2021 SD High School 11AA Football Season Preview

Pierre has done the unthinkable by winning four straight championships in class 11AA. Each season has been unique as to how close they were to the rest of the competition. This season promises to be one of the closest races in recent years. Several teams whether they’re in my top five or not have a shot to get to the dome. 

Jandy’s Preseason Top 5

1. Pierre

The Govs have just two starters back after four years in a row of claiming the state championship.  One of those guys is quarterback Lincoln Kienholz who is really good at what he does. Jack Merkwan got some action at receiver last year and will be counted on to step up for Pierre. Defensively Austin Foley has shown potential, he had 55 tackles last year and 5.5 TFL. Jayden Wiebe and Jacob Mayer also started some games as a sophomore and are back to lead on defense.

“We’re going to be a very young football team, we only have five or six guys who’ve had significant game experience,” said Head Coach Steve Steele. “We’re going to be smaller, and our skill positions are younger, but we want to grow and play our best late October and November.” This won’t be the biggest or strongest team, but they remain number one in the class until someone else takes that spot. 

2. Brookings

The Bobcats flourished under first-year Head Coach Brady Clark last year going 11-1 and finishing runner-up in the class. Eight starters return on offense and six on defense which puts them in a good spot despite losing some of the biggest impact players in the state in graduated seniors Josh Buri, Wes Koenig, John Noordsy, Keegan Fields and Parker Theobald as well as several other important players. “We lost some explosive players on both sides of the ball, so one of the most important things we need to figure out is what our identity is,” said Coach Clark. “Can we replicate that?”

Two important pieces of the team from a leadership perspective is quarterback Jaxon Bowes and linebacker/fullback Jaxton Eck. They will set the tone for the Bobcats. Five guys with starting experience come back to the offensive line including all-state selection Davis Engen. Defensively Gavin Fixsen and Brock Longville put up notable numbers on defense and are back again. After two straight runner-up finishes in 11AA Brookings would like to take that next step but have a lot of room to grow, “This may take time to figure out,” said Clark. “But I know once we understand what and who we are as a team, we will prosper!”

3. Yankton

The Bucks lifted off last season with an 8-0 start but didn’t finish the way they’d like to. They have a stocked cabinet ready to take the field this year with eight offensive starters and six on defense coming back. “We had a great off-season both in the weight room and for the kids that competed in other sports,” said coach Brady Muth. “Carrying that momentum into the summer will be paramount.”

They will trust Rugby Ryken at quarterback in this his junior season. He’s gotten stronger and more athletic and already has a good grasp at the position. The perimeter players for the Bucks are definitely a strength. Cameron Zahrbock is an all-state receiver with juniors Tyler Sohler and Cody Oswald ready to explode on offense. Max Raab is a big back who is another threat on offense. If they can get the line reset with three new starters they should be one of the top offenses in the class. Defensively James Stewart, Jaden Supurgeci, Sam Kampshoff and Cody Oswald give Yankton a good nucleus to build around.

4. Watertown

The Arrows move from 11AAA down a class this year. Six starters return on offense while seven are back on D. Head Coach John Hodorff is ready for the challenge, “We are coming into the season with an older group of athletes that have not seen a ton of varsity time. We are very young upfront and are hoping to learn to play together as the season goes on.” 

Drew Norberg projects as the opening day starter at quarterback. Many of Norberg’s passes will be directed to Cole Holden.  Mac Young had a solid junior year at running back with 438 yards. Paden Johnson (6’8) and Jarrett Theison (6’5) have the potential to be dominant cornerstones on a big offensive line. Some of the top talent on this team are defensive players like Ben Althoff, Mack Johnson and Hunter Wentijes.

5. Mitchell

The Kernels are coming off a disappointing 3-7 season but should have a stocked cupboard to contend this year. They have eight offensive starters and nine on defense back in the fold. Although they’ll have to replace the explosive power and speed that Parker Phillips supplied, they should be in good shape with Josh Grosdidier at running back and Jake Helleloid and Joe Van Overschelde at fullback. Tucker Vilhauer and Treyson Schulz will compete at quarterback.

Senior Joseph Van Overschelde may be the best tackling linebacker in the state. Plus, the Kernels look forward to the return of senior linemen, Beau Foote on the defensive side of the ball. I have no doubt that Mitchell will be improved but with a deeper 11AA class this year I would guess they’ll be in and out of the rankings all year. 

