Area Game of the Week -- Leaders emerge for Redmen

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

SMITH CENTER - Similar to every May, the Smith Center High School football team votes on captains for the upcoming season. The captains are expected to lead in the summer program and during the fall. This season, though, the captains had another responsibility: help the program after legendary coach Roger Barta retired following eight state titles in 35 years. Longtime junior high coach Darren Sasse took over the program.

"They have done a tremendous job this summer of being leaders," Sasse said.

The five captains are senior quarterback Kody Molzahn, senior running back Grant Lambert, senior linemen Wyatt Oliver and Cole Lorenzen and senior end Taylor Zabel. On Friday, Smith Center opens the season playing host to rival Norton. The captains believe they have certain responsibilities for a veteran team that returns eight starters on both sides of the ball.

"Get the team together and becoming just one unit," Lorenzen said. "Everybody on the same page, on the same speed."

"To believe," Molzahn added.

Smith Center, 6-4 with a district championship in 2012, is one of the more experienced 2-1A teams. Molzahn and lineman Jordan Shockley and Nick Johnson were all-league offense last year. Defensively, Lorenzen, Shockley, Lambert, Oliver and Zabel earned honors.

"There is a lot of guys with experience," Sasse said. "There are a lot of guys that have played a lot of football for us. Even some of the juniors that were sophomores last year saw some playing time, especially early when we had a couple of injuries. There is a good, core group. There is a couple of sophomores that moved up last year. We definitely have some quality kids."

Molzahn has played quarterback throughout his career, but moved to running back for a year last season when Payton Buckmaster was under center. Molzahn is back in 2013.

"He is a quiet leader," Sasse said. "Probably sometimes too quiet. I would like him to be a little more vocal sometimes."

Lambert came off an injury two seasons ago and started at running back and linebacker after some preseason injuries to other teammates before the 2012 season.

"If everybody does their job, I believe we can shock a lot of people this season," Lambert said.

Up front, Smith Center traditionally has an undersized, but a strong and quick line. This season is no different. Longtime assistant coach Dennis Hutchinson, who coached Sasse at Smith Center during his playing days on the line, also retired. Now, Sasse is line coach and offensive coordinator.

"Teaching about the same stuff as they were," Lorenzen said. "Redmen football."

Oliver starts at center, while Lorenzen and Zabel are on the ends.

"Solid center in the middle of the line," Sasse said. "Talks, communicates well. Same at linebacker. He is an aggressive kid, a wrestler, very aggressive. Experienced from last year. We expect a lot out of him, too."

Lorenzen is under 6-feet tall and Zabel presents a big target at 6-4. Defensively, Lorenzen will start on the line, Lambert and Oliver at linebackers and Molzahn and Zabel in the secondary. Zabel, one of the area's taller players, was a ballhawk at free safety in 2012.

"Very intelligent kid," Sasse said.

"He played tackle last year on offense and this year, he will be moving to tight end. Use his athletic ability some. A skilled kid. A big kid. I think he will provide some mismatches and get him down the field sometimes when we do want to throw."