At long last, the offseason has reached its end and my eighth season of coverage for Hail Varsity is set to kick off on Friday with the return of high school football.
The NSAA has followed in the NCAA’s footsteps in recent years with the implementation of “week zero” games to make scheduling more manageable, with five such match-ups set for this Friday. The headliner is Bellevue West at Omaha Creighton Prep, and I’ll be at Burke Stadium to cover it.
With 10 seniors who hold Power Five offers and countless others in all classes who will have a chance to play in college at various levels, this season of Friday night lights has a chance to be special, especially in Class A.
The two teams who battled it out for last year’s title in the state’s biggest class in Gretna and Omaha Westside should be firmly in the mix once again, and both will be worth making an effort to see if you enjoy high school football.
The Dragons return the best quarterback prospect the state has seen in some time in Zane Flores, the four-year starter who is committed to Oklahoma State. The talented signal-caller has more than 6,000 career passing yards with 70 total touchdowns and has completed better than 67% of his passes to this point, and he’s back for one more ride.
Flores returns his top two receivers in wideout Joe Roll and tight end Caleb Schnell, and the Dragons should be tough up front on the defensive end led by Mason Goldman and Korver Demma. They’ll have to find a way to replace two-way standout Mick Huber at running back and linebacker, but with the best quarterback in the state, the Dragons have as good a shot as anyone to take home the trophy in 2022.
They’ll have to go through Omaha Westside once again, however. The Warriors graduated a talented senior class, but they supplemented a talented young core with a key group of transfers for new coach Paul Limongi, who left Omaha Burke to take over at Westside following Brett Froendt’s retirement.
Caleb Benning, the son of former Husker Damon Benning and a 2024 Nebraska target, is set to break out this season as a two-way star after an offseason injury set him back early as a sophomore. He’s a tackling machine on defense who will likely emerge as one of Westside’s best receiving threats on offense.
Anthony Rezac took over as the starting quarterback midway though his sophomore season and completed 68.1% of his passes for 1,221 yards, 19 touchdowns and just one interception, and he added another 247 yards and two scores on the ground as a dual-threat. Junior Jahmez Ross is set to take over for the departed Dominic Rezac (a Vanderbilt walk-on) at running back and is a dynamic athlete in his own right who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season.
Transfers include Omaha Central track star Jaylen Lloyd (who received an offer to play football and run track from Texas Tech); former Omaha Central defensive back Jeremiah Truitt; former Omaha Burke Bulldogs Christian Jones (a 2025 Nebraska target), Payton McDonald and Cam Bell; and former Papillion-La Vista speedster Keynan Cotton.
Those two should have no shortage of challengers, however, which should make for a fun season in Class A — and particularly in the Metro.
Omaha Creighton Prep returns its top seven offensive linemen led by Nebraska commit Sam Sledge and Princeton commit Rocco Marcelino as well as arguably the best running back in the senior class in CharMar Brown, a North Dakota State commit. Dean Donaldson will step in at quarterback after transferring from Bellevue West last year and looks poised to elevate that position for the Junior Jays. John Pargo Jr. will lead the way in the secondary as well as add field-stretching speed to the offense.
Bellevue West is never short on firepower, and 2022 will be no different. Wide receivers Dae’vonn Hall (a 2024 Nebraska target) and Kyrell Jordan form one of the best one-two punches in the state while Omaha Burke transfer Cayden Echternach steps in for the departed Micah Riley-Ducker and Kaden Helms at tight end. Quarterback Daniel Kaelin earned multiple Power Five offers (including one from Nebraska) prior to his sophomore season largely thanks to his performance on the seven-on-seven circuit, and after splitting time last season he’ll step in as the full-time starter this year.
The Thunderbirds also added transfers from Omaha Central (J’Dyn Bullion, linebacker/fullback), Millard North (defensive back/wide receiver Isaiah McMorris) and Fort Calhoun (defensive lineman Aden Morris).
Nebraska commit Maverick Noonan is as big of a game-changer as you’ll find in the state and his pass-rushing prowess should give Elkhorn South a chance every time it takes the field in 2022. Henry Prochazka, the younger brother of Nebraska left tackle Teddy Prochazka, is poised for a breakout junior season opposite Noonan, while senior running back Cole Ballard will lead the way on offense.
After pulling off a 16-over-1 upset in the first round of the playoffs last season, Omaha North will look to take a step forward behind one of the best running backs in the state in Te’Shaun Porter, who surpassed 1,600 yards on the ground last season. Tyson Terry, a 2025 Nebraska target and state wresting champion, will start in the trenches on both sides of the ball after a standout freshman season.
Millard South entered the 2021 postseason as the No. 1 seed led by current Husker Gage Stenger, but the Vikings knocked them out in the first round. Now they’ll have to replace a talented senior class led by Stenger as well as their coach, with Ty Wisdom stepping in for the retired Andy Means. However, led by defensive end Lance Rucker (North Dakota) and safety Brock Murtaugh, the Patriots will have a chance to be a tough out once again. Cam Kozeal, a 2023 Vanderbilt baseball commit, will look to step in for Stenger at quarterback after seeing some playing time last season.
Those look to be the consensus top seven teams heading into the season, but there are plenty of others teams with the potential to have a strong season.
Other top prospects to look out for in Class A include Nebraska target Malachi Coleman at Lincoln East, Nebraska offensive line commit Gunnar Gottula at Lincoln Southeast and Iowa State commit Beni Ngoyi at Lincoln High.
The top-end talent isn’t just contained in Class A. Nebraska offensive line commit Brock Knutson will pave the way for the state’s leading returning rusher in junior Sebastien Boyle for Class B’s preseason No. 1 team in Scottbluff.
Nebraska tight end commit Benjamin Brahmer, the state’s leading returning receiver with 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns, will once again partner up with quarterback Abram Scholting to make Pierce a title contender in C1.
Fremont Bergan wideout and Oklahoma commit Kade McIntyre won’t have his brother throwing passes to him this season as Koa McIntyre is at Wyoming now, but he’ll still be a force this season in C2.
I could go on and on, but I’ve already mentioned 13 different schools and 41 different players. We’ll have plenty more high school football coverage at Hail Varsity throughout the season, and for more of my thoughts you can catch the Nebraska Preps Postgame podcast featuring Damon Benning and myself recapping all the action ever week.
Here’s to the start of another year of Nebraska preps and Cornhuskers coverage.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.