They wore stern faces until Orion came out of his cage.
That’s when the World-Herald’s 2022 Super Six got big eyes and some big smiles inside Fontenelle Forest, site of this year’s photo session. These six — Pierce’s Ben Brahmer, Lincoln East’s Malachi Coleman, Gretna’s Zane Flores, Lincoln Southeast’s Gunnar Gottula, Fremont Bergan’s Kade McIntyre and Elkhorn South’s Maverick Noonan — are all well over six feet, headed to top-shelf schools, and know a good predator when they see one.
Orion fit that bill. Known a “flying tiger” for its nighttime propensity to hunt, kill, eat and share the food of its prey, a great horned owl can also blend in, almost seamlessly, to its surroundings.
People are also reading…
That’s where the World-Herald’s Super Six differ. They simply stand out — in a forest or on a field.
And, in 2022, we had a dense forest of prospects from which to select.
Is this the best Super Six ever? We’ll see. The 2014 group features three players currently in the NFL.
Was it the toughest-to-pick Super Six? No doubt.
Nine prep players — including five Husker commits — have made verbal pledges to Power Five Conference schools. It’d have been easy to select the five future Huskers, add the undecided Coleman, and call it good. It’d have been easy, too, to simply go with an All-Class A roster and leave off the best players in Class C-1 and Class C-2, regardless of their college decisions. It would have easiest of all to turn the Super Six into a Nifty Nine for one year.
Not our style. We picked the six biggest trees in a growing forest of in-state stars. We picked the six guys who can dominate and change a game. And, as it turned out, we picked six guys who reflect the changing nature of high school football from Omaha to Kimball.
We picked a quarterback, Gretna's Flores, who had such a good 2021 — and spring and summer after it — that he was invited to the Elite 11 Finals in California, where he held his own against five-star talent and gleaned wisdom from college stars like CJ Stroud.
“I thought I did well,” the Oklahoma State commit said. “Just being there with all those quarterbacks, it was good for me.”
We then selected three pass catchers — all are receivers in high school, though two will be tight ends in college — in Coleman, Brahmer and McIntyre. Brahmer, a giant of a tight end, hails from Pierce, population 1,767, the smallest town of any Super Six standout since Howells-Dodge’s Nathan Bazata in 2012. The Nebraska recruit will play every snap for the Bluejays. Every. Snap. Offense, defense. He’s the kicker, the punter — and the punt returner.
“The only thing he won’t do is drive the bus,” said his dad and coach, Mark Brahmer. “But that’s pretty typical for a small-town Nebraska kid.”
McIntyre, committed to Oklahoma, received recruiting attention for both tight end and pass rusher. He chose the Sooners — and offense — for college, but he’s likely to play almost every snap, too, for the defending Class C-2 state champs.
Coleman, every bit the track star as he is football prospect, averaged 33 yards per catch last season and notched 7½ sacks. A top 100 prospect — nearly a five-star recruit, according to Rivals — he’s the lone member still uncertain of his college choice, which he’ll pick Oct. 15 after his top seven show him who can win games.
Somebody has to get after the quarterback, right? That’d be Noonan, from Elkhorn South, who saved his biggest and best play last season for a strip sack of Flores against Gretna. Nebraska pulled out all the stops to land the son of former Husker All-American Danny Noonan, a player who executes what his coach calls repeated “six second contracts” to give maximum effort between the whistles. Gottula, also headed to NU, will face off against Noonan in a week one matchup between the Knights and Storm.
Collectively, the group reflects where the game is going, not where it’s been. Will there be a running back among the Super Six in the future? Of course. But in the past five years, there has been just one — Bellevue West’s Jay Ducker, in 2019.
Increasingly, force is created on the edge. On the edge of the field by giant pass-catchers with speed, size and hands. On the edge of the line, where pass rushers, like rams, knock heads with blockers. And on the edge of your toes, with a quarterback like Flores, who has every throw in the book — and can run a little, too.
They’re the kind of predators you don’t want to meet in a forest or a field.
Pierce • Tight end • 6-6, 215
2021 in review: Brahmer committed to Nebraska as a sophomore, having shown major promise in his 10th-grade season. Then as a junior, he broke out with one of the best seasons in state history for a tight end/receiver. Brahmer caught 63 passes for 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns in a year that took Pierce to the Class C-1 title game.
