George Gerdes of the Albert Lea Grizzlies carries the ball last season against the Minnesota River Valley Shock, while Jason Kuipers prepares to block. Gerdes played fullback last year and finished with 78 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. He will be the Grizzlies’ offensive coordinator this year. Kuipers returns after leading the team in rushing. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune
George Gerdes of the Albert Lea Grizzlies carries the ball last season against the Minnesota River Valley Shock, while Jason Kuipers prepares to block. Gerdes played fullback last year and finished with 78 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. He will be the Grizzlies’ offensive coordinator this year. Kuipers returns after leading the team in rushing. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Preview: Albert Lea Grizzlies add depth to the roster

Published 9:13am Thursday, April 10, 2014

With a mix of returning core players and 18 rookies, the Albert Lea Grizzlies football team plans to dive deep into the postseason.

Albert Lea head coach Stephen Piper said the team had success recruiting in the offseason to build on last year’s 5-3 overall record.

“With the guys we’ve picked up, 75 percent of our second-stringers would start on other teams in the league,” he said. “We’ve got some solid depth this year.”

Key acquisitions include kick returner Lamar Sayles, linebacker Cole Read, defensive lineman Jason Froning and quarterback Greg Falls.

“We’ve added a lot of weapons,” said Albert Lea offensive lineman Craig Schmidt. “We’ve got a lot of speed and a lot of talent.”

The Grizzlies will also feature Cameron Solie, a 2011 graduate of Albert Lea High School and Piper’s former pupil from his days coaching seventh-grade football.

“He’s a local kid, and he’s coming on really strong for us,” Piper said. “The weight room made all the difference for him.”

Solie is one of 10 players on the Grizzlies’ roster who listed Albert Lea as their hometown.

The Grizzlies will be led by quarterback Tony Tolbers, who has been with the team since its inception five years ago. Tolbers led Albert Lea last season with 1,161 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 209 yards and six touchdowns on 52 carries.

In the backfield, the Grizzlies return five-year veteran Jason Kuipers. Last season, Kuipers led Albert Lea with 655 yards and four touchdowns on 141 carries. He was a receiving threat out of the backfield as well with 13 catches for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

The Grizzlies return their top receiver from last year: Spencer Niebuhr. From the tight end position, Niebuhr snagged 20 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

At offensive coordinator, Albert Lea has a familiar face: George Gerdes. Last season, Gerdes played fullback. He was third on the team in total rushing yardage. He found the end zone six times: three times as a receiver, and three times on the ground. Gerdes has been working hard with the offensive unit, Piper said.

“He (Gerdes) took what we ran last year and tweaked it to make it his own,” Piper said. “He adapted it to fit the personnel.”

On the other side of the ball, Albert Lea returns defensive coordinator Jeff Jimenez and two key defenders: Trevor Haugh and Anthony Ingram.

Last season, Haugh led Albert Lea with 45 tackles to go with one sack and two interceptions. Ingram was the Grizzlies’ big-play producer. He led the team with 11 sacks and three tackles for loss.

“I feel really comfortable with how we’re playing,” Piper said. “J.J.’s got the defense going well.”

During the offseason, the football field southwest of the Albert Lea city pool at Frank Hall Park was renamed Grizzly Field. Albert Lea will play all of its home games at that location.

Schmidt said Lou-Rich donated aluminum goalposts for the field.

The Grizzlies play in the Southern Plains Football League. The league features nine teams with two expansion teams this season: the Southwest Huskerz from Worthington and the Midwest Rampage from Webster City, Iowa.

Despite being only half of a decade old, Albert Lea has a winning tradition. The Grizzlies have never finished with a record below .500, more than two losses during the regular season or fewer than four wins.

 

Grizzlies schedule

April 12: Southwest Huskerz at Grizzlies, 2 p.m.

April 26: Grizzlies at Buffalo Ridge Wildcats, 7 p.m.

May 3: Steele County Warriors at Grizzlies, 5 p.m.

May 10: Grizzlies at Midwest Rampage, 3 p.m.

May 17: South Central Hawgs at Grizzlies, 5 p.m.

May 24: Grizzlies at North Iowa Bucks, 4 p.m.

May 31: Grizzlies at Tri-State Buffalos, 6 p.m.

June 14: Southwest Huskerz at Grizzlies, 5 p.m.

June 21: The Panic at Grizzlies, 5 p.m.

 

Past results

Year, regular season, postseason

2010 4-2 0-1

2011 6-1 2-1

2012 5-2 1-1

2013 5-2 0-1

 

Returning leaders

QB: Tony Tolbers

2013 passing stats: 77/140-1,161, 13 TDs, 9 INTs

2013 rushing stats: 52-209, 6 TDs

 

RB: Jason Kuipers

2013 rushing stats: 141-655, 4 TDs

2013 receiving stats: 13-239, 2 TDs

 

TE: Spencer Niebuhr

2013 receiving stats: 20-250, 3 TDs

 

LB: Trevor Haugh

2013 defensive stats: 45 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT

 

LB: Anthony Ingram

2013 defensive stats: 21 tackles, 3 TFL, 11 sacks