It's not known whether the famous bacon from Thelen's Meat Market or the bologna from Patrick's Bar and Grill have anything to do with it, but the town of Pierz knows how to develop running backs.
Two years ago Craig Luberts rushed the Pierz Pioneers into the Class 2A state semifinals. Luberts rushed for 2,103 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2003. He finished his three-year career with a school-record 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns.
Last year, in the Pioneers' first state football championship season, Christian Even and Warren Gall rushed for a collective 3,210 yards and 43 touchdowns on 420 carries.
This year, Gall, a senior, returns with his 1,433 yards and 20 touchdowns from 2004. He was a first-team All-Central Minnesota Conference selection, a Brainerd Dispatch All-Area team member and was voted the conference's specialist of the year.
Also back is junior Bryan Virnig, who burst onto the Pioneers' scene with 42 yards on five carries during a 20-6 state semifinal victory over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown last year. Virnig also returned a punt 50 yards as he replaced the injured Gall.
"Experience is such a big thing," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "Warren looks so good through the first few weeks of practice. Then Virnig came on late last year and he really looks good, too.
"With Virnig and Gall we have a nice inside-outside attack. Warren looks quicker this year and Virnig is just fast. If he gets in the open field he's gone. Warren just doesn't seem to make a bad cut. He makes great cuts and that's something you can't coach."
The Pioneers hope their two-headed backfield, along with the return of senior quarterback Mike Pohlkamp, senior running back Kyle Bednar, senior tight end Mark Korf and senior receivers Tyler Hoheisel and Jerron Boser, will get them back to the state tournament.
Conference: Central Minnesota
2004 records: 6-1 conf, 12-2 overall
Head coach: Leo Pohlkamp, 10th year (132-62)
Assistants: Rick Sczublewski, Dave Rocheleau, Dean Dahman, Dan Saehr, Adam Langer
"I like to run as much as possible, but we're going to throw a lot more this year," said Leo Pohlkamp. "Mike is throwing the ball really well this year. They always say a year's experience slows everything down.
"Mike's a nice athlete. He had two key games against Hawley and Esko where he made some nice throws. This is his team and he just looks smooth right now."
Last year Mike Pohlkamp was 61-of-126 passing for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Hoheisel caught seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Gall caught 11 passes for 108 yards. Boser had two receptions for 78 yards and a score and Korf had three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Also back is senior guard Kyle Girtz (second-team all-conference, all-section), senior tackle Scott Saehr (second-team all-conference, all-section), senior guard Jeremy Monson, senior tackle Brandon Grittner and senior guard Justin Bednar. Those five helped the Pioneers rack up 4,037 yards rushing, 1,096 yards passing and 492 points last season.
"We lost our interior three guys and we're hoping Kyle Girtz and Jeremy Monson can fill in at the guards," said Pohlkamp. "Scott Saehr, our three-year starter at defensive tackle, will play tackle and Grittner is the lone returning starter at tackle."
On defense Girtz brings back 120 tackles and two interceptions. Gall finished with 30 tackles from his strong safety spot. Saehr had four sacks and 90 tackles and Justin Bednar had 37 tackles, two sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
Leo Pohlkamp said team speed on defense will be the strength along with Saehr clogging the middle of the line.
All special team players also are back. On extra points Gall was the long snapper, Mike Pohlkamp the holder and Monson, with 31 extra points, was the kicker. Monson was also kicked off with Gall the punter.
Additional varsity candidates
Senior -- Chuck Boser (RB/DB), Chad Britz (C/LB), Cory Przybilla (G/LB), Mike Schirmers (RB/LB)
Juniors -- Scott Herold (WR/DB), Aaron Welle (G/DT), Paul Preimesberger (C/NG), Cody Varner (RB/LB) , Cody Smude (T/DT).
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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