Esko is laden with seniors, expectations
August 25, 2023
A year ago, the Esko football team was an offensive juggernaut that finished 11-1 with their only loss coming against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the quarterfinals of the State Class AAA Football Tournament.
There were 13 seniors on the 2022 roster, including six who will be playing college football this fall. Esko will look to reload and make another run to the state tournament.
"We have 18 seniors, which is the most seniors we've had since I've been coach," said Esko head coach Scott Arntson. "We have a lot of kids who are ready to step in who didn't have big roles on last year's team."
Esko will lean heavily on one of the state's most exciting players, Koi Perich, the University of Minnesota recruit who plays on offense and defense.
"Koi is a dynamic player and we need to find creative ways to get him the football," Arntson said.
Joey Antonutti is another player Esko will rely on. Antonutti, a hard-hitting linebacker, led Esko in tackles last season and will also be looking to use his power on the offensive side of the ball from the fullback position. Jace Stewart will also step into a larger role as a running back and Jacion Owens will play quarterback. Bryce Hipp is back at offensive guard where he has been a workhorse the past couple of seasons.
"Statistically this is the strongest and fastest team we've had since I've been head coach," Arntson said. "We have some kids who can really scoot."
This season Pierz, another perennial state tournament entrant, has joined Section 7AAA, which will make reaching a state tournament even more difficult.
"It was already a tough section, but when you add Pierz to go along with Pequot Lakes and our other teams in the section it will be a pretty tough run to get to state," Arntson said.
Despite all those teams, Esko remains the team to beat in the section and perhaps the biggest key for success will be the line play for Esko. The team defeated Pequot Lakes for the section title last season.
"There won't be a lot of familiar names and not many of those guys really started last season," Arntson said. "They are a good group and we have a lot of confidence in all of them."
Joining Hipp on offense will be Talon Mattson at center and junior Nolan Pfister will most likely start at a guard position. After that, Arntson said he has a boatload of strong linemen and almost all of them are seniors.
Senior Cruize Liimatainen has also been a pleasant surprise for the team after a great summer of workouts, the coach said.
"We are excited about the season, but we also know there is a lot of work we have to do," Arntson said.
Esko will open the season on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Duluth East.