14. Overton beat the holy livin' dog life out of everybody they played that year (except Axtell) and went one to win it all. Here's why I like Howitt and Stuart. That quarterfinal game the Broncos suited up 15 players. Overton had 40. That's just the kind of kids they have up there in Stuart.
Fast forward to 2013 and Lance Howitt has a quarterback named Alex Kunz and the Broncos make it all the way to Lincoln before being overwhelmed by a much stronger Falls City Sacred Heart. No disgrace there. But let me tell you about this Kunz boy.
#7 was the key to that Stuart run last season. Kunz just stood back there in that 'Gun and drove defenses bonkers because of his pinpoint passing ability. Defenses just didn't know how to play the guy. You play the run and he kills you with a pass. You rush too many folks and he escapes out of the pocket and breaks a long one. An amazing football player, Alex Kunz ran for 1,746 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. When the left handed gunslinger let it fly, he completed 91 of 180 passes for 1,382 yards and 17 more scores while be intercepted only 3 times. On defense, Kunz was outstanding. The blond corner back made 107 tackles, 10 solos in the critical 30-6 semifinal win over Amherst, and intercepted 6 passes including a 53 yard pic-6 against Boyd County.
I liked Alex Kunz the first series I saw him play in that state final last November. He played like he was 190 pounds pound instead of 170. When Sacred Heart was pouring it on, Kunz never gave up and looked like a winner from start to finish. He held his head high when things were caving in, the sign of a true leader.
Alex Kunz and the Stuart Broncos will be money this fall. This football team had ONE senior on that state final roster last November........ONE. It's never been quantity up there in Stuart, it's been quality as long as Lance Howett has been involved. It's difficult to imagine how good Alex Kunz will be this season. This is one outstanding football player friends. Kunz has 3,066 career rushing yards and has a real shot at making that 5000 career rushing club and not many do. It may be tougher to make it to Lincoln this fall but I like Stuart's chances with #7 at the controls. Besides, Kunz has to be good. He has that long blond hair that I like and he is a drummer to boot. There you go.
*J J Oltmer-Humphrey St. Francis - 1,926 (5-11, 195) RB/LB #4
Big, strong, powerful young man and has been since his sophomore season. Legitimate 2 time all-state running back, Oltmer has gained 3,514 yards in just 2 seasons. Wish I had his freshman numbers, but they were nowhere to be found. Oltmer had 143 tackles last season and 120 his sophomore year. I've seen Oltmer play a few times and not witnessed a single defender tackle him one on one. Makes you wonder if he weighed 20 pounds when he was born and added the muscle from there.
One of the main reasons St. Frans always has tough, top notch football players is super head coach Eric Kessler. Love this guy. His record the past 11 years is 107-18 and HSF was even good long before Coach Kessler arrived. This program has bred more football players like JJ Oltmer than you could shake a stick at. When I leave this earth, one of my wishes is to have my ashes scattered on a high school football field. That beautiful setting in Humphrey down in the "hole" may be the place. How in the world did I get on that?
Since Oltmer has put on a set of pads in high school, St. Francis has won 29 games and lost only 5, three of which were playoff games. In 2012 the Flyers lost to Giltner in the State D-2 finals. Oltmer has been involved in only 2 regular season losses during his career. Fullerton surprised HSF last season in the opener but the Flyers avenged that one in the playoffs. The other loss was to Howells-Dodge in 2011. St. Francis returns three starters on each side of the ball and in 8-man football when you are Humphrey St. Francis, that's enough to be strong....real strong.
There aren't too many situations where JJ Oltmer isn't money. On a muddy field you can just feed him the ball over and over again and win the game. I'd be willing to guess that Oltmer could carry the ball close to 50 times and still shine at linebacker in a situation like that. If he isn't the best player in D-2 he has to be mighty close.
*Ethan Skinner-Hemingford - 2,094 (5-11, 185) RB/LB #45
Ethan Skinner is part of a Hemingford backfield that's vast talents will never be witnessed at that school again. Yes, that's how good Skinner, quarterback Matthew Wood, and Brady Turek are. May as well throw in TE/DE Colt Foster and you have a dream unit that doesn't come along often in 8-Man football. Hemingford returns 5 starters on each side of the ball so there "ain't" any reason this football team cannot get back to Lincoln in 2014.
