Aiden Amrein’s big night guides Hill City past Ness City
NESS CITY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hill City sophomore quarterback Aiden Amrein still remembers exactly when his freshman season changed.
Amrein, from Ellis, enjoyed a highly prolific youth career in multiple sports, including football and wrestling. Known for his speed, size and athleticism, Amrein was expected to be Hill City’s starting signal caller as a freshman. The season changed quickly when he suffered a broken arm in the season opener against Osborne.
“On the 17th play,” Amrein said.
Amrein was regulated to kicking until the regular season finale against Oberlin, one of many key injuries for the Ringnecks. Versus Oberlin, Amrein showcased his talent with 264 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a loss. Hill City finished 4-4.
On Friday, Amrein delivered a signature performance in a quality 49-18 road win against Ness City. The 6-foot-1, 172-pound Amrein rushed 36 times for 282 yards, both career highs. He tallied four rushing touchdowns of four, five, 10 and 30 yards. Last winter, Amrein earned third place at state wrestling and helped HC earn team runner-up. He delivered physical running all contest. Amrein passed for 48 yards.
“I love it,” Amrein said. “That’s my goal. I don’t like going out of bounds. I like to be that quarterback who runs like a linebacker. That’s what I think of. You have got to run like the big ‘ol 240-pound running back, fullback, something like that. Just knock some heads off.”
As well, sophomore Jaden Nuss enjoyed a big performance. He tallied the game’s first touchdown on a fumble recovery from five yards out. He rushed for a pair of second half touchdowns.
Hill City, ranked No. 5 in Eight-Man, Division I, is expected to be a breakout team this fall. The Ringnecks improved to 2-0. Ness City, just outside of Division I’s top-10, dropped to 1-1. Last year, HC beat Ness City, 7-6. Neither Amrein nor Nuss had an offensive touch in the 2020 game.
“They are good players,” Ness City coach Marc Cowles said. “They are good athletes. I am sure they missed them last year. They had a lot of injuries, I think through their season they had to deal with. I am sure they are glad to have them back.”
Ness City is depleted at key positions. Senior defensive end Taylor Cable, a two-time all-league player, remains out and is not expected to play this fall. Junior running back Danny Guzman and 6-foot-6, 200-pound senior receiver Corbin Ross went out with apparent knee and ankle injuries.
“They have been together for a long time,” Cowles said of his squad. “And it’s created some expectations for this group. So I need to work hard. I need to do what I can do to try to fulfill some of those expectations and get us in a position to act on that potential.”
Hill City missed senior end/linebacker Cody Presley with a leg injury. Presley, a state powerlifting champion, recently picked up an Ottawa University offer and is considered the team’s heart and soul. Hill City opens district play next week.
“He would have played tonight had I not told him he couldn’t,” HC coach Travis Desbien said. “But the way I looked at it, and I explained it to him and tried to make him understand that football season is not one game. It’s an entire season.”
The game featured 12 turnovers, seven by Ness City. Each squad had five turnovers in the first half. They combined for six lost fumbles by the 7 minute, 23 mark of the first quarter. Desbien serves as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Desbien told Amrein to cover the ball up with both arms, stay focused and clear his mind. Amrein’s hands were sweaty, and he dried them with a towel.
“For a minute there, embarrassing, because we turned the ball over so many times,” Desbien said. “…But I told the kids, mistakes are going to happen. It’s how you respond to those mistakes that’s going to matter.”
Desbien’s offense significantly relies on the quarterback run game. In Monday conditioning, Desbien said Amrein has been in the middle of the pack. Desbien has wanted Amrein up higher.
“It’s a lot of conditioning,” Amrein said. “My coach actually told me, ‘Run till I puke on Mondays.’ He said, ‘I’ve got to catch up and stay with it for my carries.’”
After the initial flurry of turnovers, Hill City led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter. In the second, Amrein tallied a pair of touchdowns for a 21-6 lead. Amrein ran behind HC’s experienced offensive line that features 5-10, 186-pound junior guard Conner Dinkel.
He played center and guard in peewee football. In eighth grade, Dinkel was at running back. Then, he has started on the line since his freshman year. Defensively, Dinkel had more than 100 tackles last season. He finished with two fumble recoveries and 1.5 tackles for loss Friday.
“Being on the line, it’s just fun,” Dinkel said. “You feel like you are in control of the game pretty much. Just all you’ve got to worry about is hitting people, and that’s probably my favorite part of football.”
HC has longtime line coach Vince Walker, who has more than 20 years with the program. Amrein’s dad, Craig, is in his second year as Hill City’s defensive coordinator after he previously served as Ellis’ head football coach.
“We are just really competitive,” Dinkel said. “Weight room, we are always pushing each other off the field. Practice, we are always pushing each other out in competition.”
Amrein added a 10-yard run in the third for a 27-6 advantage.
“We knew we’ve got a kid that can play football,” Desbien said. “Now, we’ve just got to keep him healthy and make good decisions, and the sky is the limit for that kid, because he is athletic-wise, he’s got everything it takes. He’s young, so he is still learning the position and making good decisions. But yeah, he is going to be a good football player.”
Ness City cut the deficit to 27-12 on a 63-yard run from senior Alex Pavlu. He finished with 120 rushing yards. However, in the fourth, Amrein tacked on his fourth rushing TD, and Nuss tallied two scores. Hill City continually ran zone read and focused on the defensive end.
“We read a lot of d-end on that,” Amrein said. “And so, if the d-end bites, you just pull. You take it outside, and then it’s 1-on-1. Vice versa. (DE) waits over there, you give it to the running back and he just takes it on down there like an iso.”
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