The eight prep standouts on the cover of KSFY's Pigskin Preview are single-minded in the purpose of winning a state championship.
All of them are leaders of their respective teams who will likely take their unique skill sets to the next level after their senior season draws to a close.
Some of them have already felt the powerful feeling of being a champion and want it again. Others are motivated to reaching the highest level of team sports. All understand and cherish the value of team, knowing that each player has a role like an award-winning orchestra.
These are leaders of the highest quality, who show the way on and off the field. To win requires hard work that begins in the offseason and continues through every practice and each play in the course of a season.
These are the men who work through adversity, lead by example and keep driving until they reach the top.
Nate Gerry, Sr. SF Washington - 6-2, 210, WR/DB
Jon Hander, Sr. SF Washington - 6-2, 184, QB
Hander - Gerry Looks to Lead Washington to Sixth Straight Title Game
When 2012-13 year comes to an end, Jon Hander and Nate Gerry will go their separate ways. Gerry, perhaps the state's most-coveted recruit, is bound for Nebraska to continue his football career. Hander has signed to play baseball at Kansas but may elect to play DI football with the right offer.
While the future is bright for the pair, both are focused on returning the AA state championship to Sioux Falls Washington, the nation's leader with 38th overall prep football championships.
As Hander and Gerry try to lead their school to its third playoff title, they also seek a return to an unprecedented sixth consecutive appearance at the DakotaDome.
"It is where we have our focus," said Gerry, a two-way starter for head coach Brian Hermanson's Warriors.
"It will take a lot of hard work and dedication. Everyone has to do their part for it to happen," he said.
Hander, one of the state's top baseball prospects, is the team's quarterback. He, too, knows that everyone has to buy in. "We have a great group of guys. As long as everyone stays together - we have good chemistry - we can make a good run at it," said Hander, whose brother Ryan plays baseball at Nebraska.
A year ago, Hander and Gerry helped the Warriors overcome a 1-2 start to become one of the hottest teams in AA before falling to SF Roosevelt in the finals. Both were sophomores on the dominant 2010 championship team that finished 13-0 and outscored playoff opponents, 152-7.
During their career at Washington, the program has won two titles in three tries with an overall 35-2 record, including a run of 26 straight victories.
Gerry, who helped lead Washington High to its second consecutive state track title in the spring, is a big-play performer, who caught 35 passes for 623 yards and 10 total TDs a year ago.
On defense, he was part of an outstanding unit, accumulating 73 tackles, 6 TFLs, three interceptions, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Hander, who may step in and play a little defense this season, is coming off a stellar junior campaign when he completed 121-of-194 passes for 1,764 yards with 17 TDs and 10 rushing TDs.
He, too, has the propensity for making things happen. In last year's title game loss to Roosevelt, he had a pair of TD runs.
"We have the tradition and history of winning. Everyone has the same one goal and that is to get to the Dome and take care of business," said Hander. "We have to continue to work hard and never let up."
Cole Langer, Sr. Dell Rapids - 6-3, 230, RB/LB
Langer Works to Lead Dell Rapids to Third Straight Title
After an injury plagued season in 2011, Cole Langer of Dell Rapids is healthy again which may not be good for opponents.
A senior fullback/linebacker, Langer is one of the main reasons why the Dell Rapids Quarriers could lift another championship trophy in mid-November at USD's DakotaDome.
A two-time all-state selection, Langer carries winning genes. His grandfather Jim is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a stellar career SDSU and later with the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, where he was the starting center on the undefeated 1972 Super Bowl champions.
"He tells me to have fun with it, play my game and work hard," said Langer, an aggressive linebacker and hard-charging running back who has been part of a Dell Rapids team that is 23-1 the past two seasons.
While he was on the field for the 35-0 title game win over rival West Central a year ago, he was forced to sit out five games after suffering a groin injury. Langer, an all-state basketball player, finished with 39 carries for 388 yards and five TDs but didn't become healthy again until after the season ended..
