With his back to the intended receiver, Damon Cody leaps to break up this pass in the end zone during Saturday’s scrimmage versus Houston. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
With his back to the intended receiver, Damon Cody leaps to break up this pass in the end zone during Saturday’s scrimmage versus Houston.

Sixteen returning letter winners will lead the Spring Grove football team out onto the gridiron this year.

The program graduated six seniors last season from a team that went 10-1 overall and 7-0 in SEC play, winning a third straight Southeast Conference Championship. The Lions made it all the way to the Section 1A Championship game just one win away from a state tourney berth.

Returning starters include 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior running back/linebacker Caleb Happel. He won all-conference honors last season, rolling up 786 yards rushing (8.6 yd. per carry) while scoring nine touchdowns. On defense, Happel had 95 tackles including 16 for a loss and 6 sacks. A devoted weightlifter, Happel has hefted 465-475 pounds in the squat and has bench pressed 380. He also covers the 40 yard dash is 4.91 seconds.

Senior (2012 All-Conference) guard/nose tackle Nick Holty also returns. He arrived for practice at 5-9, 205 and is one of four starting linemen who are back from an offense that blocked to spring teammates for 3,486 rushing yards and 59 touchdowns. Holty served as the deep snapper for placekicking last year.

Matt Schleich checks in at running back/linebacker. At 5-10, 165, the senior posted 292 yards rushing in 2012 averaging 7.9 yd. per carry while scoring 4 touchdowns. Schleich also had 71 stops while playing safety last season where he picked off 2 passes. He also returns as punter, kick-off man, and kick returner.

Junior Harrison Speltz will again play offensive guard/defensive end/linebacker. At 5-9, 235, he joins Happel, Holty, and Schleich as a 2013 team captain. Speltz is one of seven returning starters, two of which are sophomores. Alex Engelhardt (6-3, 175) is a tight end/linebacker who was All-SEC Honorable Mention last season. Engelhardt led the team in receptions as a freshman with 22, netting 397 yards. He also had 44 tackles and four sacks while playing at defensive end in 2012. Tight end/defensive end Brady Schuttemeier also started as a freshman last year. He checks in at a solid 6-3, 195.

Sadly for the Lions, returning starter Mitchell Anderson (6-3, 200) will have to sit out his senior year due to a torn ACL received at a football camp in South Dakota this summer. In 2012, he totaled 49 tackles, two interceptions and five passes broken up and was second in receptions.

Stepping up to a starting role at quarterback/cornerback will be junior Keenan Siminski. The 6-0, 170 pound letterwinner makes his debut as a varsity starter after quarterbacking the B-team last season, a position he's held throughout his career. In spite of injury, he managed to complete 25 of 47 passes for 315 yards for the B-team in 2012 throwing for three touchdowns while giving up three interceptions.

Junior Dustin Vickerman (6-1 170) will start at wide receiver/safety. Senior Zach Sanness (6-0 295) will start at center/nose tackle. Junior Tanner Sanness (6-1, 245) had some starting varsity time at tight end last year. He comes back this season at tight end/defensive end.

Senior Jayme Lenning (5-9, 165) is a reserve running back who is vying for a starting role at cornerback. Sophomore Dylan Kampschroer (5-7, 130) and freshman Damon Cody (5-5, 140) are other strong contenders for that cornerback post opposite Siminski.

Five other seniors include Jacob Lenning (5-9, 170) at guard/linebacker, Larry Schulte (6-1, 185) at tight end/defensive end and Mikal Guberud (5-7, 195) at guard/linebacker. Kody Olerud (5-8, 175) checks in at wide receiver/linebacker while Jack Benson (5-11, 169) is a wide receiver/safety.

Another leading candidate for some varsity playing time is freshman Jordan Jaster at center/nose tackle (5-10, 215). Also adding depth in the line are juniors Trent Thesing, Matt Mendez and Colin Matzke. Sophomore Gabe Solum adds depth in the backfield.

In addition to Jaster and Cody, there are several other talented freshmen moving up from last year's very successful junior high squad - quarterback Chase Grinde, Toby Leahy, Brock Schuttemeier, Kohl Vickerman and Devon Nerstad.

Three-time SEC Coach of the Year, Zach Hauser, returns for his eighth season. He served as assistant coach in 2006 and then took the reigns as head coach in 2007 where he's compiled a record of 39-22. He'll be aided by assistant coaches Kevin Klug (a 6 year vet), Heath Olson (offensive line), and Brian Anderson (JV).

Overall experience, strength (several power lifters are on the team), and a solid offensive line should be the hallmarks of the 2013 squad, Hauser reported recently. A relatively inexperienced defensive backfield may face some challenges early on.

"We hope to compete with the top teams in the conference," Hauser said. Those squads will likely include Grand Meadow, Houston, and Lanesboro, he added.

The Lions open Friday, Aug. 30, at Mabel-Canton in the lone non-conference game of the season. The teams will meet again in their SEC match-up to end the regular season.