GNK

Pictured are seniors on the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin football team this season. In the front row, from left, are Alex Milstead, DeAngelo Jefferson, Logan Bluntach, Deja Cerutti-Allen, and Eli Conaway. In back are Tom Cuellar, Luke Casey, Jake Manee, Blace Tomberlin, Jager Nash, Dylan DeChampeau.

COLERAINE — With a number of dynamic athletes returning from a team that lost in the Section 7AAA championship game last season, the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (G/N-K) football team enters the 2019 season on an optimistic note.

The Titans will open their season on Friday, Aug. 29, when they play host to the Hibbing Bluejackets in a 7 p.m. contest at Dixon/Barle Field in Coleraine. G/N-K head coach Bob Schwartz – who has been at the helm since the 1994 season – said he is looking forward to a good season from his team.

“Last year we went to the section finals and we had a chance to win it on the last play. A safety made a heck of a play and picked the ball off,” said Schwartz. “If not we would have had a touchdown and we would have won. You can’t get much closer to going to state than that.”

Schwartz said last year’s team was comprised of a group of hard-nosed kids, and it was blessed with a stable of three good running backs and a line that was able to control the line of scrimmage.

“We also didn’t make many mistakes,” the coach said. “They just kept getting better as the year went on. They played some good, hard-nosed football.”

G/N-K was hurt by graduation, losing a number of key players, but Schwartz said it happens every year.

“Every year you wonder how you are going to recover from the kids you lose, but then every year when kids become seniors football means that much more to them,” Schwartz said. “You go as far as your seniors take you year in and year out.”

Schwartz said the Titan coaching staff is excited about the group of seniors returning. They include Dylan DeChampeau, Eli Conaway, Tom Cuellar, Jager Nash, Blace Tomberlin, Jake Manee, DeAngelo Jefferson, Logan Bluntach, Deja Cerutti-Allen, Luke Casey, and Alex Milstead.

In addition, Schwartz said there is a good number of juniors who are ready to contribute to the team this season.

“We have a great mix between our junior and senior classes and they really balance each other out really well,” the coach said.

Schwartz said the No. 1 factor for a successful season for the Titans this year is staying healthy.

“That is always the biggest thing and any coach that tells you differently hasn’t been around long enough,” Schwartz explained. “You have to stay healthy in high school football. Another thing is we have to get better on defense; hopefully our offense can carry us a little bit with the athletes that we can put on the field. We are looking for our defense to learn how to play the game.”

Conaway and Jefferson will carry much of the load of the G/N-K running attack this season. An ace in the hole for the Titans is Blace Tomberlin, who comes over from Hibbing and who was a multi-year starter for the Bluejackets at quarterback. He is a speed merchant and will be used in different ways by G/N-K. In addition, Schwartz feels the Titans have two of the best receivers in the area in DeChampeau and Cuellar.

“We are excited about our offense and what it can do,” the coach said. “But athletes still can’t do anything without linemen in front of them. Those guys are where it is going to matter.”

Linemen who are expected to provide good things include bookend tackles Jack Lorenz and Keegan Warmuth.

In Section 7AAA, Schwartz feels Esko, Proctor and defending champion Two Harbors will all be good.

“I don’t know where we lie in week No. 1, but I know where we want to lie with them during the week of the section final,” Schwartz smiled. “That’s our goal every year, to be in the section final,”

Jamie Guyer will be the offensive coordinator while Mark Gibeau is co-head coach. Joe Westlake will serve as defensive coordinator and Ben Sletten will be line coach. Nick Emanuel will coach the special teams while Jordan Peratalo will assist in a number of areas.

The Titans will open the season Friday at Coleraine against Hibbing. Schwartz said he really doesn’t know a whole lot about the Bluejackets.

“Unfortunately we haven’t played them for a couple of years,” Schwartz said. “No. 1, I am very excited Hibbing is back on our schedule. It is Labor Day Weekend and I hope Hibbing comes over with a big group of people and the G/N-K fans show up.

“I am sure Hibbing is going to be fired up over the rivalry and it is going to be a great game. In the first week you are going to have different bounces and kids making mistakes so you never know. I am excited it is an Iron Range Conference local game.”

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