By Eric DeVelder
Journal Sports Writer
ARLINGTON - Two years ago the Sibley East Wolverines finished 9-2 after competing in the state tournament.
Last year, they regressed to 4-6. Now, Coach Chuck Hartman is looking to a young squad of players to return the team to form.
Hartman is hopeful that the Wolverines can recover from the loss of important players and ride the success that they found at the end of last season when they won three of their last four games. He is content that despite losing 22 seniors from last year, only a few were major contributors.
However, one was the team's all-time leading tackler, Ben White. The other is the school's all-time leading rusher Erik Danielson. The team will be looking to many unproven players to fill their shoes.
Contributing on both sides of the ball, sophomore Brody Bates will be a key feature for the Wolverines. While young and inexperienced with the offense, Hartman considers him to be his greatest skill player. Last year Bates started at outside linebacker as a freshman. This year he will be the team's strongside linebacker. In addition, Bates will be the primary ball carrier as the team's fullback.
The leader of the offense, however, will be quarterback Lukas Bullert after he played wide receiver last year. Like Bates, Bullert will also be playing both sides of the ball by also making his mark at free safety.
The need to place players in multiple positions is highlighted by a year of low participation this year for the team.
"Our numbers are down, we're down about 20 kids since the past few years," Hartman said. "We just don't have a ton of depth, our upper classes are a combined 19 or 20 kids."
This is a potential weakness for the Wolverines.
"When you start dipping down into your freshmen and sophomores, they're good athletes but they haven't done it for you on a Friday night yet," Hartman said. "If they can get it done, you look at them and you think that they should get it done, but they don't have that game experience yet. We have kids in key spots that don't have a lot of game experience."
Hartman is also hoping that a smaller team can also be a benefit. When asked what the greatest strength of his team is now, the coach had an easy answer.
"Team chemistry," Hartman said. "Because of [the low number of players], we're a more tight-knit bunch. We've got kids who like being here and like being around each other."
That chemistry will be put to the test in an old-school scheme. The Wolverines are a power-run team and Hartman believes in defense.
"It always starts with defense," Hartman said. "If you play great on defense you should be in every game."
While unproven, Hartman knows that there is talent in his team.
"I'm excited about every kid that's out here," Hartman said. "I think every kid here has a great deal of potential to be a great football player for us. You just got to keep working to get better."