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Game of the Week: Players change position for Wallace County

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Wallace High School football team has seven seniors. Six have played more than one season and all half-dozen have the "C" denoted for captain on the online roster.

However, lineman Tyrell Springsteel is the only one of those six who has never earned all-league honors. Springsteel is also the lone captain who wasn't a returning starter.

But Springsteel put in a lot of weight room work in the summer mornings and now starts at defensive end. Before the season started, coach Kevin Ayers said he expected Springsteel to make "big contributions" in 2013.

"Work your butt off," Springsteel said.

Springsteel was one of several position changes for the Wildcats, ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man, Division II in the statewide media poll, in a season-opening 51-0 victory against Dighton.

The game was called at halftime because of the 45-point mercy rule. Springsteel had just 16 tackles in his career, but collected a career-high eight last Friday.

"I know I had something to prove," Springsteel said.

Because of Springsteel starting, senior Callahan Grund -- who collected 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks, second-best on the team in 2012 -- moved out to cornerback. Springsteel also played some at nose guard to spell senior Dalton Walker and then Grund had some snaps at end.

"Still trying to find that best fit defensively, but we were very pleased with his play at defensive end," Ayers said.

The change helped Wallace County force five turnovers and finish plus-four in turnover margin, an area that Ayers stressed during fall camp. Wallace County, the classification's No. 1 scoring defense last season, held Dighton to 41 yards.

The Hornets had never scored fewer than 14 points since it ended a co-operative agreement with Ness City after the '09 season.

"He has just been a kid that has just constantly worked, constantly learned, tried to do what is right," Ayers said of Springsteel. "We have really seen him come into his own physically over this last year. A lot of this is from extremely hard work and want to get out there and contribute to our football team, and I couldn't have been more pleased on Friday night."

As well, senior Kyle Gfeller, an all-league tailback last season, started at quarterback after four-year starter Gavin Mote graduated.

"Very big role to fill," Gfeller said. "Just tried to do my best."

Gfeller had completed 12 of 23 passes for 178 yards with a 3/0 TD/INT ratio before last Friday, but called the start "very nerve-wracking," because he hadn't taken many snaps.

He completed 2 of 4 passes for 22 yards with a TD and rushed 10 times for 56 yards and two scores.

"He had an extremely good summer," Ayers said. "I thought he ran the offense well."

"Have to be smart," Gfeller added.

Defensively, Gfeller picked off two passes and now has six in his career, at safety.

"Some of them came from a little pressure on the quarterback, which also helps, so you have got to give the D-line some credit," Ayers said. "But Kyle was also right place, right time, getting back there, being a quarterback, being in the right drop, in the right place, and he did a nice job of that."

Wallace County also picked up three fumbles. Gfeller said the team was "more aggressive."

In 2007, the Wildcats went 13-0 and forced 37 turnovers en route to the Eight-Man Division II state championship.

Since then, Wallace County has forced 16, 24, 15, 22, and 21 turnovers the last five years, an average of 1.92 turnovers per game. From 2009-12, the Wildcats finished plus-12, minus-5, plus-9, and plus-6 in turnover margin.

Ayers talked about turnovers throughout camp. The point was solidified further when Ayers watched the NFL during the weekend and he saw a stat that said turnover margin is the No. 1 statistic in determining wins and losses.

"It's definitely been a focal point," Ayers said. "I would say we are stressing it a little bit more. We have always really stressed it, but we have just ramped it up. It's something that has definitely hurt us in the past, and it's something that we want to take care of and definitely win that battle every Friday night."