2022 outlook: Pierce lost 37-25 to Columbus Lakeview in the title game, finishing its season 10-3. Though Brahmer had nine catches for 113 yards, including a 45-yard play, Lakeview led 24-6 at halftime and picked off three passes. In a competitive C-1, Pierce still stands out as one of the state’s best, having been to three straight state title games and winning it all in 2020. “I’m not really focusing on my stats, and I’m not focusing on being a Husker one day,” Brahmer said. “I’m going to focus on our goal: Winning a state championship.” And he’ll do it as the team’s most versatile player. He’ll play every snap — offense, defense and special teams. Brahmer is the punter, kicker and punt returner.
College plans: Nebraska is the spot for Brahmer, who becomes the second tight end from Pierce to play for the Huskers. The first, Matt Herian, is one of the best tight ends in NU history. He lives a few houses down from the Brahmer family. “Matt was a bit of a different player, but there’s a lot of similarities, too. Matt was extremely fast for 6-5, 250 pounds — he could run a 10.8 100 meters — and Ben’s not a 10.8 guy,” said Pierce coach Mark Brahmer, who coached both. “But Ben’s probably the jumping equivalent. Matt was maybe more of a straight-ahead guy, whereas Ben can spend more time running wide receivers routes.”
40 time: 4.6
A moment when you were a predator on the field: “A long time ago, when I was really little. I’ve been involved in football since I could stand, been watching it, too. It’s always really been my love.” But his performance in a loss — a 35-33 defeat to Boone Central — stands out most, when he had nine catches for 238 yards.
Pierce coach Mark Brahmer on son Ben: “He’s developed into a pretty darn good leader in the last year. He’s kind of quiet, but he’s going to have to step out of that shell a little bit so he can be a verbal and vocal leader for us. He runs well, he jumps well, he’s got good body control and he catches it really well. Where a lot of kids would struggle to make some grabs, he’s able to do that, and he’s become a more physical football player.”
Lincoln East • WR/OLB • 6-5, 190
2021 in review: An electric pass offense headlined a breakout season for the Spartans, who finished 6-4 and were a tough out in the first round of the Class A playoffs against Gretna. Coleman had a hand in just about everything. He averaged 33 yards per catch on 17 grabs that included 10 touchdowns. He dominated as a defensive end, bulldozing his way to 57 tackles (7½ sacks), five pass breakups, four forced fumbles and a blocked punt. He came on the scene early in a win over Lincoln Southeast with two long scores and a pair of sacks.
2022 outlook: Defense will be a strength while the offense transitions from Nebraska Gatorade player of the year Noah Walters and rebuilds the front line. Coleman will again be the feature playmaker — “Let’s get the ball and go,” he said. Defensively, he’s shifting back to outside linebacker to have more freedom to roam and be around the ball. A blend of seniors and underclassmen are aiming for a longer playoff stay this time. “We have so much potential it isn’t even funny,” Coleman said. “You can see it all clicking. And when it’s clicking, it’s good.”
College plans: To be determined. Coleman set his commitment date for Oct. 15 and has narrowed his list to seven, including Oklahoma, Georgia and Nebraska. The four-star, top-100 prospect is one of the most athletic players to come from the state in recent memory and holds more than two dozen offers overall. A deciding factor may be how well his contending universities perform early in their seasons. He’ll also go for state gold in the sprints in track this spring.
40 time: 4.37
A moment when you were a predator on the field: “(Lincoln) Southeast game, I started out bad on defense. Then we got the ball and they gave me single coverage and I’m like, ‘Touchdown.’ We changed the route really quick and that was all I needed to know.”
Outdoor skills: “We went to Sacramento last weekend for the Junior Olympics. We went on an outdoor course that was like 50, 60 feet in the air. It was fun, rock climbing and everything. I love outdoor stuff.”
Best natural landmark seen: “Probably climbing some mountains in Colorado. Quandary Peak was the very first mountain I climbed. I remembered thinking, ‘I’m about to die.’ But we made it to the top.”
Lincoln East coach John Gingery on Coleman: “He’s going to have an expanded role. I think he looks a lot better on defense already. We’ll just hopefully build on what he’s been able to accomplish already. The kid is already a great pass rusher — we’ll just hopefully amplify that a little bit.”
