Colo-NESCO will need several young players to step up in order for the Royals to turn in another winning football season in 2018.

Colo-NESCO went 6-3 a year ago and has posted a 20-10 record since going 5-5 in 2014. Continuing that success won’t be easy this fall as the Royals are replacing two 1,000-yard rushers and their top three passers and receivers from a year ago.

“We are fairly young and inexperienced,” Colo-NESCO head football coach Josh Nessa said. “We graduated eight players, which in 8-man football is a lot. We may have some growing pains but we are trying to eliminate as many of those in practice as we can.”

But games are often won in the trenches and its there where Colo-NESCO hopes to excel this fall.

“We do have good senior leadership and depth in offensive line and defensive line,” Nessa said.

On offense, Colo-NESCO will run out of the I-formation, twins and the spread. The Royals must adjust to life without Garrett Packer and Philip Bower (both ran for 1,113 yards and threw for 102 last year), as well as quarterback Sean Cutler (202 yards passing) and Mason Lytle (393 yards rushing and 93 receiving).

Junior Francis Bower and senior Ethan Wilson did gain some quality experience running the ball last year. Bower is the top returning rusher with 371 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 and Wilson ran for 81 yards and three scores.

Junior Alex Grover and senior Kelly Gray may also get carries this season. Gray will also see time at end.

Senior Keaton Sturtz, and sophomores Tanner Ingle and Brighton Clatt will also vie for time at end. Clatt ran for 100 yards in 2017.

Sophomore Brandon Roberts will be counted on to fill in at quarterback.

On the offensive line, Colo-NESCO will have three seniors to depend on in Alex Dunahoo, Adam Texeira and Colin Hall. Junior Jackson Shaw and sophomore Jake Perry will also be helping out up front.

Defensively, Colo-NESCO will operate out of 3-4-1 and 4-2-2 formations.

On the defensive line, the Royals will have sophomore Ryan Parker, Grover and Dunahoo at end and Texeira, Hall and senior Marty Nichols on the interior. In 2017 Grover made 18.5 tackles and one sack, Texeira 15.5 tackles and one sack and Hall five tackles.

Grover will also see time at linebacker and Bower and Perry will fill in the other two spots at the position. Bower is the team’s leading returning tackler with 43.5 stops and one sack and Perry tallied 6.5 tackles last year.

Gray, Roberts, Wilson and Clatt will make up the Royal defensive backfield. Last season, Gray had 22 tackles and three interceptions, Willison delivered 28 tackles and one interception and fumble recovery apiece, Roberts put up five tackles and Clatt ended up with 4.5 tackles and a fumble recovery.

On special teams Gray, Bower and Grover will battle for time at punter. Bower and Grover will handle the kicking duties and Gray and Roberts will be the top return men.

Colo-NESCO will compete in the newly-aligned 8-man District 5. AGWSR, Baxter, Collins-Maxwell, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Melcher-Dallas, Meskwaki and Twin Cedars make up the rest of the district.

“I really like our new district,” Nessa said. “There is a nice balance of teams we have not played before, which brings an exciting element to the season.

“I feel that we have the potential to have some competitive matchups and potential to create some great new rivalries with the addition of Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Baxter and Collins-Maxwell into the mix,” Nessa said. “Add to this the old rivalries with Meskwaki, Twin Cedars, Melcher-Dallas and AGWSR — we are looking forward to some great matchups!”

Nessa said the district title should be up for grabs.

“I really think this is ready for the taking,” Nessa said. “Gladbrook-Reinbeck is losing 15 seniors from last season, but had a very, very good JV team last season. Baxter and AGWSR also lost a lot of quality players, but return some quality players, and their coaches know how to lead competitive teams.”

In non-district play, Colo-NESCO opens with road games at H-L-V and Central City, then hosts Springville. The Royals opener with old rival H-L-V takes place at 7 p.m. this Friday at Victor.