Two years ago, as a sophomore, he played a huge role in the Quarriers' title run which ended in a 55-20 win over Harrisburg. A key cog in that attack, he rushed 133 times for 1,236 yards with 24 TDs and 102 tackles.
"We are trying to be a good team that have a chance to win (another championship. If you play every down like it is your last then you might be there at the end," he said.
As he looks ahead to the 2012 season, Langer wants to finish strong for a program, directed by head coach Steve Hansen, which will go for a third straight title for the first time in school history.
"We just want to do well," said Langer, whose school has made six straight playoff appearances with three 10-win seasons since 2006. "Working hard makes that happen and we are doing that."
Anthony Huber, Sr. Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan - 6-2, 215, FB/LB
Huber Knows Small Things Made Difference as BEE Goes for Three
Anthony Huber of Bridgewater/Emery/Ethan has learned the value of small things from head coach Jeff
Van Leur, the active wins leader among coaches in SD 9-man football.
As the Seahawks set their sights on a third consecutive title in 9AA, Huber will relay his coaches' message on fundamentals to several new faces who will play key roles in the year ago.
"A lot of these guys haven't had their chance and this is it," said Huber. "We have to get the small things down, like blocking and tackling the right way, position of hands, footwork and timing. If you do that, good things may happen," he said.
Huber knows how hard work and staying tuned in with the proper technique pays off in the end.
"We have a tradition and we have to try and keep it going," said Huber, who was spurred to play football by his brother Jeremy, who later played at Augustana.
As he begins his senior campaign, Huber has been one of the state's best players for two seasons. A starter since his sophomore year, he has accumulated 266 career tackles along with 306 rushes for 2,403 yards and 33 TDs.
In leading BEE to an 11-1 record and a state title win over Kimball/White Lake (38-26) in 2011, the senior fullback/linebacker accumulated 1,308 yards on the ground with 18 TDs and five receptions for 41 yards. He also had 142 tackles, including 80 solo stops, a sack and two interceptions.
Huber, who is considering various college options in football and track, was recently named the Augustana camp MVP and is ready to get going.
"At the end our ability to do those little things is how we will get better and how we win," he said.
Cody Bunger, Sr. Canistota - 6-3, 190, QB/FS
Bunger Tries to Keep Canistota Perfect
Cody Bunger had big shoes to fill when he took the reins of the Hawks a year ago.
In 2010 quarterback Sam Jolley directed Canistota to its first-ever team in a dominating 12-0 season that ranks as one of greatest seasons ever in 9-man ranks. As good as Canistota was in 2011, Bunger and Hawks may have been better in 2011.
Like his predecessor he orchestrated a perfect season as Canistota extended their winning streak to 24 games and outscored opponents, 620 to 61, including 216-6 in the playoffs. As the 2012 season opens, Bunger will try and again lead Canistota to another title, perhaps extending the winning streak past 30 games.
"We have high expectations," said Bunger, also a basketball standout who has started in hoops since an his freshman season. "We take pride in our program."
In his first year behind center, Bunger put together a spectacular season, completing 52-of-89 passes for 948 yards and 19 TDs with just one interception in the final regular season game. He also rushed for 1,192 yards on 82 carries or 14.54 yards per carry. He had five games with 100 yards rushing or more and put together a 256-yard effort in an early season win over perennial playoff power Hanson.
Named All-State, Bunger won the Joe Robbie MVP honors in the 66-6 title game verdict over Wall.
A two-way star, he added 26 tackles and seven interceptions as a free safety on the Hawks' defense that recorded eight shutouts and allowed just 61 points on the season.
While the pressure will be on every week to keep winning, Bunger and his mates will be ready.
"We learn how to deal with pressure right away in this program with coach (Lenny Schroeder) and the importance of staying together," said Bunger, who is considering both basketball and football college options
"On any night, you can be beaten. We have to play level-headed and with pride."
