A talented, deep and experienced offense has the Ballard football team aiming for the playoffs in 2017.

The Bombers return 1,500-yard rusher Hunter Wright and four experienced players on the offensive line off a team that finished 6-3 overall and tied for fourth in Class 3A District 2 with a 4-3 mark during the 2016 season. They are hoping that strength in the running game will give new quarterback Isaac Schafbuch and a young defense time to develop in order to make a run at the district title and a spot at state.

“Love the start of a new season and getting the chance to work with a new group of young men,” Ballard head football coach Al Christian said. “We believe that getting back to the playoffs is a good goal for us.”

Ballard continues operating out of a spread formation on offense. The Bombers averaged 32.8 points and 406.9 yards per game last fall.

Wright will be the engine driving the Bomber attack, especially early in the season. He was 3A’s third leading rusher last year as a junior, piling up 1,566 yards and 20 touchdowns on an impressive 8.2 yards per carry.

A battle-tested line will open plenty of holes for Wright.

Back up front for Ballard are seniors Cody Knutson, Colin Anderson, Grant VanZee and Tyler Maire. Senior Jess Hugee will be called on to fill in at the other spot on the line.

Schafbuch takes over for Max Stoltz as the Ballard signal caller. Schafbuch did gain quality playing time as a backup last year, completing 13 of 24 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and also rushing for 43 yards.

Junior Reece Huen and senior Trey Drummond give Schafbuch two experienced receiving targets. Reece caught 18 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns and Drummond made 22 grabs for 194 yards and two scores in 2016.

Seniors Skyler Noftsger and Kegan Odden will also be counted on to catch passes for Ballard in 2017.

“Our offense should be explosive,” Christian said. “Quality skill position players will be fun to watch.”

On defense, Ballard will run out of a 4-2-5. The Bombers only have two returning starters back and must replace two star linebackers in Seth Moore and Kade Wilson.

“The whole defense will be hard to replace,” Christian said. “(We) lost a lot of experience and leadership.”

But the Bomber coach is excited about the potential of his defense.

“Northwest team camp was big for us,” Christian said. “We got a lot of reps in with many new faces on defense.”

The returning starters on defense will be senior defensive lineman Ben Lee and senior defensive back Gannon Manfull.

Lee made 72 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries in 2016. Manfull tallied 30 tackles last fall.

Helping out Lee on the defensive line in 2017 will be senior Josh DeTar and juniors Blake Hughes, Sam Andrews and Joe Hofbauer.

Taking over at linebacker for Ballard this fall will be senior Gavin Hobbs and freshman Justice Sullivan. Joining Manfull in the defensive backfield are senior Ben Hokel and juniors Jack Luster, Blake Henga and Brooks Fleischmann.

On special teams, junior Brenden Vincent will replace Clayton Poots at kicker. Vincent averaged 45.3 yards on 10 kickoffs last season.

Seniors Ben Von Arb, Sam Foster, Josh Borg and Dylan Hockey will be counted on as contributors on special teams for Ballard. The Bombers are still up in the air at the punter position.

Ballard will face stiff competition in 3A District 2, led by 2016 3A state runner-up Webster City.

“Webster City and Dallas Center-Grimes are the favorites,” Christian said. “But we feel we can play with anyone in 3A every year now.”

Boone, Gilbert, Iowa Falls-Alden, Greene County and Perry fill out the rest of Ballard’s 3A District 2 schedule. In non-district play, the Bombers face Carlisle and Adel-Desoto-Minburn at home to open the season.

Ballard’s opener with Carlisle will take place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at Rich Strouse Field in Huxley.