Youth is served at Irondale

Going from a senior-laden team to one that is expected to have a number of sophomores receive significant playing time isn’t usually the recommended formula for a turnaround season. That’s the scenario the Irondale High School football team is faced with as it heads into the season opener this week.

Irondale won just two games a year ago with what head coach Ben Fuller called a “senior-dominated team.” With those seniors no longer available, the Knights are calling on three classes to step into high-profile roles this season.

“We are young,” Fuller said. “We will have sophomores making big contributions to this team.”

Fuller projected that four seniors will start on offense and only three will start on defense. Despite the kind of youth that Irondale will have on the field, Fuller feels he has a talented and hard-working group.

Offensively, Irondale returns four starters on offense, including a trio expected to anchor the offensive line. Senior Isaiah Baldwin (5-foot-9, 230 pounds) and junior Daudi Simon (6-4, 250) started every game in 2015 and junior Tyheem Cobb (6-3, 175) started in half of the games.

That offensive line will be tasked with protecting junior quarterback Brendan White, who missed the entire 2015 season after breaking his wrist in summer camp. He was a sure starter last year as a sophomore and is now ready to step into that role this year.

“One of the team’s fastest players, (White) can hurt teams with his legs or his arm,” Fuller said. 

The fourth returning starter on offense is senior Jacob Zweig, who should be one of White’s favorite targets. The 5-11, 190-pound wide receiver made 20 catches (two for touchdowns) despite the team lacking a true quarterback last year.

Newcomers to keep an eye out for offensively include seniors Dre Clarke and Sean Sutherlin. Clarke is a running back who Fuller says in the fastest player on the team and one of the strongest despite his size (5-9, 175 pounds). 

Sutherlin is out for football for the first time but possesses some of the attributes a wide receiver needs. He is 6-4, 180 pounds and can leap out of the gym, which he does in the winter for Irondale’s basketball team. 

“This kid is going to be hard for high school corners to guard,” Fuller said.

Defensively, Irondale returns four starters, three of whom started every game in 2015. Senior Zach Mahir (6-1, 215) started every game at defensive end and finished with 48 tackles (six for a loss) and six sacks. 

Juniors Ayrias Sears and Nick Ellingson started every game last year at cornerback. Sears made 37 tackles and one interception along with five pass breakups while Ellingson finished with 20 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups.

Senior Gio Hernandez moves to middle linebacker after starting at inside or outside linebacker last year. He made 50 tackles, five of which were for a loss.

A couple of those sophomores who should see the field quite often are Parker Freiberg and Josh Apperson. Freiberg (5-11, 180) will start at a hybrid outside linebacker/safety position and is also slated to spend time as a running back.

Apperson is set to step into a linebacker position.

Other new faces on defense include Cobb and Simon, who will contribute on the defensive line in addition to anchoring the offensive line.

The Knights had a few games get away from them last season and Fuller is hoping that that the talent on the team can keep it in every contest this fall.

“We have some talent in the skill positions and some size on the line that should allow us to keep things close with everybody on our schedule,” said Fuller. “If we get off to a good start, we can hang with anybody on the schedule.”

Irondale started off 2015 with a dramatic victory over Waconia at the Wildcats’ stadium. This year, the Knights again kick things off against Waconia but this time the game is at Wendt Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1.

All eight games this season are the same as a year ago with just the locations switched. Irondale goes on the road in weeks two and three to DeLaSalle and Benilde-St. Margaret’s, respectively. The Knights are then home for Spring Lake Park and Robbinsdale Armstrong before heading to St. Louis Park and Robbinsdale Cooper. They wrap up the regular season with a home game against Park Center.

 

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

 

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