How strong can a team be at quarterback if it graduated the 2011 Area Player of the Year (Dennis Hightower)? The Vikings have the answer in junior Trent Sherfield, already a two-year letterman and an athlete coach B.J. Luke says has "as good of an arm as I've had in my years of coaching." We already know he can run. When Hightower missed the Centennial game with an injury last fall, Sherfield stepped in and rushed for 134 yards. A strong supporting cast includes 1,200-yard rusher William Morris, tight end Daniel Carter, linemen Jon Lomax and Darrien Rose, plus defensive mainstays Aaron Hardimon and Chris Collier.
2. Prairie Central
Speaking of quarterbacks, the Hawks have one of the area's best, Addison Bounds. As a junior, he threw for 1,620 yards and had only five of 185 passes intercepted. With standout receiver Ian Briscoe back, they may form the modern-day version of the Dynamic Duo.
The Rockets have reached the playoffs all 18 years Scott Hamilton has coached, achieving double figures in wins 10 of those seasons. No reason to look for anything different, especially with marquee players such as Micah Johnson, Mitch Negangard and Gage Bolt returning.
4. St. Joseph-Ogden
The Spartans are seeking a 22nd consecutive playoff berth under coach Dick Duval (whose teams have won more than 75 percent of their games) and have a stable of strong runners as well as talented receivers such as Aaron Woller and Louis Acklin.
The Blue Devils retain 14 lettermen from a playoff team, including four linemen with size: center Morgan Supergan (300 pounds), tackle Cole Acton (240), guard Zack Akins (245) and guard Austin Reinken (205), who shifted from tight end. Fullback-linebacker Kevin Allen will be an impact player on both sides of the ball.
Following up on an 8-2 year, the Bulldogs have 27 lettermen and a senior group of 18 players. The only returning starters are center Jon Reed, tight end Matt Turner and linebacker Daniel Roberson. Tyler Francisco is one of the team's speed backs. Senior Andrew Roney is the quarterback.
The Panthers have a 44-person roster, but 20 of them are lettermen. Seniors are prevalent in the backfield, led by fullback Shane Bruning, quarterback Nic Stevens and halfbacks Austin Eddy and Corey Eastham. A 1,000-yard rusher last year, Bruning also will be a force on defense.
Cully Welter is 18 for 18 in directing teams to the playoffs during his coaching tenure. The streak should continue as the Sages retool their defense. A veteran offensive line will be a strength. The group features seniors Adam Auten, Bryan Phipps and Chandler Zindars along with junior Colton Gibson. Tailback Ryan Donohue was the area's second-leading rusher last fall.
9. Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement
Extending the co-op to Bement this year enables coach Andy Kerley's team to enter the season with 26 athletes who were full-time starters last season. Backs Jordan Crist, Steve Isbell and Dee Woods give the program multiple threats, and seniors Kyle Gideon and Bailey Runyen are offensive linemen who also star on defense.
The Warriors are gunning for a fourth consecutive title-game berth and a 19th straight playoff appearance. Austin Sexson was a two-way starter in last year's Class 1A title game. Two defensive backs return: Nolan Walsh and Dan Yoakum. Sexson is the only returning back with more than 200 yards rushing, passing or receiving.