It was the most successful football season in school history in 2017 for Fall River, when the Pirates advanced to the state semifinals in Division 7. Fall River's bringing back plenty of star power for another run in the state football playoffs in 2018.
Leading the way is quarterback and linebacker Luke Figol, who was the Trailways-Small offensive player of the year in 2017, in addition to first-team nods at both positions on the all-conference team. Davyn Braker was a first-team all-conference pick as a running back and linebacker, rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2017, as well as earning second-team punter honors as well.
"We've got a four-year letterwinner at quarterback," said head coach Joe Zander. "We also had the leading rushing team in the conference last year, and third in passing."
Up front, Keegan Wodill was the conference's offensive lineman of the year, made all-region, and was first-team all-conference on offense and defense on the lines. Adding to the depth on defense and at running back is Sam Nelson, who was a first-team all-conference linebacker this year and was second-team as a running back last year.
In addition to those seniors, several other players made big impacts last year. On offense, Tanner Liebenthal was the team's leading receiver, and also finished the season with 492 rushing yards. He was a second-team all-conference receiver in 2016. Liebenthal also recorded 73 tackles a season ago. Defensively, the Pirates bring back their top six tacklers from a season ago; in addition to Liebenthal, Nelson, Braker, Wodill, and Figol, Fall River also welcomes back Bo Meier to a loaded linebacker group.
Braker returns as the punter, although the team will need a new kicker (they only attempted five extra points in 2017). Liebenthal and Meier were the primary kick and punt returners last year, and both are back for that role as well.
"We've got a big target on our backs after winning conference last year," said Zander. "Hopefully, we can play well under the pressure."
August will be a big stretch for the Pirates, with three playoff teams on the schedule from a season ago (although two of the games are at home). The season begins with a home game against Almond Bancroft, before Fall River heads to Wild Rose. The teams split their meetings last year, with Fall River topping Wild Rose 8-7 in Level 3 of the playoffs in their second match-up. Conference play begins August 31 with a home game against Lourdes Academy, Fall River's Level 2 playoff opponent last year (the Pirates swept the season series from Lourdes).
September begins with a Week 4 home game against Wayland Academy, before the Pirates play Randolph and Johnson Creek in back-to-back weeks. Homecoming is September 28 against Deerfield. In Week 8, Fall River will host Cambria-Friesland before wrapping up the regular season on October 12 against Rio.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Fall River head coach Joe Zander:
Fall River Pirates - Trailways Small
Head Coach: Joe Zander (4th Season), 19-13 (3-2 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 11-2 (7-0), 🏆1st in the Trailways Small (Lost in Level 4 of the Division 7 playoffs to Black Hawk, 56-8)
Three-Year Record: 19-13 (3-2 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 10 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (14 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 14 First-Team, 22 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (36 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (5): QB/LB Luke Figol [🏈 WSN] (🏅Player of the Year-Offense) (1st Team QB and 1st Team-LB; 2nd Team-QB in 2016), Sr.; OL/DL Keegan Wodill (🏅Lineman of the Year-Offense) (1st Team-OL and 1st Team-DL; 1st Team-OL in 2016), Sr.; RB/LB/P Davyn Braker (1st Team RB, 1st Team-DE, and 2nd Team-P; 2nd Team-LB in 2015), Sr.; LB/RB Sam Nelson (1st Team-LB; 2nd Team-RB and 2nd Team-LB in 2016), Sr.; WR/DB Tanner Lieberthal (2nd Team-WR in 2016), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB Maverick Salzman, Sr.; WR/DB Jeremy Book, Sr.; DL/TE Dylan Dykstra, Sr.; DB/RB Nick Martinez, Sr.; OL/DL Abdon Diaz, Sr.; OL/DL Jack Gould, Sr.; RB/LB Bo Meier, Jr.; RB/DB Dylan Foulkes, Jr.; TE/DB Jake Borde, Jr.; OL/DL Jason Lince, Jr.; DL/OL Johnathan Weisensel, Jr; OL/DL Zach Metz, Jr.; QB/DB Sam Osterhaus, So.; RB/LB George Salzman, So.; RB/DB Jeremy Book, So.; RB/DB Austin Blevins, So.; OL/DL Brice Locke, So.; OL/DL Joshua Soter, So.; OL/DL Payton Neuman, So.
BIG Games: at Wild Rose, August 24; vs Lourdes Academy, August 31; at Johnson Creek, September 21; vs Deerfield, September 28 (Homecoming)