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Friday night brights: Meet the Star Tribune metro preseason dream team

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 08/27/19, 5:15PM CDT


How do you pick top players before a down has been played? Staff writer Jim Paulsen's approach makes perfect sense.

SMB linebacker Kaden Johnson (SportsEngine file photo)

Who are the metro’s best high school players? Staff writer Jim Paulsen spent many hours pouring over video and came up with a list.

Some players are well known, some still building a reputation. The one thread that ties them together: Performance during high school games, not on future collegiate expectations. So there may be a few omissions of players with big-time college commitments.

Lakeville North's RaJa Nelson ran for yardage against Lakeville South in the Class 6A semifinals last season. Photo: ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

OFFENSE (seniors unless noted)

Aidan Bouman, Buffalo: 6-6, 210. A lifetime at the knee of father Todd, a longtime NFL quarterback, coupled with a strong, accurate arm. The best pro-style QB in the state. Passed for 3,474 yards and 41 TDs in 2018. Iowa State-bound.

Running backs
RaJa Nelson, Lakeville North: 5-9, 185. Versatile. Also plays WR and excels as a defensive back. Rushed for 874 yards and 20 TDs, caught 20 passes for 496 yards and nine TDs in 2018. Committed to North Dakota State.

Isaiah Smith, Benilde-St. Margaret’s: 5-11, 190. Strong lower body, sheds tacklers. Explodes through holes with 4.6 speed. Rarely stopped on first contact. Rushed for 1,237 yards, 13 TDs in 2018. Committed to North Dakota.

Riley Mahlman, Lakeville South, jr.: 6-8, 270. Has the size coaches salivate over with room to grow. A fluid athlete who also can play TE. Quick feet, thanks to basketball. Has eight Power-5 offers, seven from the Big 10.

Jalen Travis, DeLaSalle: 6-7, 280. Brother of former DeLaSalle basketball stars Jonah and Reid Travis. Exceptional size, length. Basketball background adds agility. Offers from Minnesota and Iowa State, among others.

Darien Foster, South St. Paul: 6-1, 310. A monster run-blocker with good quickness and explosiveness in the box. Controls defenders and moves them easily. Owns school record in the squat at 575 pounds.

Noah Pappas, Armstrong: 6-6, 320. Massive tackle who envelopes smaller defenders and puts them on their backs. Good agility, quick enough to pull effectively and get to defenders at the second level.

Bennett Weber, Waconia: 6-4½, 265. State wrestling tourney entrant as a heavyweight in 2019. Stands up defenders at the point of attack and uses leverage to finish his blocks. Committed to North Dakota.

Champlin Park wide receiver Jaice Miller makes a catch during a game against Totino-Grace last October. Photo By Earl J. Ebensteiner, SportsEngine

Jaice Miller, Champlin Park: 6-4, 215. Moved to QB, but still will see time at WR. Excellent body control, great hands and the ability to get separation. Caught 53 passes for 937 yards, 11 TDs in 2018.

Thai Bowman, Armstrong: 6-1, 185. Physical off the line. Makes the tough catch. Can go the distance on any play. Has multiple mid-level FBS and FCS offers. Caught 40 passes for 537 yards and five TDs in 2018.

Russell Corrigan, Hutchinson, TE: 6-4, 230. Big, athletic and country strong. A punishing blocker with good speed and hands who can make plays downfield. Ten TDs in 19 receptions in 2018. Committed to Boise State.

Jalen Suggs, SMB: 6-5, 200. QB/FS. Perhaps the best athlete in the state. Nearly 2,200 all-purpose yards in 2018: 1,578 passing, 600 rushing. Elite-level arm and is elusive in the pocket. Unmatched timing at free safety.

Orono defensive lineman Danny Striggow made a tackle against Bloomington Jefferson in a game last August. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine


Danny Striggow, Orono: 6-4, 225. State champion wrestler whose wrestling background — excellent hands, terrific leverage and ability to operate in tight — have paid off in a scholarship offer from Minnesota.

Landon Carter, Lakeville North: 6-2, 215. A bit undersized but he makes up for it with a relentless drive and innate ability to locate the ball. Sixteen tackles for loss, six sacks in 2018.

Jordan Titus, Hutchinson, jr.: 6-1, 290. Low center of gravity and quickness off the ball make him difficult for opposing linemen to handle. Stays low and doesn’t give ground. Overwhelms ball carriers.

Pierce Oppong, Bloomington Jefferson: 6-3, 233. A combination of size and athleticism. Exceptional closing speed, routinely runs down ball carriers. Sixty-three tackles, 11 TFL in 2018. Committed to Northern Illinois.

Kaden Johnson, SMB: 6-4, 240. Rated by 247 Sports as the only four-star player in its Class of 2020. Smooth and fluid, with the speed to run with receivers and chase down backs. Sure tackler. Considering Minnesota, Wisconsin.

Ben Reppenhagen, St. Thomas Academy: 6-3, 230. Fits the classic linebacker mold. Hard-nosed and gritty with a strong motor. Never quits on a play and delivers a blow when tackling.

Loshiaka Roques, Wayzata: 6-4, 215. Gets upfield and creates havoc in opposing backfields. Adjusts well, with good closing speed and lateral movement. Made 20 tackles for loss in 2018. Committed to North Dakota State.

Justice Sullivan, Eden Prairie, jr.: 6-2, 220. Explosive physical specimen with a quick first step, a nose for the ball. Sheds blockers with his speed and strong hands. Can outrun backs and outhit linemen.

A.J. Scaife, Roseville: 6-3, 210: A track team hurdler, he’s lanky, fast and adept at either strong safety —his primary position— or free safety. Solid run stopper with the size and speed to make plays in the passing game.

Trevon Howard, SMB, soph.: 6-0, 175. Just a 10th-grader but produces like a much older player. Had 101 tackles, two sacks and 10 passes defensed as a freshman. Already has offers from Iowa State, Minnesota.

Nick Ruhland, Orono: 6-0, 185. His entire game is predicated on his 4.45 speed, whether it’s closing on a ball-carrier, defending a receiver, running a jet sweep or returning kicks. Dependable tackler on the edge.

SMB's Trevon Howard (25) tackled Waseca quarterback Hunter Rodriguez in the second half of last season's state tournament game. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky ¥ aaron.lavinsky@startribune.com

Hunter Dustman, St. Francis: Product of local kicking guru Chris Husby’s camps. Boasts a powerful, accurate leg as a kicker and punter. Touchbacks on kickoffs are common. Has 50-yard-plus range on field goals. Headed to South Dakota State.

Hunter Dustman practiced kicking field goals at practice last October. Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com

Coming next

Coming later Wednesday on the Football Hub and in Thursday's Star Tribune:  Prep football A to Z, plus staff writer Jim Paulsen's preseason metro top 10, other teams to watch, Jim and David La Vaque's Thursday night picks and more.

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