For the first time in 35 years, Steve Nunnink will not be on the sidelines with Ron Stolski.
Stolski and Nunnink became an inseparable football coaching tandem in the fall of 1971 at Park Center. When Stolski moved to Brainerd in 1975 to become head coach of the Warriors, he brought Nunnink with as defensive coordinator.
Nunnink suffered a brain aneurysm Aug. 29, 2003, following the season opener and is recuperating in the Twin Cities.
"It's real different," Stolski said of Nunnink's absence. "In a lot of ways it's lonesome. We're awfully busy but we're never too busy to think of our friend. There will be a huge void on the sidelines. We should never forget Steve and all he's done."
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Head coach -- Ron Stolski, 43rd season (30th at Brainerd, 4 at Park Center, 6 at Princeton, 1 at Slayton, 2 at Kensington).
Career record -- 270-131-5 (.673).
Brainerd record -- 198-96 (.673).
2003 finish -- 5-1 CLC, 7-3 overall.
Returning starters -- Korey Horn (LB), Will Kassulker (LB), Kiel Browne (LB), Clinton Strother (DL), Anthony Hennen (DB), Pete Hiltner (OT), Brady Prince (RB), Geoff Roberts (RB).
Assistant coaches -- Aaron Anderson, Tom Idstrom, Scott Parsons, Deryl Ramey, Mark Embretson, Chet Stevenson, Jeff Ramey, Troy Nelson, Mike Langer, Joe Pohlkamp, Wade Haapajoki.
Nunnink will be replaced as defensive coordinator by Tom Idstrom, a Warriors assistant the past two years.
Defense appears to be an early strength of the 2004 Warriors, who return five defensive starters from a team that went 7-3, losing to Cambridge-Isanti in the section semifinals.
Expected to lead the 3-5 alignment are lineman Clinton Strother (6-foot-2, 215), linebackers Kiel Browne (6-2, 210), Will Kassulker (6-3, 210) and Korey Horn (6-3, 210) and defensive back Anthony Hennen (6-0, 180).
Kassulker, an all-conference selection, led the team in tackles with 152. He added two quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Horn, a two-year starter, made 91 tackles and had four sacks. Hennen had 90 tackles, Browne 86 and Strother 50.
"We expect to have good defensive speed," Stolski said. "Our linebackers are good-size kids that can run. Our secondary can run.
"The key to our defense is level I (the line). That was a strength last year, with Nate Lucas, Brandon Freihammer and Strother. The key is how quickly our young kids come on because level I is so important."
Brainerd returns three offensive starters -- jumbo tackle Pete Hiltner and running backs Brady Prince (6-0, 170) and Geoff Roberts (5-9, 180).
Hiltner (6-6, 305) helped Brainerd average 301 yards and 25 points a game.
Prince led the team in rushing with 657 yards and was second in scoring with eight touchdowns. Roberts added 202 yards and two scores.
"Offensively, we have good team speed," Stolski said. "We have hopes for a good, strong offensive line.
"We will run the ball like always, and mix in the pass. We have a number of kids who can catch and we're throwing pretty well. We hope to have a balanced offense. We may be a little more physical than we've been in recent years."
Stolski plans to continue running the shotgun and wishbone offenses.
"We look at ourselves as a multiple-offensive set football team with an option philosophy," he said. "Whether we're in the wishbone, the gun or the 'I,' option football has been successful for us."
Since 1989, Brainerd is 123-40-0 (.755). During that span it has shared five conference championships and won one outright conference title. It has been section champion three times and section runner-up seven times. Brainerd has won or shared the last four conference titles.
At quarterback, Mike O'Day is the only senior candidate. Juniors are Mike Baker and John Haberman. Sophomores Zach Eastman and C.J. Peeters are also in the mix.
"We're pleased with Mike O'Day," Stolski said. "He might have a little edge right now but not enough to say he's the guy. There's a lot of competition at that position."
Quarterback -- Mike Baker, John Haberman, Mike O'Day,
Running back -- Riley Cullinane, Joe Edberg, Mark Matich, Brady Prince, Geoff Roberts, James Strand, Clinton Strother,
Wide receiver -- Scott Badeaux, Pat Bevans, Jeremy Bock, Wayne Compton, Ryan Forcier, Mike Giese, Nate Gonnion, Zach Heidmann, Adian Kummet, Jake Noble, Jed Reedy,
Tight end -- Grant Jaeche, Carl Sneep
Linemen -- Jeremy Edelman, Pete Hiltner, Kyle Holbrook, Jason Larson, James Munsch, Jordan O'Hotto, Derek Olson, Brett Skalisky, Taylor Stevenson,
Kicker -- Nick Edwards, Tim Halverson
Line -- James Cox, Travis Fox, Jason Klaverkamp, Dan Lepel, Adam Lueck, Ryan McKay, Casey Schmitz, Chris Schwarze, Tom Sheveland, Brandon Smith, Strother, Nate Welliver
Linebackers -- Brett Abrahamson, David Beilke, Kiel Browne, Jason Bye, Brad DeChantal, Korey Horn, Will Kassulker, Travis Miller, Ryan Peltoma, Dylan Stupca
Secondary -- Jeremy Anderson, Joe Anhalt, Shane Dutton, Nick Edwards, Casey Geraets, Anthony Hennen, Matich
Punter -- Edwards, Strother
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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