HURLEY — Hurley isn’t going to find much sympathy for all of the losses it suffered through graduation. And the Midgets probably won’t need it.
The Midgets’ all-time leading rusher, Jarret Rhenlund, graduated. So did Grant Innes, Mike Henning and David Mathias, all special award winners in the Great Western Conference.
Six players return for their third year as a starter. It may be the biggest Hurley has been up front and, somehow, the backfield looks as hard as ever to stop. The Midgets have looked good in the preseason, but a tough, sure-to-be-telling front portion of the schedule awaits.
“Once we get through some of those games, we’ll know what we’ve got,” Hurley coach Scott Erickson said.
He knows what he’s got in the program, which has kept winning and kept kids working consistently in the off-season.
“It’s feeding itself right now,” he said. “It’s like next man in.”
Hurley looks to contend for a fourth straight Great Western Conference title.
“I’m hoping we’re going to be near the top,” Erickson said. “I think we’ve got Forest Park and Lake Linden and Gogebic, I think those guys are the ones you’re going to have to do well against. It always depends on who you’ve got at home (FP, Gogebic, not Lake Linden). That’s always a big thing.”
The goals don’t change here: Win the Gogebic Range (beat Ironwood and the Gogebic Miners), win the Great Western, make the playoffs for a 16th straight time and win a playoff game.
The last one can be the most unpredictable. The Midgets rushed for 450 yards against Pittsville in last year’s Level 1 game at home … and lost 34-29. Pittsville’s passing attack was tough to stop on a beautiful October day, something that’s hardly typical at playoff time.
“We got a bad matchup right off the bat, probably the second-best team in that regional,” Erickson said.
A starting backfield that’s partially new doesn’t look like new for a team that runs except for a handful of passes per game: A tough fullback in Mark Saari, Roman Lupino in his third year there and Jacob Colassaco and Mitchell Maki sharing the third spot.
Saari is a 6-0, 195 senior who has also moved to the middle on defense and swarmed to play after play at last week’s scrimmage in Ashland.
“You don’t replace a guy like Jarret with all the records and stuff he set, but I tell you what, I feel pretty good about Mark,” Erickson said. “We’re going to have a good backfield. We’re very good back there.”
Lupino, a senior, at 5-10, 175, is 15 pounds heavier than last year. He had his biggest year on the ground when Henning missed time due to injury two years ago. Lupino rushed for 800 yards.
“He’s significantly stronger and he’s going to have a special year if he stays away from injuries,” Erickson said.
Colassaco and Maki will share the running back spot and Colassaco will play some tight end. Colassaco (5-11, 160, senior) holds the school record for career receiving touchdowns at 13.
Giving Colassaco some carries in the backfield allows him to touch the ball about 10 times per game because Hurley doesn’t pass often.
“You can’t take a guy out of tight end that has had the production he’s had, but you want to get him the ball a little more,” Erickson said.
Maki (6-0, 195) is just a sophomore.
“Mitchell Maki is a heck of a guy to have in there, too,” Erickson said.
Seniors Jared Wendt (6-3, 175) and Chris Edyvean (6-4, 247) will also bring some size to the tight end spot.
The six captains were all-conference selections last year, either first team or honorable mention: Saari, Lupino, Colassaco, Edyvean, Jordan Kolpin (OL/DL, 6-5, 228) and Wayne Allen III (5-10, 195).
It’s Allen’s third year at center. Two inexperienced guards surround him, but Allen can help them, Erickson said.
“He knows how to call the fronts, knows how to get it blocked,” Erickson said.
Kolpin is moving from the left to right side of the line.
“Last year, he played on half a leg because he had an ankle injury that bothered him from Forest Park week on out,” Erickson said. “He looks real good right now.”
Besides being tight end, Edyvean is also a defensive end, where his long arms also help.
“Chris has been a stalwart on defense the last two years,” Erickson said.
Hurley is changing back to a 4-3 defense with an abundance of defensive linemen.
“I know they’re some stout individuals there,” Erickson said. “Whether they can get off blocks and make plays, Park Falls didn’t get much (last week). Certainly run defense has been our specialty the last number of years. We’re going to have to be a little better in the pass defense game.
“There’s no doubt we have a large team, as large as we’ve had. Up front, I don’t think we’ve ever been bigger up front. Ontonagon and Baraga have been big and haven’t produced as well as they wanted. We have to do things with discipline and execution. I think our coaches will put them in positions to excel.”
Sophomore James Sukanen (6-5, 197) is the starting quarterback with support from junior Jake Tenlen (6-1, 145). They are good at opposite things.
“James has a good year under his belt, throwing the ball solid and he has a good grasp of the system,” Erickson said. “Jake, he’s certainly better at the keep-out play and the running quarterback scenarios. His lack is in the passing game and James kind of excels in the passing game.
“It’s a luxury to have somebody like that there and ready to go.”
Other Midgets include, seniors: Cameron Rowe (OL/LB, 5-10, 180), Noah Clark (5-8, 249) and Michael Brannigan (RB/DB, 5-9, 169); juniors: Nick Fink (RB/LB, 5-7, 176), Cole Huotari (RB/DB, 5-9, 138), Zach Ofstad (RB/LB, 5-10, 180), Jake Zeller (OL/DL, 6-1, 255), Jordan Moore (OL/DL, 5-10, 258), Jeff Franzoi (OL/DL, 6-2, 264) and Tate Massoglia (OL/DL, 5-10, 314); sophomores Ronnie Nickel (RB/DB, 5-10, 148), Jacob Saari (OL/LB, 5-9, 185), Chris Rye (OL/DL, 6-2, 210), Matt Christoferson (OL/DL, 6-3, 285) and Erik Barker (TE/LB, 6-2, 190).
The Midgets will have fewer than five two-way players on what Erickson considers to be an unselfish group.
“We’ve got some depth that is very good to have,” Erickson said.
Erickson begins his 22nd year as head coach with a 150-68 record. Defensive coordinator Dave Lundin and line coach Dan Rye also start their 22nd year. Bob Ross and Wayne Binz are JV coaches. Assistant coach Greg Rigoni starts his 30th year and Paul Jurakovich returns. Former Midgets quarterback Mike Swartz (2004-05) and Hurley principal Jeff Gulan are new assistants.