Other Contenders

Aberdeen Central

Steven Svendsen returns to South Dakota to coach the Golden Eagles this fall. Five starters are back on offense and six on defense as they come off a 3-5 season. Aberdeen also makes the move from 11AAA to 11AA this season. “Learning a new system and buying into the changes that will take place,” are among the biggest challenges for Svendsen and his staff. 

One thing we know about the Golden Eagles is they have a freak athlete at quarterback. Sam Rohlfs returns to start for Central and he’s about as good of a dual-threat guy as there is in the state. He’ll be looking for Jacob Merxbauer at wide receiver. Landon Merkel, Brady Rohrback and Noah Behrends return up front to block for Aberdeen Central. Alec Voegele could emerge as one of the top defensive linemen in the class for the Eagles. 

Tea Area

The Titans are coming off an 11A state title but with the enrollment at the high school football becomes the first ‘big school’ sport for Tea Area as they rise to class 11AA. They believe they’ll be contenders this year, but it will be difficult with a low number of seniors for the Titans to move up. “Our biggest challenge will be competing with all the 11AA teams,” commented Head Coach Craig Clayberg. “Since we are the smallest team in the class. We have a bunch of hard-working players who know what it takes to be successful and love to compete.”

Key players include Cael Lundin, Jaxon Weber and Kade Schentzel on offense with Jeff Worth, Isaac Johnson, TJ Krietlow making big plays on defense. The lines have some size but may take a while to gel. I expect Tea to be in all their games but it will be difficult to make the semis right out of the gate in 11AA this year. 


The Scoopers continue to make strides as a football program under Head Coach Chris Koletzky. Last year they won five of their last six games and played a very competitive game in the playoffs against Huron. This year six starters are back on offense and 8 more on defense. “We have some great kids that love the game of football,” said Koletzky. “How we come together throughout the 2021 season will be something that has a major impact on our successes on the field.”

Owen Cass had a good year as a sophomore quarterback last year with 1,129 yards passing and 11 TDs. Reese Jacobs is another strong junior who had a big sophomore season with 108 tackles to lead the team. “We have an established QB in Owen Cass that we are very excited about,” commented Coach Koletzky. “We need to put enough weapons around Owen. Our Offensive Line has worked hard this summer and looks to be a strong point of our team heading into the season.”


One player you have to neutralize when you play Douglas is the 6’5, 320-pound defensive lineman Jason Maciejczak. He was an all-state player as a sophomore last year and is a literal run-stopper. They have some work to do to find a new quarterback and find some playmakers like Davion Freeman. 


The Spartans will be young this year but have eight starters on offense and five on defense back. Head Coach Dalton Wademan continues to take steps with this program, “The players have done a tremendous job on learning and build but so have we as a young coaching staff. We have been able to learn and study in the offseason and we just have to use that to help us put our players in successful situations.” Seth Hamilton started as a freshman at quarterback last year. Peyton Mills and Matt Marrs return to the lineup as senior leaders. 

Preseason Player of the Year

Lincoln Kienholz, Pierre

The multi-sport freak athlete is back to start at quarterback again for Pierre. This season as a junior he hopes to take command even more in the huddle. Last year he threw 13 interceptions in the first half of the season and just three after that. That excellent finish to the season vaulted him among the premier athletes in the state. He finished the year with 2,163 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. 

Next 10 in 11AA

  • Ben Althoff, Watertown
  • Jaxon Bowes, Brookings
  • Davis Engen, Brookings
  • Max Kranzler, Huron
  • Jason Maciejczak, Douglas
  • Joe Van Overschelde, Mitchell
  • Sam Rohlfs, Aberdeen Central
  • Kade Schentzel, Tea Area
  • Jeff Worth, Tea Area
  • Cameron Zahrbock, Yankton
  • More Big-Time Players in 11AA
  • Josh Grosdidier, Mitchell
  • Cole Holden, Watertown
  • Paden Johnson, Watertown
  • Huner Wentijes, Watertown
  • Magnus Nelson, Brookings
  • Jaxton Eck, Brookings
  • Gavin Fixsen, Brookings
  • Bodie Rutledge, Yankton
  • Trevor Paulson, Yankton
  • Tyler Sohler, Yankton
  • Rugby Ryken, Yankton
  • Cade McNeil, Huron
  • Brayden Delahoyde, Spearfish
  • Owen Cass, Sturgis Brown
  • Reese Jacobs, Sturgis Brown
  • Austin Foley, Pierre
  • Jacob Mayer, Pierre
  • Jayden Wiebe, Pierre

Filed Under Football | Varsity Sports | SD High School