Skinner possesses a combination of strength, speed, and quick foot work not often seen in a 185 pound RB. Number 45 can side step you in an instant and be on his way around the outside. The pitch play Wood and Skinner ran last season was lethal. Hemingford can line up in quite a few offensive formations and Skinner may be back there all by himself, dot the "I" in that formation, or set up to the side of Wood with Turek on the other. In addition to his 2,094 rushing yards a year ago, Skinner caught 11 passes for 234 yards. Big deal, huh? Well, when you consider Four of those went for scores, that merely adds another wrinkle to that Bobcat offense. And Mr. Skinner rarely fumbles. Twice in 251 carries.......ball security to the max.
#45 was about as efficient as you get on defense. Last year he was in on only 30 stops but 11 of those were for losses. He also intercepted 2 passed and caused a fumble. And you know what? How many games during the regular season did Skinner and his buddies play only a half of football? When you're blitzing teams 59-0, 70-22, 78-6, 71-0, 79-14, and 64-30, you're spending a lot of time on the sidelines cheering the younger players on.
So try these on for Ethan Skinner's career numbers. 435 carries for 3,454 yards and 52 touchdowns...that's a career 7.9 yards a pop. 18 receptions for 435 yards and a glaring 7 Tds. Skinner has 98 career tackles and has 63 total touchdowns to date with a year to go.
Ethan Skinner and his senior friends are on a mission to prove that a team from the West can win a State D-1 football Title. I've heard the same thing over and over like a broken record. They don't play anybody, they run over little skinny defensive players and run the score up. Not this bunch. Their schedule may not be as tough as some Eastern 8-man D-1 teams but this Hemingford team can play football. If it comes down to giving Ethan Skinner tha ball 52 times against an Overton team in the semi-finals like last year, than so be it. This is a great football team.
*Calvin Strong-Omaha North - 3,008 (5-7, 180) RB #5
It seems like I have said everything there is to say about this phenomenal football player in the past, but every time I watch films something new emerges. Strangely enough, I've never seen a 40 yard dash time on this kid, but it's pretty apparent Calvin Strong has tremendous football speed. Let's face it, anybody that runs for 3,008 yards in a season is pretty special 40 or no 40 time listed. No other schoolboy in history has rushed for 3,000 in it this state. Calvin had terrific blocking last year but it took only the tiniest of creases to set him free. #5 did a whole lot on his own.
#5 hits the line so quickly, and plants and cuts better than anybody I've seen in a while and just follows his blockers so well. Strong reminds me of Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles. Low center of gravity and very difficult to nail for any defender one on one. And balance......oh my. Strong is tougher and more durable than you think too. If you saw Omaha North against Grand Island, you saw first hand how sturdy this kid can be. Coach Larry Martin leaned on Strong big time in the 2nd half of that semifinal contest and sent the 175 pounder right into the heart of that terrific Islander defense time after time to eat precious clock. I arrived at the stadium early that day to see some people on the North staff like Coach Larry Martin and Damon Benning and frankly wanted to watch Strong's pre-game ritual. The young man spends a lot of time by himself on the sidelines and has a great pre-game workout. Pretty focused.
So many sports people are concerned whether this young man will get a full ride D-1 offer. I'm so often asked what I think. If Calvin Strong never played a minute after high school, I still would respect what he's accomplished in high school. The big boys say he leaves too many yards on the field. Not fast enough, needs better vision. Big time critics. I like this kid. Strong has overcome much in his short life and continues some struggles away from the field. Time will tell. Lots going on in this special young man's life. But, no reason why Calvin Strong and his Viking buddies shouldn't be considered favorites to repeat as Class A champs.
Of all the eye-popping stats Calvin Strong has written on the gridiron, there is one glaring mark many have not heard about. This young man carried the pigskin a staggering 355 times last season, including 135 in 4 playoff games. In all those bruising carries, defenders giving it their best shot at ripping the ball out of his hands, Strong did not fumble One time.......NOT ONCE! I started the better part of 3 seasons at GICC and did not fumble one time, but this is now and the hits are vicious and big time. Plain and simple, in this day and age, that is an impressive statistic you don not often see.
And after all is said and done, comes the best part. Calvin Strong has another full season to go and will be better yet this fall. The butterflies are already starting to churn in my midsection just thinking about watching number 5 this fall. If there is any serious high school football fan that has not seen Calvin Strong play, put it on that bucket list. Players like this don't come along very often.
Next up: Backs to watch in 2014.......future 1000 yard rushers?