The Clear Lake Lions will field an experienced team with a goal of emerging out of the competitive Class 2A District 2 to make a run in the post season.
The Lions finished with a record of 3-6 overall and 3-4 in the district last season, marking the first time in 19 years the team did not qualify for the playoffs.
Coach Jared DeVries said his team is excited to start the 2017 season.
“We have some talented skill players and possibly one of the largest O-line’s in the state,” said DeVries. “The key to our success will be how quickly our sophomores grow up and how well our lines play.”
The Lions return 10 letter winners on offense and four on defense, including senior Zach Lester, who was a First Team All-State selection in 2016. Lester, a 6’1”, 175-pounder, was selected as a defensive back on the All-State team. Again this year he will be an all-around player for the Lions. Last season he was also named to the All-District First Team as a receiver and punter. He is back in the wide receiver position this season, as well as playing defensive back. Last year on defense, he recorded 25 solo tackles and one for a loss. He also made eight interceptions and had a fumble recovery for the Lions. On offense, Lester made 27 catches for 464-yards, averaging 17.2-yards per reception. His longest reception was 74-yards and he scored six touchdowns via the pass. He averaged just over 40-yards per punt on 22 kicks, with his longest boot being 73-yards.
Also back on offense is sophomore quarterback Jaylen DeVries, who stepped in mid-season when senior QB Thomas Storbeck was sidelined with an injury. DeVries completed 32 off 69 pass attempts for 342 yards, averaging 10.7 yards per completion. His longest was a 44-yard touchdown pass.
Drew Enke, another All-District player from a year ago is also back as a wide receiver. The junior made 23 receptions in 2016 District games for 272-yards, an average of 11.8-yards each reception. His longest reception went for 54-yards. He scored three touchdowns.
According to DeVries, senior Speed Toyne will carry the load at running back. Sophomore Nick Danielson joins Lester and Enke at wide receiver and tight end Alex Snelling, a junior, is back.
The speedy Lion backs and receivers should have plenty of opportunity to break free, as four members of the Lion offensive line return. Seniors Sean Wendel and Dalton Mennenga, along with juniors Chase Stuver and Jared Penning bring both the size and skills to the job.
Senior Joey Monson, an All-District pick at outside linebacker/defensive end last season, will anchor the Lion defense. Monson made 30 solo tackles against District opponents, with seven for a loss. He made 12 tackle assists for a team-high 42 tackles. He was also credited with five solo sacks.
Also back on defense are linebackers Dalton Grell and Luke Eggers. Will Kirschbaum and Jacob Pingle join Lester at defensive back.
The Lions will host their traditional season opener against Mason City on Friday night, Aug. 25. They will be at Webster City for their second non-district tilt, then open the District 2 season at Garner-Hayfield-Ventura on Sept. 8.
Crestwood and New Hampton finished one-two in the District last season and, according to Coach DeVries, should be considered the favorites again this season. Those schools will fill the final two Fridays of the Lions’ regular season schedule.