Issac Heard, Sr. Edgerton/Ellsworth, MN - 6-1, 215, QB
Heard Focused on Another Minnesota State Title
For Isaac Heard, playing quarterback and winning championships has always been in Isaac Heard's blood.
His brother and uncle both played quarterback and now he is having the time of his life in the role, leading his Edgerton/Ellsworth team to its first-ever state title with the objective of doing it again in 2012
"We are really excited about trying to do it again," said Heard, a senior quarterback who was named All-Region and honorable mention All-State a year ago. "We have a lot of guys working hard to getting ready for the season."
A year ago, Heard helped direct Edgerton/Ellsworth to a 14-0 record. As the year opened, the Flying Dutchmen were ranked #1 and they never gave up that spot. A few close calls were part of the run to the title but that is expected in any championship run.
"I just want to win another state championship, then my goals will be met," he said. "To do that, it means working hard and working together," said Heard, who rushed for 512 yards and eight TDs and clicked in the passing game, connecting of 167-of-250 passes for 2,750 yards and 35 TDs.
In the state title game, he threw for a Prep Bowl record 368 yards and five TDs.
Through it all, he knows champions are to be ready to go every week, taking on all comers.
"Everyone is going to put a target on our backs because they want to beat the #1 team. So we just have to make sure we put in that extra time and effort to keep us focused on another state championship."
Chase Marso, Sr. Brandon Valley - 6-3, 180, QB
Matt VandeBerg, Sr. Brandon Valley - 6-1, 165, WR
VandeBerg and Marso Look to Lead BV Back to the Top
A year ago, Brandon Valley was close to pulling off the biggest upset in AA, leading eventual champion SF Roosevelt late and driving in a quarterfinal playoff game. Then, a turnover led to a game-winning drive by the Rough Riders and in baseball lexicon - a walk-off field goal.
The excruciating loss to Roosevelt is motivating the Lynx, particularly two of its leaders, Chase Mars and Matthew Vandeberg.
One of the state's top QB-WR combinations, Mars and VandeBerg are focused, as are their teammates, on trying to bring home Brandon's Valley's seventh title, including its fourth at the AA level.
"Those kind of plays - that kind of finish leaves a bitter taste," said VandeBerg, who was named All-State a year ago after hauling in 67 passes for 1,081 yards and 16 TDs. A three year starter on defense, he also had 52 tackles and a school-record nine interceptions (14 for his career) as a standout defensive back.
Marso, who took over the Lynx's quarterback duties a year ago, echoed those comments.
"It loss to Roosevelt) will serve as a motivating force for us," said Marso, who had five TD passes in the Roosevelt game.
Actually adding fuel to the fire is the fact for the Lynx is being eliminated on the games' final play in consecutive seasons, also falling to Yankton, 12-9, on a last second 41-yard field goal in the 2010 playoffs.
"We have to make sure we are prepared and we are working hard to be ready," said VandeBerg, noting that those end of the season losses are tough to take but they also help drive a player and a team forward.
This offseason, VandeBerg, Marso and their Lynx teammates do champion training three days. And, VandeBerg also works on off days with a personal trainer Cory Walker (formally of the SF Storm), to improve his agility and receiving drills.
Marso, who played basketball with the Dakota Scholars program this summer, noted that the pair also works together on throwing drills during the summer.
"We have great chemistry," added Marso, one of the most talented quarterbacks in South Dakota. "We are committed to doing what is necessary to succeed. Obviously it is or goal to win a state title and also go for another ESD crown," said Mars, who credits assistant coach Bill Freaking with his development as a quarterback.
For Marso and VandeBerg, who like Gerry is a heavily-coveted DI recruit, hard work and dedication are the keys to success.
"I love football because it is the ultimate team sport," said VandeBerg, who is considering Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa State to play football. "We are focused on accomplishing a goal and finding a way to the Dome. We don't want to look back at the end and feel like you haven't laid it all on the line."