Returning linemen should help activate Apple Valley’s run game
The challenge for Apple Valley football hasn’t changed much – compete in Class 5A by getting the maximum out of a smaller roster.
Several Eagles players said Monday the team is up to the challenge.
“We have a lot of athletes,” said senior running back and linebacker Conner Elliott, a two-time all-conference player and one of this year’s captains. “And they’re starting to understand what we need to do to be a good team.”
Jaden Garrison, another captain who’s a senior wide receiver and safety, took it a step further. “I think we can be as good as any team in the state,” he said. “We have a chance to be up there with St. Thomas Academy.”
The Eagles will get a chance to prove it soon enough. Their season opener is Sept. 3 at Mahtomedi, a team that was 5-1 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and will play St. Thomas Academy later in the year.
Apple Valley was 2-4 last year and one of the Eagles’ problems was consistency on offense. They were shut out in all four of their losses.
They hope to change that behind an offensive line that has several returning starters.
“I see one of our strengths being the O-line. We have a number of returning players there,” head coach Chad Clendening said. “We hope to be physical and efficient running the ball.”
Sean Schiefelbein is a senior captain and returning offensive line starter. Also back are juniors Deon Kelson, who started nearly every game as a freshman and sophomore, and Andrew Chedda, who started every game as a sophomore.
Elliott (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) is expected to get a lot of carries behind that line, but Clendening said he hopes to develop some depth at running back because Elliott, a three-year starter, also is an integral part of the defense at linebacker.
“I’m not sure how the ball distribution is going to look,” Clendening said. “Conner will be part of that equation, but with all of the things he does for us, if we can reduce it to some extent, it will be a big help. There’s an opportunity for someone there.”
Senior captain Hayden Hansen plays tight end and also could help with the rushing game.
None of the candidates to start at quarterback took many varsity snaps last season. Heading into the second week of practice the competition remained ongoing, Clendening said.
Some of the offensive lineman could see playing time on defense. Elliott will be asked to make a lot of tackles at linebacker. Clendening said junior Ian Haueter, who played three positions on defense last season, is one of the Eagles’ most versatile athletes.
Apple Valley’s defense allowed almost 24 points a game last season, and Clendening said the pandemic played a role.
“It’s amazing what you find you miss in a shortened season,” he said. “We just didn’t have a great deal of time last year to do the instruction from a technique standpoint. We’re doing more of that this year and we’ll give them as much as they can handle.”
This summer the Eagles have had full weightroom sessions and attended a team camp. “The team bonding, we had none of that last year,” Schiefelbein said. “It’s been great to get back to that and I really think it’s going to help our team.”
Apple Valley has just below 60 players in grades 10-12, a few less than the coaches would like. The Eagles maximize their depth by teaching many players more than one position, something coaches of Class 6A teams are finding it necessary to do now.
“We ask our players to know a position on both sides of the ball, or multiple positions on offense, for instance,” Clendening said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for kids to step into an important role.”
Saturday, Apple Valley will be one of numerous teams throughout Minnesota taking part in scrimmages (a handful are playing Zero Week games this week and will have bye weeks during the regular season). That’s another sign things are getting back what the Eagles remember.
“Most of all, it feels good to be operating under something that feels more normal,” Clendening said.
(All games 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Sept. 3: at Mahtomedi
Sept. 9 (Thur.): at Hastings
Sept. 17: at Bloomington Jefferson
Sept. 24: Cretin-Derham Hall
Oct. 1: Two Rivers
Oct. 8 (6 p.m.): at Robbinsdale Armstrong
Oct. 15: St. Thomas Academy
Oct. 20 (Wed.): Irondale