The Ballard football team is looking to keep its momentum headed in the right direction this fall as the Bombers will aim for their sixth playoff appearance in seven years.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2012, the Bombers returned to the postseason last year, finishing 5-5. They must take on a brand new district without several key performers from that squad, but head coach Al Christian believes his players are up to the challenge of competing for a district title and returning to state.
"Our goal is to win the district," Christian said. "Every Friday will be tough - we’ve got a good non-district schedule too. But the senior class is talented and together. They know what it takes and they’ve been good leaders."
Ballard will move from Class 3A District 4 to 3A District 6 this season. The Bombers will renew an old rivalry with Nevada, go up against former 2A powers Bondurant-Farrar and Gilbert and add on Benton Community, along with former district rivals Grinnell and Newton.
"Grinnell and Newton will be very good," Christian said. "The 2A teams moving up to 3A will also be tough."
The Bombers will be tinkering with a few things on both sides of the ball in their efforts to challenge for the district title.
"We have a new group to work with, with different talents, abilities, personalities and goals," Christian said. "That always makes it fun."
On offense Ballard will be running a spread attack this year. Last season the Bombers averaged 20.9 points and 304.4 yards per game, operating primarily out of the I-formation.
Senior Quinton Erickson will take over at quarterback for Coy Baker. Junior Jaden Moody will also figure into the competition at quarterback.
At tailback Ballard will have veteran Isaiah Johnson. Johnson ran for 572 yards and six touchdowns last season.
At receiver Ballard will have seniors Nathan Macki and Jake Herrin, and juniors Kobe Schulze and Charlie Rietz. Senior tight end Cole Wilson is the top returning receiver for Ballard after catching 10 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.
On the offensive line Ballard will be senior-heavy, with Alex Silberstein, Carter Dailey, Brandon Brown, Conner Pietsch and Adam Silberstein all being major contributors. Sophomore Jack Baumhover will also see plenty of playing time up front.
On defense Ballard is going from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Last year the Bombers allowed 23.4 points and 292.7 yards per game.
On the defensive line Ballard will be anchored by senior Kenny Randolph. Randolph made 32 tackles and four stops behind the line in 2013.
Juniors Easton Moody, Nick Baumhover, Trey Mason and Wyatt Terrones will also see time along the defensive front.
"The offensive and defensive lines have some new faces," Christian said. "They need to develop quickly for us."
At linebacker Ballard returns leading tacklers Marcus Johnson and Ben Claussen. Last season Johnson made 151 tackles and two fumble recoveries and Claussen came through with 121 stops.
Senior Zach Upah will take up the other linebacker spot and sophomores Cade Wilson and Kaleb Odden will also make an impact.
In the defensive backfield Ballard will have seniors Brandon Kane and Landon Manfull, junior Kolby Jensen and sophomore Kenton Brekke. Jensen had 12 tackles a year ago.
Kane will handle the kicking duties after making 1 of 2 attempts last year behind starter Andrew Rasmussen. Kane and Erickson will compete at punter, with Kane averaging 35.9 yards on 36 punts last year and Erickson averaging 31.3 yards on four punts.
Ballard opens the season Aug. 29, hosting former district rival Boone at 7:30 p.m. at Rich Strouse Field. The Bombers also host Adel-Desoto-Minburn on Sept. 5 and travel to Carlisle on Sept. 26 for their other non-district games.