One of the biggest issues facing local high school football coaches this season is the shortage of referees. While coaches are stopping short of saying the situation is critical, they’re stressing the need to get more young people to officiate prep games.

Saint Thomas Academy coach Dan O’Brien believes the problem started with the COVID-19 pandemic when many refs, who tend to be older, didn’t return when play resumed. “We’re in better shape now than with COVID,” O’Brien said, though he added games have to be scheduled differently now to accommodate officials’ schedules.

Central coach Scott Howell said his team will play four games on Saturdays this season to accommodate officials’ schedules. According to him, spectators may also be seeing more Thursday games. He said the ref shortage has not resulted in any lower- caliber officiating, at least not at this point. Still, he said, “At some point, they’ll have to make (the pay) more attractive.”

football preview
Junior running back Melvin Mensah, pictured doing drills during practice, is expected to be one of the key players for Highland Park this fall. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Here’s a look at the local teams as the season officially kicks off on September 1-2:

Central coach Scott Howell said the ref shortage has not resulted in any lower- caliber officiating, at least not at this point. Still, he said, “At some point, they’ll have to make (the pay) more attractive.”


League: Twin City Gold
Previous record: 4-5
Coach: Scott Howell

Key players: senior quarterback/defensive back Cole Fee, senior linebacker Esli Jalloh, senior center/middle linebacker Max Mills.


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Outlook: Howell likes what he’s seen of his team, which has a good senior group and is strong at the skill positions. He believes the Minutemen have a shot at the top spot in the conference “if we stay healthy.”

Cretin-Derham Hall

League: Suburban Maroon
Previous record: 3-7
Coach: Steve Walsh

Key players: senior tight end Sam Koopmeiners, senior guard/tackle Michael Bougie, junior quarterback Miles Bollinger, senior quarterback Ryan Warford, junior wide receiver/defensive back Jaylen Gayles, senior outside linebacker Nolan Harris, sophomore running back Theto Hatley.

Outlook: First-year CDH coach Walsh lends a well-known name to the Raiders sideline with his pedigree as a former University of Miami and NFL quarterback. Walsh is said to have a good freshman class, but he acknowledged that success might not come immediately. “It’s been a great summer. Our kids have been working hard,” he said. Walsh said it could take some time for everyone to get on the same page with a new coach and system.

Highland Park

League: Twin City Gold
Previous record: 3-7
Coach: Jonathan Brown

Key players: senior wide receiver/quarterback Shea Landa, junior running back/receiver/kick returner Melvin Mensah, senior quarterback Monaire Vaughn, junior middle linebacker Benny Waud.

Outlook: Brown thinks his once-young players are ready to blossom this year. “We’ll be competitive,” he said. “We’ll have a shot in every game. This is the heaviest on seniors our team has been since I’ve been here.”

Saint Thomas Academy

League: Suburban Maroon
Previous record: 10-1
Coach: Dan O’Brien

Key players: senior running back Love Adebayo, junior running back Savion Hart, senior running back Maclean Lauber, senior inside linebacker Jackson Cercioglu.

Outlook: O’Brien said he lost some key players on both the offensive and defensive lines, but has returnees in the skill positions. The running backs are deep and talented, but O’Brien also cautioned that his squad could use improvement on the offensive line. “I’m hopeful,” he said about the season. The Cadets generally find a way to win whether they’re rebuilding or not.

SMB Wolfpack

League: Twin City Green
Previous record: 6-4
Coach: Chris Goodwin

Key players: junior quarterback Merrick Woods, junior running back Landon Dillon, junior defensive tackle Trent Page, senior inside linebacker Joey Stolpestad.

Outlook: Assistant coach Joe Protzmann said the Wolfpack will be “competitive again.” He likes his defensive front seven, but said the defensive backfield is a challenge. SMB has 12 starters back eager to show their experience will pay dividends. “If we’re not playing Holy Angels in the section final, it’ll be a disappointment,” Protzmann said.

Two Rivers

League: Suburban Maroon
Previous record: 0-9
Coach: Tom Orth

Key players: junior running back/defensive end Riley Pearce, junior defensive lineman/tight end Max Mogelson, senior linebacker/running back Gabe Goldenman.

Outlook: The Warriors have a good mix of junior and senior players, Orth said, but he knows improvement must come in increments. “Each week our goal is to be 1-0,” Orth said. “We have some nice individual players, but depth as a team is always a concern.”

— Bill Wagner


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