Young Packers expected to be small but quick

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 19, 1999

If you can’t out-hit ’em, out run ’em.

Thursday, August 19, 1999

If you can’t out-hit ’em, out run ’em.

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That might be the philosophy for a young Austin High Packers team that boasts more overall team speed rather than unmovable mass.

"This is one of the smallest teams we’ve had," head coach Steve Knox said. " We thought we had small teams in the past, but this is the smallest."

To counter a lack of size, the Packers are fielding one of their fastest teams in recent memory. Knox compares the speed of this year’s team to the successful ’92 and ’93 squads, which both finished 8-2.

"Overall we’re a little faster than last year, but we don’t have the size we did last year," assistant coach Randy Smith said.

Senior track standout Preston Horton is probably the fastest on the team. Horton, who will figure prominently in the Packers’ offense at halfback and as the main kick returner, runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.5 seconds. Juniors Jamie Zavalla and Isaac Knox should also be among the fastest players on the team.

This will also be one of the youngest and least experienced squads Knox has had in his 13 seasons at the varsity level.

Knox has 17 seniors and 39 juniors out for the team, but only one healthy starter from last year’s 6-4 team.

Nose guard Brian Heimer was supposed to be joined by cornerback Nick Rohne and lineman Matt Jenkins as the three returning starters, but two off-season injuries have quickly erased two of the most experienced players for Austin. Jenkins, a 200-plus pound lineman, was lost for the year with a torn anterior cruciate legitimate and Rohne, who was used primarily on defense last year, but was expected to see more time at the halfback position this year, is out with a separated shoulder.

Rohne is expected to be back in the lineup by the Packers’ third game of the year on Sept. 17 against Faribault.

The two injuries not only hurt the Packers in the talent department, but perhaps crucially in something that can’t be made up with more coaching: experience.

"Those guys had the ability to teach at the varsity level," Knox said. "It hurts because they could help with the guys that haven’t been there."

For the first few weeks, that responsibility will fall solely on the shoulders of Heimer, who at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds is also one of the biggest players on the team.

"I don’t feel anymore pressure," said Heimer, who will also be featured as the team’s primary fullback. "We all have to take more responsibility."

"He’s going to have carry a load, but we can only ask him to cover his position," Smith said Heimer’s importance to the defense. "Defense is a team thing and we’ve got a lot of learning still."

Rohne, Jenkins and Heimer make up three of the Packers’ captains. Senior quarterback Tanner Schieck, who Knox calls a "quiet leader," makes up the other captain’s spot.

Seniors Kevin Maus and Matt Smith are probably the next most experienced players on the team. Both players started in the regular season finale against Owatonna last year.

With a lack of size from the upperclassmen, Knox is even looking at three sophomores, which is a extreme rarity considering the Packers have only had two sophomores play at the varsity level in Knox’s tenure, Conrad Ray in 1991 and Kyle Koch in 1996.

Assisting Knox and Smith this year is Dwayne Hagan, who has been with the Austin program at the lower level for the past decade. Hagan has been helping Smith with the Packers’ linemen.