NEGAUNEE - Going 5-4 last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 did not set well with a Negaunee High School football team accustomed to success.
Head coach Paul Jacobson, entering his 13th season at the Miners' helm, admits his 2011 edition "struggled at times."
"The injury bug played a big part," he said following a preseason practice session. "We weren't very deep and that hurt us. We also didn't execute well."
Negaunee quarterback Tyler Uren drops back to pass against Iron Mountain on Sept. 16 in Negaunee. Uren at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, will be back at quarterback as a senior this year after completing 25 of 52 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. (Journal file photo)
Jacobson is confident this year's NHS edition will return to postseason play, however, mainly due to the 12 seniors he has on the current roster.
"I like our senior leadership," he said. "They're coming to the forefront."
The Miners will again be an I-formation team on offense with an option attack.
Senior Tanner Uren (6-2, 185) will be back at quarterback after completing 25 of 52 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns last season.
"We're looking for him to come into his own this year," Jacobson said. "We tried to put too much on his shoulders a year ago.
"He's a competitor. He likes to win."
Senior Adam Francis (6-0, 195) will likely be at tailback.
"He dislocated his thumb last season and missed some games, but he's a quiet leader and a real hard worker," the NHS coach said.
"He may not be the fastest or the strongest guy, but in key situations, he'll come out on top."
Senior Dustin Goupille (5-10, 185) and junior Austin Caya (5-6, 160) will alternate at fullback.
"We're looking to get back to a fullback game and both are fast and physical," Jacobson said.
Experienced tight ends and seniors Brock Weaver (6-7, 205) and Tony Zampese (5-9, 205) will give Jacobson some outside presence, as well as strong run blocking.
Senior Andrew Katona (6-2, 180) and junior Zane Radloff (6-4, 170) will be at wide receiver.
At center, juniors Tyler Thomas (5-11, 290) and Jeremy Bell (6-3, 185) are battling for playing time.
Returning starter Alex Dempsey (6-0, 225 senior) and Joe Beerman (6-1, 240 junior) will man the guard positions, with seniors Nolan Bergstrom (6-2, 225) and Christian MacDonald (6-0, 185) returning at tackle with game experience.
"We might not be as big as we have been in the past (along the line), but we'll be stronger and quicker," Jacobson said.
In Negaunee's 4-2 defense, Bergstrom and MacDonald are set to be at end, with returnees Dempsey and Zampese at tackle.
Francis and junior Dan Brown (5-11, 195) are set at inside linebacker, while Caya, Weaver and Goupille will be in the mix on the outside.
"Francis puts himself in good situations to have success," Jacobson said, adding Caya, Weaver and Goupille "can all get to the ball real well."
Katona, who started at free safety last season, will be moved to cornerback to join senior Devyn Menghini (5-8, 140) and junior Kevin O'Keefe (5-8, 145).
"We thought with Katona's intelligence, he'd be able to help us on the corner. He can be the brains of the operation in the defensive backfield," Jacobson said.
Junior Tyler LaJoie (5-10, 165) is penciled in at free safety.
"We're going to be faster on defense than last year with more speed on the edge," Jacobson said. "We also have some experience in the backfield, which should enable us to make appropriate (defensive) adjustments."
The Miners open Aug. 24 at Manistique and play three of their first four games on the road.
"As long as kids get in a routine and you can keep them focused, you can use that to your advantage on the road," the coach said.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.