— By Evan Bland
Gretna • Quarterback • 6-3, 200
2021 in review: Rare is the high school quarterback — anywhere — who starts as a freshman. But Flores did, steadily progressing as a passer and leader until last season, when he led the Dragons to a (since vacated) Class A state title. In a balanced offense, Flores threw for 2,885 yards and 26 touchdowns, completing 71% of his passes. Still, it wasn’t until late in the season when he tore through the playoffs — including a duel with Lincoln East’s Noah Walters — that Flores’ value as a quarterback became clear. He helped beat Omaha Westside 7-3 in the state title game, went into the offseason with a ton of recruiting attention and was even the first Nebraska QB invited to the Elite 11 Finals over the summer.
2022 outlook: Flores committed to Oklahoma State, so he goes into 2022 trying to repeat — sort of — as state champion. Gretna was stripped of the title by the NSAA for using an ineligible player, so Flores will try to win another over a stacked Class A field. “Going into the season, summer workouts, all that, I can just focus on my team, so we can do what we need to do,” Flores said. “Last year is not our main thought, but we’re all keeping it in the backs of our head. There’s a fire inside — a little chip on our shoulder — a little extra motivation going into our games.”
College plans: Recruiting attention picked up after the season when Flores’ tape got around to college coaches, who saw the accuracy and arm strength. Several Power Five teams extended offers — Nebraska wasn’t one of them — and Flores selected the Cowboys after an official visit. “You could tell, once he got back from that visit, Zane had a level of comfort with Oklahoma State,” Gretna coach Mike Kayl said. That comfort was strong enough to say no when more high-profile schools inquired during and after Flores’ performance at the Elite 11 event.
40 time: 4.6
A moment when you were a predator on the field: Both he and Kayl agree it was Flores’ 328-yard performance in the state title game — against a stingy Westside defense — that stands out. “As a kid, I’m not going to lie, it was my dream to play in it,” Flores said. Kayl said college coaches pointed out several throws during the game as the kinds they look for from prospects. Kayl mentioned, too, the duel between Flores and Walters, won by Gretna 59-42. Flores threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores. That game gave Flores an edge over Walters as the best quarterback in the state.
Gretna coach Mike Kayl on Flores: “Each week he’d do something special, but he’d go right back and watch film and find something else to work on.”
Lincoln Southeast • Offensive/defensive tackle • 6-6, 285
2021 in review: The Knights pride themselves on being multiple on offense, and No. 77 was a big reason why. Gottula turned in an All-Nebraska season at left tackle, stifling the pass rush and opening running lanes as players like receiver Will Barrett and running back Max Buettenback piled up yardage. The son of coach Ryan Gottula also began rotating in at defensive tackle. Southeast finished 5-5, bowing out in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
2022 outlook: Defense figures to be a strength for Southeast, complemented by an athletic set of playmakers on offense led by Buettenback and a strong sophomore class. Gottula will again be a fixture at left tackle while seeing reps increase along the defensive line, meaning Southeast should frequently have an advantage in the trenches as it seeks another playoff run. “Our goal is to go 1-0 every week and take it week by week and put ourselves into position to win every game,” the Husker commit said.
College plans: Growing up a Nebraska fan, he became NU’s second commit of the 2023 class when he pledged last summer, doing so shortly after a scholarship offer from his performance at a Friday Night Lights camp. Nebraska has changed its offensive line coach since then, but it didn’t affect the lineman’s plans. He’s projectable at tackle or guard at the next level. He chose the Huskers over finalists Iowa, Iowa State and Kansas State.
40 time: 5.1
A moment when you were a predator on the field: “Normally that’s how you want to go into every play. On the offensive line you just want to be physical and attack the guy you’re assigned to block.”
Outdoor skills: “We’ve never really camped that much, but I’m a pretty good fisherman. As far as starting a fire or something like that, not so much.”
Best natural landmark seen: “Probably Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills in South Dakota. That’s a pretty cool area.”
Southeast coach Ryan Gottula on Gunnar: “As a senior he’s going to have to take on an even bigger role on the defensive side of the ball. When you have good players, you don’t want to take them off the field very much. He’s worked hard on his conditioning and he’s going to have to be a good player for us on both sides of the ball, which is a little different from when he was a sophomore. I expect him to do very well with that.”
