2013 High school football previews: Negaunee Miners

NEGAUNEE – It’s hard to replace experience.

But Negaunee has plenty of size and just plain raw talent to make up for that loss from a team that went 10-2 and won two MHSAA Division 6 playoff games a year ago.

The actual number of players who graduated isn’t huge, but their contributions were. Three-year starting quarterback Tanner Uren, running back Dustin Goupille, receiver Brock Weaver, defensive tackle Alex Dempsey and linebacker Adam Francis each earned All-Upper Peninsula honors last fall at those positions.

But returning is another All-U.P. selection, senior Tyler LaJoie, who was named to the Class ABC team as both a defensive back and a return specialist in 2012.

“Our juniors from last year can take what they learned then and stay focused,” said Miners head coach Paul Jacobson, who was nominated for Class ABC Coach of the Year as Negaunee was the unanimous selection as the U.P.’s Class C Team of the Year.

“Yes, it’s hard to lose good leaders, so as a team we need to find the kids to fill that niche of good leaders we had last year.”

When it comes down to Xs and Os, the basic Negaunee strategy won’t change.

“We have to be able to run on offense and be able to stop the run on defense,” said Jacobson, beginning his 14th year at the Miners’ helm. His teams have been to the playoffs 11 times in 13 years and his 2002 team won the MHSAA Division 6 state title.

LaJoie (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) returns as the starting tailback on offense, while fellow senior Austin Caya (5-6, 165) will be back at fullback. Top reserves are senior Kevin O’Keefe (5-8, 150) and Zak Harsila (5-11, 165).

The quarterback position is up for grabs between senior Tyler Windahl (6-0, 190), a transfer who filled in at the position in Ishpeming last season, and junior Ryan Syrjala (6-0, 190), who started with the JVs last year.

“Both are tremendous athletes and great kids,” Jacobson said, adding that while Syrjala has been in the Negaunee system for five years, Windahl has worked on learning a new terminology for a number of months now.

They have multiple quality targets available, including a big one in senior receiver Zane Radloff (6-5, 185), a returning starter, along with O’Keefe, senior Jason Cook (5-11, 170) and junior Jason Bell (6-2, 160).

The most experienced tight end is senior Brandon Coron (6-1, 190) while junior Logan Streeter (6-3, 210) adds depth.

On the line, two versatile seniors who return as starters allow Jacobson to move them around to make the best fit.

“It’s like putting a little puzzle together,” Jacobson said as those key pieces will be last year’s center Jeremy Bell (6-4, 220) and left guard Tyler Thomas (6-1, 280).

Top candidates to join them are seniors Brandon Vilona (6-2, 255), who was injured for a significant part of last season, Doug Lindblom (6-0, 235) and Kolton Klein (5-11, 240); and juniors Cole Francis (6-2, 235), Luke Jacobson (6-2, 220) and Hunter Ridley (6-2, 220).

The coach’s base 4-2 defense is anchored on the line by returning senior starter Trevor Hanson (5-11, 250), with Thomas and senior Jamie Collins (6-0, 270) in the mix.

At end will be Klein and Jeremy Bell to start and Francis and Luke Jacobson competing for spots.

At inside linebacker, senior Ian Mayotte (6-0, 180) returns as a starter with contributions to be made by Vilona, Ridley and Coron. Caya started at outside LB last season and should be joined by Windahl and Harsila.

In the secondary, LaJoie returns as starter at free safety and O’Keefe at cornerback, while Cook also saw time at corner. Figuring in the mix will be Jason Bell and junior Ryan Bischof (5-11, 155).

Windahl or Syrjala figure to handle punting duties and both are among “a hodgepodge” of candidates who could take on kicking duties.