MANHATTAN — Fall sports have begun in 2021, and 2020 Class B football state champion Manhattan is looking to go back-to-back.
“It’s just nice to get to be here again and work with this new group of guys and get them going -- embrace a new challenge this year,” said head coach Chris Grabowska.
It's been nine months since the Tigers defeated Fairfield 23-6 for their first chipper, but with a lot of new faces, the players are ready for the challenge in 2021.
“Being able to comeback and experience it again is another great challenge,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Corban Johnson, who had 944 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns in 2020. Both categories led the team.
The shine from the undefeated 2020 championship season is still there, but with a new year beginning, it’s time for the Tigers to turn the page.
“It’s going to take a lot of work," said lineman Lane Holzworth. "Every year it’s a grind. You got to keep going from day one. Show up everyday willing to work 110-percent and you’ll achieve the things you want.”
Gone are many starters who made an impact. This team will look to different faces to fill the big shoes left behind.
“On last years team we had to replace some guys from the year before and they stepped up to the challenge," Grabowska said. "We’re expecting that again with this group of guys.”
One of those pairs of shoes to fill are from quarterback Caden Holgate. Holgate had a season to remember during Manhattan's historic run. He finished with 30 passing touchdowns, punching in nine more on the ground. Manhattan has a competition battle going on right now.
“One’s a senior, Austin Devers, he’s played the position before. He’s kind of a great runner. Baseball kid, he’s got a pretty decent arm, so we’re going to see what he can do. (Sophomore) Callin Fenno, he’s a younger kid for us, put a lot of work in this summer. He really wants to step in and take that role too. We’re just going to go through fall camp. See what happens,” said the Tigers head coach.
Logan Vasarella has to take over the backfield from two stud running backs. Isaac Richardson rushed for 803 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Toby Veltkamp who will be suiting up for Montana Western, ran for 676 yards on 10.2 yards per carry and had 9 rushing touchdowns.
“Low gravity, low to the ground, just kind of a shifty runner," is how Grabowska described Vasarella. "I’m just really excited to see what he can do this year and he’s got the opportunity in front of him and just want to encourage him to really take it and run with it.”
With head coach Chris Grabowksa’s steady program, around 60 kids showed up for the first day of practice. That compares with many AA schools.
“We feel like we got a great culture in our program and kids want to be a part of it," Grabowska said. "That’s a testament to my assistant coaches and all the leaders on our team.”
As for trying to repeat their undefeated season, that would be nice, but the Tigers are focused on getting better one day at a time.
“We’re just going to focus on all those little things and the preparation and climb that mountain again and see where it takes us,” said Grabowska..