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New era begins for Irondale football
A new era of football begins at Irondale High School this week. The Knights have a new coach and are playing a schedule that includes six games against teams they haven't seen much of over the years.
The new era kicks off Thursday at 7 p.m. when Irondale travels to Osseo for the season and Northwest Suburban Conference opener against the Orioles.
New head coach Ben Fuller, who came over from St. Paul Highland Park after spending 10 seasons there as an assistant, inherits a team that went 5-3 in the regular season and 1-1 in the section playoffs in 2013.
"We have a talented group of seniors that can keep us in any game and a stable group of inexperienced juniors that we need to develop quickly if we want to stay in those games and have a chance to win," Fuller said.
The Knights have a bit of rebuilding to do with five starters returning on offense and three on defense.
"Depth and health are our major areas of concern," said Fuller. "Our 11 on either side can play ball with anybody. Developing depth and staying healthy will be key to keeping it together."
Among Irondale's returners on offense is running back Victor James. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior scored rushing touchdowns in eight games last year and rushed for more 1,000 yards. He has some Ivy League colleges recruiting him for next year.
Seniors Matt Jarrett and Alex Kelner are also back. Jarrett is a wide receiver/tight end who might also run the ball on occasion. He has big hands, can jump, is a tough blocker and might also see some time on defense. Kelner is a precise route runner who made 30 catches in 2013, likes to block and will also return kicks.
On the offensive line, seniors Luke Bortot and Brandon Nordhausen return. Bortot, at 6-4 and 240 pounds, started every game last year and is equally adept at pass and run blocking. He also plays hockey and lacrosse.
Nordhausen is 6-2 and 275 and also started every game a year ago.
The quarterback spot will be occupied by someone new. Senior Nick Nelson started twice last year and won both games and Fuller describes him as a "gunslinger" and a "gamer."
Also in the running is senior Jake Moen, who played linebacker last year. Fuller said Moen had a great offseason, possesses a strong arm and good poise and is a surprising runner. Whichever one does not play quarterback will definitely be somewhere else on the field.
Another player to keep an eye out for is senior running back Donovan Arthur. He got a few starts last year in the backfield and rattled off a 200-plus yard game. He will miss the Osseo game because he is in basic training, but will return for week two.
On defense, Irondale returns senior linemen Ben Danielson and Isaac Ackerman and senior cornerback Fatah Malone. Danielson, at 6-2 and 260 pounds, is a team captain who can play all four line spots. He also plays baseball and possesses a 90-mile-per-hour fastball.
Ackerman (6-2, 255 pounds) also can play all the positions on the line. He had two interceptions in 2013 and Fuller said he is one of the smartest players on the team.
Malone is a speedster who is able to play man-to-man or zone in the defensive backfield. It's likely that he'll also be featured on offense and in the return game.
Senior Isaiah Walker is a new strong safety who could make a difference along with junior linebacker Tony Sylvester, junior linebacker/defensive end Telly Mutunga and junior free safety Tyler Melby. Walker had a couple of spot starts last season.
When Irondale lines up against Osseo on Thursday, it will be the beginning of the Knights' one and only Northwest Suburban Conference football season. Next year, the state switches to district scheduling and the Knights and only two other Northwest Suburban teams are in the same district.
"This year will be our first and only year in the Northwest Suburban Conference, so we have our work cut out for us," Fuller said.
Irondale ended up in the Northwest Suburban after the North Suburban Conference disbanded and the Minnesota State High School League assigned the Knights, Spring Lake Park and Totino-Grace there.
The Knights got a taste of the conference last year in the playoffs when they faced Andover in the section semifinals on a brisk, windy Saturday afternoon. The Huskies won that game 42-3.
Irondale's lone non-conference game this season is week three at Holy Angels. Like the Knights, the Stars are in a new conference this year after their old league, the Missota, dissolved and they were assigned to the Tri-Metro Conference.
Also on the docket this fall are former North Suburban Conference rivals Spring Lake Park and Totino-Grace. The Knights and Panthers battle for the block trophy in week two while Irondale hosts the Eagles in week seven.
Brian Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Irondale High School football schedule
- Aug. 28 at Osseo 7 p.m.
- Sept. 5 vs. Spring Lake Park 7 p.m.
- Sept. 12 at Holy Angels 7 p.m.
- Sept. 19 at Andover 7 p.m.
- Sept. 26 vs. Robbinsdale Armstrong 7 p.m.
- Oct. 3 at Champlin Park 5 p.m.
- Oct. 10 vs. Totino-Grace 7 p.m.
- Oct. 15 at Park Center 5 p.m.