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Ely jumps back to 11-man

PITCH PLAY - Ely quarterback Deegan Richards pitched the ball to a teammate during football practice earlier this week at Ely School Stadium. Richards and the Wolves open up Thursday night, at home, against International Falls. Observing at practice was former Wolves head coach Brian Lamppa. Photo by Parker Loew

HS football team has additional depth, looks to improve

by Tom Coombe

With new players in key positions, combined with a new slate of opponents, the Ely Timberwolves are in  many ways heading into the deep unknown as the 2023 high school football season begins.

Some of the unanswered questions about the Wolves will begin to be answered Thursday, when they host International Falls in the 7 p.m. season opener at Ely School Stadium.

For the first time in more than a decade, Ely will play a full slate of 11-man football games.

Ely, which went 1-7 last fall, played a 9-man schedule during the regular season but moved up  to the 11-man ranks for the playoffs, falling to Braham in the Section 7A quarterfinals.

Because the program is now combined with neighboring Northeast Range, Ely must play in the 11-man ranks and the opposition this year is almost entirely brand new, save for a rematch with 2022 playoff foe Braham.

It comes as the Wolves retool a bit, especially on offense with the graduation of quarterback Gunnar Hart and running backs Jason Kerntz and Erron Anderson.

But third-year head coach Louie Gerzin and the Wolves seem up to the challenges that  are ahead.

“We’ve got some young guys stepping up in new positions and a couple of guys who didn’t play football in years prior stepping up and doing a good job,” said Gerzin. “I’m excited for what the future holds for us.”

Turnout for the program is relatively strong, with 29 players in grades 9-12.

The extra numbers are needed given the move up in class but Gerzin said the team has adjusted.

“It hasn’t been as hard as any of us really anticipated,” said Gerzin. “Since we started as 11-man right from the first day of practice it has been a pretty easy transition.”

The Wolves will need some new playmakers on offense and juniors Brady Eaton and Alex Merriman will get plenty of work out of the backfield.

Ely will also need to get the ball to senior Deegan Richards.

“He’s an athletic kid,” Gerzin said about Richards. “We have to try to get him the football and get him out in space so he can be an athlete.”

Richards is one of two potential quarterbacks for the Wolves. He has split time at the position in practice with freshman Sean Merriman.

“It’s a tossup for quarterback right now,” said Gerzin. “We’ll see how Sean does in there these next couple weeks and we do have Deegan to fall back on.”

Gerzin is impressed with the size of his offensive line, which will be anchored by senior center Chase Anderson.

On Anderson’s left up front will be junior Garrett Rohr and senior Braydin Mosher, while seniors Robert Towley and Gavin Marshall anchor the right side.

“Normally in my experience we’ve been pretty undersized there,” Gerzin said. “But this year we seem to be stacked up pretty well.”

Sophomores Jesse Oelke and Tyler Fritz give the Wolves a couple of capable and athletic tight ends.

On defense, the Wolves will go with Rohr, Marshall and Fritz up front and turn to a deep and athletic complement of linebackers.

They include senior Matt Bock, Alex Merriman, Richards, Eaton, Anderson, Summit Smith and Jon Schlosser.

The secondary will be nailed down by Oelke and Sean Merriman.

The Wolves are also looking to develop more depth.

“We’re going to have to transition some guys at multiple positions just to make sure we can patch things up,” said Gerzin.

Gerzin said “limiting penalties and negative plays” will be key to staying competitive.

“We have to play fundamental football and not try to do too much,” said Gerzin.

While traditional 9-man powers Mt. Iron-Buhl and Cherry are no longer on the schedule, the Wolves have some rugged opposition ahead, including Braham, Deer River and Barnum.

But International Falls, this week’s opponent, has struggled on the gridiron in recent years and Gerzin is hopeful his Wolves can battle with many of the opponents on the eight-game regular season slate.

“It’s a new conference for me and for the rest of the staff and we’re taking it day by day,” said Gerzin. “I don’t think the rest of the conference is out of reach for us and I think we can compete well.”

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