MOUNTAIN IRON — Coming off a trip to the State semifinals, youth and inexperience will be major factors in Mountain Iron-Buhl’s 2019 season.
“We’re pretty young’’ after graduating seven seniors, head coach Dan Zubich said at MI-B High School Tuesday night.
The Rangers have three seniors, three juniors, six sophomores and 40 more players in grades 7-9.
“That’s the meat of our lineup,’’ he said.
Despite the youth, Zubich believes his team has as good of a chance of winning the section as anyone.
“We’re the defending section champs and this section is wide open,’’ the coach told his players. That’s because Cook County (the other section finalist) lost 10 players, North Woods is now playing 11-man and most other teams are also young. Silver Bay, however, lost only two players, said Zubich, which makes them the favorite.
While being young, the Rangers will be paced by four-year starter (both on offense and defense) Dillon Drake.
Zubich said Drake “is the best player in Section 7’’ and holds the Minnesota State High School League record for sacks in any class. Drake has always been a defensive end, but “he might move around a little bit this year. He will also move from wide receiver to half back on offense.
Asked if speed or quickness makes Drake such a standout player, Zubich said, “it’s both. He’s fast and he’s quick and he’s strong’’ at 6-foot-3-inches tall and 205 pounds.
Zubich stated he will be running the same offensive and defensive schemes even with the youth. “It’s not college, but we want to reload because we have young talent.’’ He is confident in his players and doesn’t think 2019 is a rebuilding year, which is what some people say when he tells them the makeup of his team.
“Our guys have been working hard all summer so they don’t see it that way.’’
After playing situationally in 2018, freshman Asher Zubich will be under center on a full-time basis in 2019. Being a coach’s son, coach Zubich said he’s forced to know more. “He knows all the plays and everything’’ and has “pretty good size’’ at 6-feet-1-inch tall and 170 pounds.
The key to the season remains the young players maturing, according to the coach. “They have to grow up in a hurry’’ and avoid injuries to the older players. He added that he already has one sophomore (a starter last year) out for the home season opener Aug. 30 against Ely.
As far as gaining experience, the players in grades 7-12 were working out and playing all summer. Tuesdays and Thursdays included defensive and offensive practice. The other three days, they threw routes and played 7-on-7. The summer also included the July 24 camp at St. Scholastica, where they went live against South Ridge and Onamia, which is important so the guys can adjust to the speed of varsity football.
The Rangers open with Ely and then Cherry (returning to varsity football this fall) on Sept. 6, but also play some teams not quite as recognizable after being moved to the West District of Section 7 9-Man. MI-B also plays Lake of the Woods, Kelliher/Northome/Littlefork, Bigfork, Hill City/Northland, Floodwood and Isle.
MI-B will get some more live action today when they host an eight-team scrimmage beginning at 9 a.m.
Head coach: Dan Zubich, 8th year at MI-B
Last year’s record/how finished: 10-3/State semifinalist for the first time since 1972.
Key players lost to graduation: “We lost seven very good football players to graduation: Joe Buffetta, Jericho Peterson, Jack Lind, Riley Kintner, Carter Martinson, Vincent Benkusky and Chris Hollis.
Returners: Starts with four-year starter Dillon Drake. “Dillon is the best player in Section 7, in my opinion. Dillon holds the MSHSL record for sacks (any class). He will also move from WR to RB on offense this season.’’
“Aidan Bissonette (senior WR/CB) had an excellent summer and will be a major contributor on offense this season.’’
Teddy Olivanti, senior, OT/MLB. “Teddy came on strong at the end of last season during our State run. We expect big things from him.’’
Ryan Drake, sophomore, OT/DE, “Ryan is a big strong kid who started both ways for us last year. Thus we expect him to anchor the D and O lines.’’
Asher Zubich, freshman, QB/LB. “Asher played in certain situations last year and racked up 1,000 yards of offense. Asher will be expected to distribute the ball to our playmakers and move the ball down the field in a full-time role this season.’’
Others expected to contribute: Hunter Weigel, So., WR/LB; Braden Tiedeman, So., WR/LB; Brody Hill, So., DT/OT; Ben Lind, So., DT/OT; Alex Benkusky, Jr., C/DT; Luke Madsen, Jr., TE/DE; Sam Lokken, Fr., TE/DE; Nikolas Jesch, Fr., WR/CB; Riley Busch, Fr., WR/LB.
Outlook: “We have had excellent leadership from our three seniors all summer. The Section is wide open this season. Our fate will be decided by how fast our youth matures. We may start three freshmen and three sophomores. They are capable no doubt, but most of them have not played at this level yet.’’
Team strength: “Senior leadership.’’
Team weakness: “Lack of experience on the offensive line.’’
Section favorite: “Like I said, it is wide open. IF I had to pick a favorite, it would be Silver Bay. Cook County is right there as well. We hope to be there at the end of the season as well. If the younger talent steps up, we can make a run at it.’’