Zenner gets opportunity; can he run with it?

Eagan senior takes control of the offense

An Eagan receiver hauls in the ball during practice. The Wildcats open their season Friday at home against Burnsville. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
An Eagan receiver hauls in the ball during practice. The Wildcats open their season Friday at home against Burnsville. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Football offenses can be complex, but their underlying principle is simple: Get the ball in the hands of your best athlete as often as possible.

At Eagan, the coaches decided the best way to get the ball in Sam Zenner’s hands is to snap it to him. Zenner, a senior who played running back last season (and led the team in rushing yardage) becomes the Wildcats’ quarterback this year.

“In our offense, it makes sense to have the ball in his hands every play,” head coach Rick Sutton said. “The quarterback has to make a lot of decisions, and with Sam, any play can be a big play.”

Zenner has spent much of the off-season refining his passing skills.

“I don’t want to be the guy who’s dragging the team down by throwing a lot of incompletions,” Zenner said. “I’m pretty comfortable with throwing the ball now.”

The Wildcats are coming off a 2-7 season in which they dropped their last five games. They’re looking for improvement from the offense, which didn’t score more than 14 points in any of games during the season-ending losing streak.

The players and coaches say there’s reason to believe things will be better this year. Zenner is a gifted athlete, good enough to medal in the state swimming meet last winter. Sutton said the Wildcats’ offensive line is the biggest, and potentially best, in his tenure at Eagan. The team also returns several of its key playmakers, including senior linebacker Joe Kovach, a two-time All-South Suburban Conference selection.

Kovach and Zenner are the captains. “If something goes wrong, you know players are going to look toward you (for guidance),” Kovach said. “Our philosophy has to be, don’t give up. Be your best on every play.”

Kovach was first on the Wildcats in tackles (87) and tackles for losses (4.5) last season, and led Eagan’s defensive point rankings. Linebacker Ricky Kamrud and defensive back Jake Ossell each had 38 tackles.

Also back is linebacker Shane Kalb, whose 3.5 sacks led the Wildcats last season. Defensive lineman Josh Kawlewski got some varsity exposure last year as a sophomore.

Other than Zenner, the players in the ball-handling positions on offense didn’t see much if any playing time last year, but Sutton said it’s an athletic group with good potential.

Zenner rushed for a team-high 584 yards, caught 15 passes and completed six of nine throws.

The top returning offensive lineman is Noah Kuehn, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior who Sutton said is drawing interest from Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision colleges.

Joe Everson, another senior, is the likely starter at center. Senior Brandon Carl and junior Ed Wagner are guards, and junior Nate Nguon also saw some varsity time on the line last season.

“We have a lot of kids who play two or three sports, so we try not to overextend them,” Sutton said. “We like to get them in the weightroom four days a week, and we try to get 15 (practice) days in during the summer.

“I’m pretty happy with all our guys. We have a lot of experience, and what we need now is depth.”

The Wildcats also did well on their annual trip to the South Dakota State University team camp, Sutton said. It was there that Zenner verbally committed to play football for the Jackrabbits. Zenner’s older brother Zach is a senior running back at SDSU and has had two 2,000-yard seasons there. His older sister Abby is on the SDSU swimming team.

“I don’t really have individual goals,” Sam Zenner said. “I have team goals, because it takes 11 men on the football field. Everybody’s got to do their job. Playing hard every single play and giving 100 percent effort is all you can do. Those are things you can control.”

Eagan football
(All games 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Aug. 29: Burnsville
Sept. 5: at Wayzata
Sept. 12: at Farmington
Sept. 19: Rosemount
Sept. 26: Lakeville South
Oct. 3: Prior Lake
Oct. 10: at Shakopee
Oct. 15 (Wednesday): at Lakeville North
Oct. 24: Class 6A playoffs begin