Wolves hope to keep climbing in ’04

by Tom Coombe

Ely’s high school football program took a giant step forward during the 2003 season.<BR><BR>The 2004 Timberwolves hope to keep moving in the same direction.<BR><BR>Ely, which opens the season Friday at Greenway, lost several key players to graduation but a solid nucleus remains from a club that went 4-5 last fall and rebounded from a winless campaign two years ago.<BR><BR>Five starters are back on offense, including starting quarterback Tim Scott, and the Wolves have four returning defensive starters and a host of others who saw varsity time a year ago.<BR><BR>The experience, two good weeks of practice and perhaps more depth than in recent years give head coach Darren Visser hope that the program has turned the corner.<BR><BR>“I’d like to think we would take a step above where we were last year,” said Visser, who begins his sixth season as head coach. “That crew last year showed a lot of guts and got us to a different level. Hopefully we can take that a step farther where we can contend for the conference by the end of the year and maybe even get a first-round home game in the playoffs.”<BR><BR>When the Wolves are on offense this season, they’ll have an experienced hand leading the way.<BR><BR>Scott started at quarterback last year and got some time at the position the season before. The lefthander completed 47 passes for 477 yards and eight touchdowns.<BR><BR>And while Ely may have a potent passing attack, its bread-and-butter on offense will most likely be the running game.<BR><BR>Junior Ernie Horvat rushed for 196 yards and averaged four yards per carry a year ago, and senior Mike Krunkkala averaged five yards per rush before an injury cut short his season. Along with junior Steve Milkovich and senior A.J. Johnson, they’ll give the Wolves some weapons in the backfield.<BR><BR>Senior Mike Popesh is the leading candidate to play wide receiver and classmate Eric Park steps in at tight end.<BR><BR>Ely has both size and experience on the line with senior center Kevin Hartshorn, senior tackle Luke Spangler, senior guard Billy Saw, junior guard Jay Olson, and junior tackle Paul Starkovich.<BR><BR>On defense, the Wolves will look to contain teams with a strong corps of linebackers.<BR><BR>Hartshorn takes over in the middle, while Horvat is back after starting on the outside in 2003, when he had 21 solo tackles, 18 assisted stops and an interception.<BR><BR>Battling for the other linebacker spot are Popesh, John Eininger and Elliot Beaty.<BR><BR>Scott is Ely’s safety while cornerbacks are Milkovich, Johnson and Jake Ojala.<BR><BR>Spangler, Park, Krunkkala and Starkovich are the Wolves’ defensive ends, while Olson takes over at nose guard with Ryan Bagnal, Saw and Matt High competing for two interior spots.<BR><BR>Scott will do the punting, while either High or Johnson will handle kickoffs. When Ely opts to kick extra points, High gets the call.<BR><BR>“We do have some depth,” said Visser. “As we get a couple guys back, we’ll get a little more added depth. That’s something we haven’t had as much of the last few years. With our offensive line, I’d say we have seven guys who could go in there and do a nice job.<BR><BR>“The big thing for us is to stay healthy. If we’re going to fight the injury bug all year, we’ll struggle. The big thing is to keep everybody going on the same page and keeping them healthy and eligible.”<BR><BR>Ely remains in Section 7AA for playoff purposes, but the Wolves drop into the Polar Conference Class A Division because they are the smallest AA school in the league. Ely’s schedule includes several Class A teams, including Carlton, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Chisholm, Barnum, Silver Bay and Cook County.<BR><BR>2004 Ely Timberwolves <BR><BR>Football Schedule<BR><BR>Friday: at Greenway<BR><BR>Sept. 10: Cook County<BR><BR>Sept. 17: Carlton<BR><BR>Sept. 24: at Nash.-Kee.<BR><BR>Oct. 1: Chisholm<BR><BR>Oct. 8: at Barnum<BR><BR>Oct. 15: Deer River<BR><BR>Oct. 20: at Silver Bay<BR><BR>Oct. 26: Section 7AA Playoffs Begin