Marshall Riedel backpedaled and followed receivers from his position in the defensive backfield during Brandon-Evansville football practice on Tuesday morning before heading off to the sidelines for the offensive work.

That’s where Riedel is at right now as he comes back from an injury he suffered at the end of the baseball season last spring. The senior running back racked up 1,059 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground last fall on 158 carries. That created a lot of excitement about what his senior year might look like with a big and talented group of teammates around him.

At least for a little while, Riedel has hit a detour after tearing his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee while sliding into second base during a playoff baseball game.

“We’re going to take it easy,” Brandon-Evansville head coach Tim Pattrin said of the team’s approach with Riedel this fall. “We have a nice advantage right now where Marshall was dinged up from baseball, but Cade Carlson put in one of the best summers I’ve ever seen. The kid is moving and playing strong now. He always ran hard, but now he is big and strong and he’s a punishing back.”

Riedel averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a junior and frequently ran off big chunks of yardage. He did not hesitate when asked if he is concerned about losing some of that explosiveness coming off this injury.

“I’m going to try to do the same thing I did last year,” he said.

Marshall Riedel watches a portion of practice from the sideline with Chargers' assistant coach Kellen Traphagen on Aug. 13. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Marshall Riedel watches a portion of practice from the sideline with Chargers' assistant coach Kellen Traphagen on Aug. 13. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Riedel’s goal is to be back by week two of the regular season. His time on the practice field during the first couple days of the fall season has been limited to non-contact activities.

“I can’t do any hitting right now, but other agility stuff I’m fine with that,” he said. “It hasn’t really bothered me.”

The Chargers have the luxury of having another good back to turn to as Riedel gets healthy. Carlson got a few touches as a freshman during the 2017 season. Last year, he carried the ball 40 times for 221 yards (5.5 YPC), both third best on the team. As a junior now, his head coach sees somebody who is ready to take on a bigger role.

“When we went up to Bemidji for team camp it was like, ‘OK, we’ve got something here.’ He was trucking kids,” Pattrin said of Carlson. “It’s nice to have that 1-2 punch now, and it also saves hits down the line on Marshall and Cade. We have a 1 and 1A. That, plus the line up front, we have a nice combination of speed and power right now.”

That’s why Pattrin won’t rush Riedel back with his carries or do anything that might jeopardize his long-term health.

“It’s a question of limiting him and then seeing how his knee is responding,” Pattrin said. “He’s progressing. He’s already gotten good news where he’s able to practice, he just can’t hit right now. When he does come back, it’s about limiting him and making sure he’s comfortable. It helps that we have a pretty deep team and are able to deal with this.”

The Chargers were dealt with a similar situation two years ago. Taylor Bitzan was coming off a junior year in 2016 where he ran for 1,183 yards and 14 touchdowns. He suffered a torn ACL during basketball season and was eased back during his senior fall before finishing as the team’s Back of the Year Award winner with 769 yards and eight touchdowns on 107 carries.

“It was the same thing with Taylor back then,” Pattrin said. “He didn’t play that first game and we eased him back in during the course of the season. Really, what it comes down to is having (Marshall) full-go by midseason to the end of the season and ready to go by playoffs.”

If B-E plays Verndale, it will come in the playoffs

The Chargers have a team that coaches and players feel really good about, much like the ones they had during the 2016 and 2017 years.

Those B-E teams went 7-3 and then 9-2. If there was a thorn in the Chargers’ side, it came in the form of Verndale. The Pirates beat them twice in both of those years, including ending their season in the playoffs short of a trip to the state tournament.

“You always have in the back of your mind that we haven’t beat them,” B-E senior Tanner Bitzan (FB/LB) said from practice. “Before we go out, we tell them that and just say, ‘Guys, we haven’t beat these guys yet. Let’s do it tonight. Let’s go get it.’ Every week we played Verndale, it was intense and everyone knew it was going to be a dogfight. We always ended up short.”

If the Chargers are going to end their drought against Verndale, it will have to come in the playoffs. The two teams do not meet during the regular season, but they both reside in the Section 4, 9-man field again. Ortonville, a team that went 6-4 in Section 5A in 2018, also joins the usual suspects from that playoff bracket this year.

“Verndale is Verndale,” Pattrin said. “Hancock has all their speed guys coming back. They did lose their line, and we’ve got some question marks now with Ortonville coming back down to 9-man. Wheaton is always tough. Bertha is always big and physical, so our section and our district is always competitive and physical. It’s a grind, and we look forward to it.”

The Chargers believe they have a team that can compete with any of those programs. The goals are to get back to playing meaningful games deep into November again after a first-round loss in 2018.

“It would be nice to get back there,” Bitzan said. “The community does a lot for us. We’re getting the best of the best stuff on our football field and the equipment we have. It’s good to give back to the community for what they give to us.”