by Eric Oslund
When the 2016 season came to an end, the Zimmerman Thunder knew there were going to be plenty of changes coming – especially on the offensive side of the ball. They graduated a lot of talented seniors, including quarterback Alex Riley.
That graduating class specialized in running the ball, leading head coach Tom Kish to implement an option offense – utilizing their individual skills, and molding the playbook around them. But with them gone, and a new crop of talent taking shape, the offensive scheme is once again transforming.
Senior quarterback Tommy Laabs is athletic enough to scramble around and run when he has to, but he is most dangerous when throwing the ball. That, along with the fact that he is joined by Jake Pensinger and Carter McEaschern, who Kish calls two of the best receivers in their district, led the head coach to focus on passing the ball more than the team did a year ago.
“Our personnel is definitely different, so we’re going to adjust our offense to our personnel,” Kish explained. “Tommy is more of a passer as a skill set. He can still run the football, not the same as Alex, but Alex isn’t the passer that Tommy is. They have a little bit different skill set, so we have to adjust the offense to our guys’ strengths. We’ll definitely be throwing the football more this fall.”
It’s not always easy for a team to change a scheme and offensive philosophy in just one offseason, but the Thunder weren’t worried. They knew they’d be ready for the start of the season and finally got their chance to prove it when they made their way to Delano on Thursday, Aug. 31.
It was a hard-fought game throughout, with both sides trading punches, but in the end it was the Thunder coming out on top with a 28-24 win, which included a 70-yard touchdown pass from Laabs to McEachern, and 50-yard scoop-and-score by Ben Ortberg on a Delano fumble forced by Dylan Larrabee.
“I think overall it was a good team effort,” Kish said. “Delano’s a real nice team and we kind of knew it was going to be a dog fight going into the game and it was everything we bargained for, and then some.”
It’s always good to start a season out with a win, especially for the 2017 Thunder, showing they can still get things done changing up an offensive scheme that led them to a share of the district title last season. But this win carried a little more magnitude.
That victory marked the 50th of Kish’s career. This is the 10th season he has been tasked with coaching up the Thunder, and to look back from where they came just made the milestone all the more special.
“It’s fun to kind of transform our program from where it was 10 years ago to where it is now,” he said. “We’re in a different place than where we were when we took over in 2008.”