MANISTIQUE - When Manistique head football coach Todd Kangas took the field to begin practices this year, he saw quite a few new faces on his squad.
There are 17 new players on the Emeralds roster this year, and only nine returning seniors.
As far as coach Kangas sees it, so far so good.
In the 2011 season opener at Negaunee, Manistique’s Kenner Broullire attempts to evade a Miners’ tackler while breaking through the line last season as the Emeralds’ junior quarterback. In 2012, Broullire is moving to tailback for his senior season while junior Tyler Kangas takes over as quaterback. (Journal file photo)
"We have had good competition at all the positions," he said. "I think we've improved greatly over the past year. It's been a very good week and a half so far of practices.
"There is a definite improvement in all areas, offense and defense, and a little more depth than we've had in the past."
According to Kangas, one of the benefits of this year's group is having the ability to have some two-way players, but they will also be able to do more one-way playing than they ever have in the past.
"That will be a definite bonus for us," Kangas said.
As far as Manistique's style of play, not much will be different. The Emeralds are sticking to what has worked well for them in the past, with only a couple of exceptions.
"We are going to be more of an I-back team than we have in the past," Kangas said. "We've been more flexible in the past six years. We'll use some of that, but we're going to base our offense out of I-backs."
Besides that, Kenner Broullire, the Emeralds starting quarterback last season, will be coming in as a tailback this season. The void at quarterback will be filled by junior Tyler Kangas, with senior Zach Lambert taking a few snaps in a backup role.
Kangas said the Mid-Peninsula Conference is one of the toughest conferences to compete in on a consistent basis, since every team usually has a lot of skilled players to work with, and a lot of different things they can do. The coach doesn't see this year being any different, he said.
"The conference is always strong, top to bottom," Kangas said. "I would think that Ishpeming may be the favorite going in (to the season), but I'm always going to have a strong senior class."
Kangas really emphasized the competition amongst his players in an effort to earn starting spots, and the benefit that has had in trying to build a solid team.
"I really like the things we've done so far. I like the guys we have on the team," Kangas said. "We have good work ethic. I think we have some good senior leadership.
"We have a group of senior guys that who have been together (for) a while, and want to take a giant step forward from last year. And when these guys are leading, it takes a bit of the responsibility off of the coaches."
Because there are so many strong teams in the M-PC, coaches are left to prepare for a battle each and every time they take the field, Kangas said.
"Until we see them all, we worry about them all, but Ishpeming has put themselves in the position to be the clear favorite," Kangas said.
The Emeralds are coming off of a 1-8 record in the 2011 season. Most teams might find it difficult to hold their heads high going into a new year, but with the senior group that Kangas has, he isn't worried about that, he said.
"I think they're hungry to be successful," Kangas said.
"That's our senior group. It's been a disappointing couple of years, (both our) record and overall. We have a group of seniors that want to kind of erase that and leave their own legacy here, and that's what we're looking toward. Winning the conference is the number one goal obviously, but we want to be in the top part of the conference. We put ourselves in a good position to be in the playoffs if we do that."