There will be some new faces in Banks this year, but the goal remains the same: win another league championship

Last season, Banks football coach Ben Buchanan learned the hard way that playing a soft non-league schedule could be a hinderance come playoff time.

The Braves went 7-1 during the regular season and won a second consecutive Cowapa League championship, but the team’s low strength of schedule submarined its RPI rating, and Banks had to travel in the first round of the playoffs to face No. 3-ranked Elmira. The result was an early playoff exit for a team that Buchanan thought was talented enough to make a deep postseason run.

This year, Buchanan scheduled a tough slate of non-league opponents, including Cascade, Sweet Home and La Salle. The goal is to pump up his young team’s RPI ranking while also letting them cut their teeth against top-notch competition.

“We’ve got a tough preseason schedule, and we did it that way for a reason,” Buchanan said. “The teams we’re playing are all good teams, and they will make us better in the long run. We need to get these guys some playing time and get the kinks worked out.

“There could be some growing pains, but that’s to be expected. We’ve had some rough preseasons before, so it’s no time to start waving the white flag.”

Banks will benefit from the return of several offensive and defensive skill players, led by all-league running back Dakota Kemper. Now a senior in his third year as the starter, Kemper comes into this season with 2,640 career rushing yards and 44 touchdowns to his credit.

Kemper will be the focal point of a rushing attack that has averaged 219.3 yards per game over the last four seasons. Returning to pave the way will be center Chance Rondo and guard Thomas Blatner, but the rest of the offensive line remains unproven.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys on the line and it has showed. We’re still trying to work out some of the kinks,” Buchanan said. “Dakota needs to get at least 20 carries a game for us to do what we want to do offensively.”

One big change this year will come at quarterback, where senior Grayson Partain steps into the starting role. The versatile Partain rushed for 497 yards and six touchdowns last year as the backup quarterback, but his role will be significantly expanded in 2012.

Partain will have the luxury of throwing to returning all-league wide receiver Zach Olsen, who led the team in 2011 with 34 receptions for 650 yards and nine touchdowns.

“The expectation is that we will three-peat as league champions. That’s a goal we’ve set, and I think we’ve got the talent to do that again,” Buchanan said. “Beyond that, we want to get into the state playoffs and make a run. That’s the goal for this program every year.”

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