MINSTER — The Minster Wildcats are known for winning — especially the last four years, when they’ve made state title games three times. Coach Geron Stokes said a little losing helps.
Minster had its second consecutive season with a four-game losing streak in Midwest Athlete Conference play in 2017. It didn’t stop them from reaching the Division VII state championship for the second consecutive year — or winning the title, unlike 2016.
“I’ve always believed losing is good for you,” Stokes said. “Getting your butt beat is really good for you. I think it’s great to really find out who you are. If we have to go through that again, we’ll go through it. If that’s what we deserve, we’ll get it.”
With half of last year’s starters lost to graduation and a tough schedule, Minster may see several losses. But the Wildcats have enough talent and experience back to be among the Midwest Athletic Conference’s best teams and make another deep playoff run.
Though nine of the 18 players that saw time in last season’s state championship game have graduated, Stokes has established a culture in his five years at the school that replaces solid players with solid players.
Minster returned only four offensive starters from 2016 but averaged 332 yards and 26.5 points per game last year.
“Getting those extra five weeks of practice in the playoffs has helped us,” Stokes said. “Those younger kids getting extra reps gets them ready and teaches them a lot. It really helps them learn. Then they also get to see how our older guys behave and attack practice and game plans.”
And if there are growing pains with new players, the team has shown an ability to learn as the season goes on. Minster has finished regular season with 6-4 records the last two years and has posted a 9-1 postseason record in that time, with the lone loss coming in the 2016 title game.
Stokes said there will have to be some learning on the go this year.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Stokes said. “We’ve still got to become a team. We’re 55 guys who really care about each other right now. How we handle adversity and bumps in the road will be critical. How we handle wins will be critical. How we handle losses will be critical. We’ll see as they steer their own path.”
The Wildcats will be without its two most critical offensive producers in two-year starting quarterback Jared Huelsman and running back Isaac Schmiesing, who were first team all-MAC selections a year ago.
Huelsman amassed over 4,000 yards of offense and had his hand in 44 touchdown plays, while Schmiesing had 1,658 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns. Both were among Minster’s top five leading tacklers, and Schmiesing also handled kicking duties.
Junior Jacob Niemeyer will start at quarterback and will be backed up by senior Mike Ketner.
“Completely different from Jared,” Stokes said of Niemeyer. “Different kid. Different ability. But he’s worked, and we’re excited to see what he brings to our football team.”
Niemeyer has two of the team’s top four receivers back from last year. Junior Austin Brown led the squad with 730 receiving yards on 39 catches and scored seven touchdowns, while senior tight end Cody Frericks caught 14 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Alex Schmitmeyer will take over at running back for Schmiesing. He played sparingly as a backup at the position a year ago.
Frericks and seniors Dawson Oldiges and Sam Schmiesing are the team’s only returning starting lineman.
The Wildcats will return their top tackler from last season in August Boehnlein. Boehnlein, a senior linebacker, had 88 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Seniors Jack Heitbrink and Joe Winner also return at linebacker. Heitbrink had 61 tackles and two sacks last year, while Winner had 35 tackles.
Stokes said Heitbrink, Winner, Boehnlein, Schmiesing and Frericks have done a good job leading the team so far.
“We’ve got some quality leaders in that senior group that have really high expectations for these guys as far as becoming a team,” Stokes said. “… That’s the goal, to get the most out of the kids and see how fast and tough and physical we can play.”
The Wildcats will need to play like that to earn wins in a tough slate of games to start the season. Minster has Cross County Conference heavyweights Fort Loramie and Covington to open the season and then will get MAC playoff qualifiers Fort Recovery and Coldwater in Weeks 3 and 4.
The only new opponent this season for Minster is Parkway, who will take the place of Anna in MAC play.
Stokes said he looks forward to seeing the team maximize its potential this year.
“Winning and losing doesn’t really matter, it’s about who we are as a group,” Stokes said. “We’ll see how it goes and how this group comes together.”
If the 2018 Wildcats come together in any way similar to the last four years, they’ll be known for winning.