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Prep Football Preview: Blue Thunder looking to rebound from rough season

August 17, 2011

Austin Smaha leads a group of defenders to a stop during a Belvidere North practice. In addition to playing defense, Smaha is one of the top returning running backs in the state. (Photo by Matt Nestor)

By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter

The Boylan Titans likely had the best offense in the NIC-10 last season. But an argument could be made that Belvidere North’s offense was better, and certainly more explosive.

Unfortunately for the Blue Thunder, their defense may have been among the worst in the conference as well. Points were piled up by both teams in their games, but North came up short too often last season.

This year, they have tried to return to the basics on defense and hope the changes will give a still explosive offense a chance to put them on the right side of the scoreboard.

We have eight of our 11 starters back,” linebacker Dustin Dussalt said. “We were young last year, and that is where a lot of our mistakes came up. Coach [Ryan] Zarembiski made some defensive adjustments that are showing improvements in camp.”

Head Coach Ryan Zarembiski said a lot of people, including himself, may not have realized how many players they had lost going into last season. As a new coach with a new system, he said he may have asked too much of his team, leading to mistakes on defense.

We put the cart before the horse last year,” he said. “The kids did work hard. So hopefully, we simplify it a little bit and get back to fundamentals, we’ll be better.”

One thing North does have to do is replace their starting quarterback, Tony Tindle. Justin Ellingson looks to be the starter, and Zarembiski hopes he will give them a different look by being able to throw the ball more.

The threat of more throws will help, as will an experienced group of receivers. But the offense will start — and ride — on the legs of senior Austin Smaha.

As a junior, Smaha was routinely over 200 yards rushing for the game, and occasionally over 300 or 400 yards as a one-man wrecking crew. Despite the success, he is looking to take his game to another level.

I’ve been working hard in the summer, trying to improve my speed, my strength, and my power,” Smaha said. “I think having more of a passing game will ease some of the pressure and help out the running game.”

Even with all the experience back, the Blue Thunder is trying not to be complacent and trying to make changes on both sides of the ball. But ultimately, the scoreboard will have the final say.

I think the outcome of the score will say it all,” wide receiver Kurt Siemsen said.

From the Aug. 17-23, 2011, issue

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