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Pope, Tigers ready to make a fresh start

Tiger captains are (from left) Dillan Johnson, Bryce Jergenson, and Aaron Nelson.

Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta hits the road tonight to open the 2013 football season at Minnewaska. Game time has been pushed back to 8 p.m. because of the high temperature.

The season opener will answer a lot of questions for Tiger fans wondering how this inexperienced squad will perform. First-season head coach Kevin Pope expects his team to surprise a lot of people.

“The kids are working really hard,” said Pope. “I’ve been impressed with their work ethic.”

While Pope is new to the job of head coach, he is familiar with the team. Last season, Pope was an assistant to Jerry Witt, who retired after 32 seasons and 165 wins. For three years before that, Pope was the seventh-grade coach.

Pope also has experience playing the game as a three-year starter and two-year captain at Ely. He then played for the University of Minnesota, Morris, starting three seasons on the Cougars’ defense. He also served as a student coach for one season at UMM.

With only one returning starter, Nathan Vipond, on the roster this season, Pope and the Tigers will be learning together. The junior lineman came in last season to fill in for an injured teammate.

Last year’s squad included 18 seniors, so this season’s team did not have a lot of opportunity to play.         

Leading the team this season are senior captains:  quarterback/defensive end  Bryce Jergenson; lineman Dillan Johnson; and fullback/defensive end Aaron Nelson.

The other seniors are Jordan Thooft, Ethan Stahman, Devin Robertson, Myles Smith, Bret Blom, Gage Backman, Matt Arnold, Brady Wulf, Cody Davis, Harrison Gravning, Vaughn Dieter, and Corey Storck.

A total of 72 players in grades 9-12 fill out the squad.

Several members of the team saw action on the field last season, especially in those games that saw a lopsided score. The 2012 Tigers were 9-1. Of those nine wins, only two were close calls. In the other seven games, the Tigers averaged over a 30-point margin of victory.

The Tigers and BOLD  were both undefeated at the end of the regular season to share the West Central Conference title. Since the realignment of the conference, the two teams do not meet.

The Tigers’ first loss was to New London-Spicer in the second round of the 6AAA playoffs.

This season Pope expects Sauk Centre to be a tough adversary.

“It’s a game that should be a good measuring stick for us,” he said.

There have been other shifts in the coaching staff this season, but all the faces are familiar.

Dylan Viss is heading up the offense this season, since Lyle Rambow stepped down. Tim Cannon returns to coach the JV team. Joe Boedigheimer moves from seventh grade to the freshman squad. Coach Witt is now coaching the eighth-grade team and Jim Greenwaldt leads the seventh graders. Tom Fangmeier is helping out at the junior high level. Assistant Brady Rose has been helping at the junior high level for a few seasons. Neal Hofland and Joel Beyer return to the sidelines as volunteer coaches.

With the help of an experienced staff, Pope believes his team will be able to respond to various situations and continually improve.

A fresh start for Pope and the Tiger football team begins tonight under the lights at Minnewaska.