LUSK – With five all-state players returning, the Niobrara County High School football team has been deemed one of the favorites among many media, coaches and other pundits. Ending an 18-year title drought and washing away the bad taste from last season’s championship defeat is the top priority for the 98th version of Tiger football.
Ten seniors lead Ryan Nelson’s seventh season as head coach and have been preparing for a season of high expectations.
“We started this as fifth graders with peewee football,” said Walker Kupke. “There’s a lot of time in this last run together for most of us.”
“We can’t change what happened last season, might as well try to do better than we did,” said Riley Blackburn.
“We’ll use it as fuel,” added Jayce Cummins.
Replacing Drake Lamp’s 3,000 yards on the ground won’t be easy but as Kupke begins his second season at quarterback, he is surrounded by all-state talent. Dylan Molzahn is a two-timer, while Aiden Applegarth, Blackburn and Mason Wells earned their first.
“Aiden may get the bulk of the carries as we begin, but it’s not going to be the 30-plus carries each game like we had with Drake,” said Nelson. “We’ve got other options to spread it out a bit more, and with all our linemen back, should be able to get that with a committee of backs.”
The senior class doesn’t stop with those five. Cummins and Cody Taylor played quality minutes last season and have assumed bigger roles. Chris Hicks, Sean Johnson and Justin Hite round out the class of 2022 and should fit in as the season progresses.
Junior Dayne Lamp is another all-state player expected to play a bigger role after finishing second in nine-man with 22.9 defensive points per game. Miles Ashurst, Blake Miller and sophomores David West and Stanton Ricketts were mentioned as other young players expected to contribute.
“We’ve had this one goal since we were little,” said Molzahn. “And we’ve got to mix it up on offense to keep the other teams honest.”
The Tigers won’t sneak up on anyone and depth is an issue, but the players and coaches understand the one game at a time mentality. The defense had a very forgettable final 12 minutes, and assistant coaches Chris Skeen (ninth season) and Shawn Leimser (third season) have made a point to work on pass defense in the week-long sessions of two-a-days.
“I think the most motivating factor is to remind them of what happened in Yoder,” said Nelson. “It’s easy to be the preseason number one, but it’s a lot better to be number one at the end.”
NCHS scrimmaged Wind River and Shoshoni in Casper last Friday, and while no scores or stats were kept, the Tigers came out on top. The Cougars scored early, but after that, NCHS put up eight straight touchdowns. Against the Wranglers, Lusk scored first and played solid defense before a pick six by Cummins closed the game.
Homecoming is early this year and the opponent is St. Stephens, with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m. on Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium Friday, Sept. 3.