GAYLORD — The road to the Ski Valley Conference South title still runs through Mancelona.
The Ironmen of coach Dan Derrer are the three-time defending league champs and bring a 21-game SVC winning streak into the 2013 season.
The Ski Valley will be divided into North and South divisions for the second year in a row, though there’s talk of combining the teams into one large league next year.
This year, Mancelona appears to be the team to beat again in the Ski Valley South. Vying to wrest the title from the Ironmen will be Onaway, Central Lake, Johannesburg-Lewiston, Gaylord St. Mary and Forest Area.
In the North, St. Ignace is the returning champion after going unbeaten in 2012 with Inland Lakes, Pickford, Rudyard and Pellston as contenders. Rogers City was part of the Ski Valley North a year ago but has moved out of the league.
Mancelona lost 12 players to graduation, including All-State running back Wyatt Derrer and quarterback Kyle Schepperley, but the cupboard is far from bare. Senior fullback Logan Borst (5-9, 185) is a three-year starter and senior halfback Justin Spires (6-1, 185) returns to the varsity for his third year. Spires, who was injured and missed part of last season, is the latest of the breakaway threats the Ironmen seem to produce year after year. Seniors Jake Allen and Nick Bevins were backfield reserves last year and will rotate in at halfback with varsity newcomers Chase Wilcox and Cole VanWagoner.
Senior Jake Winstead (5-10, 175) steps in at quarterback to engineer the run-oriented double-wing offense. He started three games a year ago and played in the second half of nearly every game.
All-Conference center Tristen Fleet (6-2, 275) anchors the offensive line with returning starters Garrett Derrer (5-10, 190) at guard and Tristan Waters (6-1, 220) at tackle. Senior Luke Smigielski (5-11, 185) is back at tight end.