Leading up to the Nebraska high school football season, NEPrepZone.com will be looking at the top teams in each class, based on last season’s final rankings. Class B takes the stage this week, with a new post each day. Let us know in the comments how you think each team will finish, as well as the players you’ll be watching.
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CLASS B NO. 1 OMAHA GROSS
Coach: Tim Johnk, eighth season.
Last season: Gross finished 12-1 and won its final 11 games, including the Class B state title.
Returning starters: WR/DB Jacob Johnson (Sr.), RB/LB Anthony Vigneri (Sr.), FB/LB Tyler Koraleski (Sr.), OG/DT Kyle Kuncl (Sr.), OL/DE Zach Becklun (Sr.), OT/DT Noah Arneson (Sr.).
Zach Johnk, QB: It’s difficult to break in a new quarterback, especially when he’s replacing an all-state selection who led his squad to a championship. Johnk threw for more than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing two-thirds of his attempts. Juniors Matt Herting and Connor Clark will compete to get the starting nod this fall.
KEY RETURNING PLAYER
Vigneri: Having a player lead his team in tackles for two consecutive years would make any coach happy. That sort of consistency is envied, especially when adjusting to a position change. Add in that the same player ran for 1,156 yards, found the end zone a dozen times and averaged seven yards per carry and you have Vigneri. His versatility will be needed in order for Gross to make a run at a repeat.
Whoever comes out of practice starting under center will be the most important newcomer. Taking the reigns following a state championship won’t be easy, especially with the pressure of a brutal schedule lying ahead.
Anchored by four-year starter Arneson, the offensive line should be a strong point for Gross. Becklun and Kuncl also return to provide holes for Vigneri and Koraleski, at least until Clark or Herting gains experience. The key will be protecting the ball, as Gross turned it over just nine times in 2012.
Defense wins championships. Don’t believe it? Then look at the Cougars’ path to a title. During the regular season, Gross allowed seven or less points seven times — including three shutouts. Not to mention it allowed just 20 points over their final three playoff contests. Gross forced 28 turnovers to finish with a plus-19 difference, which makes it awfully difficult to lose. All-state linebacker Vigneri returns to try and lead a similar stifling defense in 2013.
GAME TO WATCH
The easy answer would be the season finalé against Omaha Skutt, but Ralston is up-and-coming. An Oct. 4 road game against the Rams could prove to be an obstacle for Gross.
Ralston, Omaha Skutt, Omaha Roncalli.
“Our kids and staff expect to be very competitive again. I think we worked hard in the summer. Our kids understand the target that is now on their chest with everyone shooting for them. The key is to stay healthy. We’re not as deep as we were last year so staying healthy is very important.”
Aug. 30, Bennington
Sept. 6, at Elkhorn
Sept. 12, Schuyler
Sept. 20, at Crete
Sept. 27, at Waverly
Oct. 4, Elkhorn South
Oct. 11, at Ralston
Oct. 17, Omaha Roncalli
Oct. 25, Omaha Skutt
– Steven Elonich
To see previous entries from this series, go to NEPrepZone.com/prep-previews.