— By Evan Bland
Fremont Bergan • Athlete • 6-4, 220
2021 in review: The Knights avenged a title-game loss in 2020 in a big way, going 13-0 and capturing the Class C-2 championship — winning each game by at least 20. McIntyre was a critical piece. On offense, he was a field-stretching receiver who caught 37 balls for 873 yards and 14 touchdowns while mixing in a few carries. He roamed as an edge rusher and run stopper on the other side, piling up 63 tackles (10 for loss) and a fumble recovery. The junior also had a pair of scoring grabs in the title game.
2022 outlook: The Knights have a chip on the shoulders. They lost a senior-heavy class and must prove themselves anew if a repeat title is coming in November. McIntyre will shoulder a larger load on offense, getting the ball as a receiver and running back in all sorts of looks. One of the few prominent holdovers from last year’s championship team will also step into a larger leadership role. “To get back to the same spot is the goal,” McIntyre said. “We say this every year — ‘If you don’t want to be the best, then why are you doing it?’ I’m excited to take it on, ball out with the boys and maybe play some full games this year.”
College plans: McIntyre’s recruitment exploded in the spring — he received his first major offer in April and committed to Oklahoma in June. The three-star prospect will arrive in Norman next year as a tight end with the potential to flex out to receiver. The people and passion of Oklahoma won over McIntyre on his official visit, edging other finalists Kansas State and Iowa.
40 time: 4.52
A moment when you were a predator on the field: “Defensively there’s a lot but offensively, I have that, too. Stalk blocking — blocking as a receiver on the outside — I just like to block kids and put them in the ground. It’s in a bunch of highlights where I just kind of take dudes out of bounds or put them down.”
Outdoor skills: “I don’t really do any of that. I like animals a little but other than that I don’t really go outside. Camping and fishing isn’t really my thing.”
Best natural landmark seen: “I think we’ve been down to Sioux Falls but nothing crazy.”
Fremont Bergan coach Seth Mruz on McIntyre: “Kade’s a big-time player, so for us to have a good year he’s going to have to have a good year. And that’s not just statistically — he’s going to have to be a good leader, and he has been through the years. If he’s healthy and doing what he can do, we’ll have the chance to be in some games. We’re going to have to be creative and get him as many touches as we can.”
— By Evan Bland
Elkhorn South • Edge rusher • 6-4, 235
2021 in review: A two-way lineman for the Storm in 2021, Noonan dominated as an edge rusher and tackle in a program known for strong line play. While Elkhorn South moved Noonan around a bit on the defensive front, his best spot was right outside the offensive tackle, where he could work his complement of moves, including an impressive rip move, on unsuspecting opponents. Noonan was good at peeling away, too, and getting after ball carriers downfield.
2022 outlook: Noonan is laser-focused on winning a state title that has been elusive since Elkhorn South moved to Class A. Last season, the Storm lost a state semifinal rematch to Gretna. “Our goal is to make it back to Lincoln and win a state championship,” Noonan said. Gretna, eight miles south on Hwy. 6, has become a rival for the Storm. “They knocked us off, and we were the only team to beat them in the regular season,” Noonan said. “I feel like we can definitely take them down next year, so I’m excited for the season to start.”
College plans: It was always going to be hard for Noonan to say no to dad’s alma mater — Nebraska — and ultimately, Maverick will go where Danny went. The Husker staff worked tirelessly to make it happen, contacting Noonan, who got offers from Stanford, Iowa and Kansas State, among others, as much as it could and maintaining a strong relationship. But Maverick picked NU without a ton of input from his dad, a former Husker All-American. “I don’t think they could have done anything better than what they did,” Danny said of NU’s coaches. “Every move they made, everything that they showed us, every visit we had was spot on. And I didn’t say anything to Maverick.”
40 time: Noonan wasn’t sure
A moment when you were a predator on the field: “Our regular-season game last year against Gretna was one game I remember, and also every time I play Kearney. I think we’ve played them four times in the last two years and I think, every game, I’ve gotten at least two sacks. I’m able to get pressure on Kearney’s quarterbacks for whatever reason.” Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg picked another moment befitting of a predator, when Noonan, having missed a sack, didn’t quit on the play, chasing a receiver 20 yards downfield to make a tackle. It may not be Noonan’s favorite play, Rosenberg quipped, but it showed Noonan’s hustle and aggression.
Rosenberg on Noonan’s leadership: The coach told the story of the Super Six photo session, in which Noonan was allowed to miss Elkhorn South’s final summer conditioning event — held at 9 a.m. on a Friday — to attend. No worries, Noonan showed up even earlier that morning to get in his running.