It was rather warm for the first day of practice for high school football teams on Monday, but at Southeast High School in Lincoln, the Knights didn’t seem to mind.
It’s football weather, of course.
Southeast, which finished 8-1 with a quarterfinal appearance in the Class A playoffs last season, brings back a wealth of talent that’s headlined by two players who have already committed to the hometown Huskers — senior linebacker/receiver Jake Appleget and junior offensive tackle Gunnar Gottula.
It was just the first practice of many on Monday, but anyone who watched Appleget would be able to tell he’s one of the leaders of the team.
At 6-foot-4 and 215-ish pounds, Appleget will be a versatile player for head coach Ryan Gottula’s team — his ability to play different positions is a big reason why he was courted by several schools, including PJ Fleck and Minnesota, after getting offered by Nebraska.
On Monday, Appleget was split out at receiver on offense. Not only will he be a large target for senior quarterback Willem Reddick, but he also brings blocking in space, which should help give his teammates room to run on screens and other quick passes.
During defensive drills, Appleget was at middle linebacker. He’ll likely start out as an outside ‘backer when he’s a Husker — that’s in the future, though. Right now, he’s the Knights’ best player who will surpass his production — 17 catches, 280 yards, five touchdowns and 67 tackles — from his Covid-19-impacted junior campaign.
It’s easy to see why Gottula has gotten so much recruiting attention — his size at 6-6, 260-ish pounds is impressive for a someone entering his junior season. The potential for Gottula to turn into a really good tackle at the next level is there.
Gottula will likely man the left tackle spot on Southeast’s O-line this season, just like he did as a sophomore in 2020. He wasn’t the only giant along the Knights’ line, however, as senior Cooper Tracy will be a huge presence as well.
The 6-2, 295-pound Tracy, who recently committed to Minnesota State, will be a mauler up front for Southeast and its run game. On Monday, he was moving pretty well for a lineman his size. After one screen pass, Tracy got praise from a coach, who saw his effort to get downfield even though the play was ran against air. Remember, it was the first day of practice. No need to beat the players up on Aug. 9.
Speaking of Southeast’s run game, Max Buettenback deserves a mention here.
The 2023 Nebraska baseball commit rushed for 611 yards and six touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry as a sophomore running back in 2020. On Monday, the 6-1, 195-pounder was leading the running backs in every drill and showing quick footwork while doing so.
Buettenback will be a dangerous player with the ball in his hands, and the Southeast coaching staff should have fun drawing up ways to accomplish that. He caught 11 passes out of the backfield for 149 yards last season.
Another player who will be a key blocker for Buettenback and other ball carriers is Luke Blatchford.
Blatchford was lining up as a tight end on Monday, a position he played last season. There rightly wasn’t much hitting going on Monday in Southeast’s first official practice, but just take a look at Blatchford’s 6-4, 230-pound frame and one can envision a powerful blocker in the run game.
Defensively, look for Blatchford to play on the D-line and beat his mark of 15 tackles from last year.
Another defensive end that will continue to open eyes this fall is Teitum Tuioti, who holds offers from several Power Five schools like Nebraska, where his dad, Tony, is the defensive line coach.
The 6-3, 220-pound Tuioti, who we profiled earlier this summer, will be a big part to Southeast’s defense this fall, just like he was last season as a sophomore when he had 45 tackles and a team-high 5.5 sacks. Read the profile — Tuioti comes from an athletic family, and faith is important to them.
Another member of Southeast’s team who has the potential to help offensively is 2023 receiver/defensive back Malachi Lyon, a transfer from Class B’s Seward who, according to maxpreps.com, only recorded one catch for six yards as a sophomore.
Back in June’s jamboree scrimmages at Pius X High School in Lincoln, Lyon showed off a special kind of elusiveness after catching passes from the slot with the first-team offense. Lyon was back with the top group on Monday.
The 5-11, 165-pound junior will get opportunities in the quick-pass game because he’s difficult to catch once he gets the ball in space. Having quick-twitch pass catchers like that can impact defenses in different ways, creating opportunities for the run game or other receivers.
Here’s the full photo gallery from Monday’s practice at Southeast: