KEARNEY — Speed thrills.
And Miko Maessner brought speed to the Kearney High School football team. The Class A 100- and 200-meter dash state champion in the spring, Maessner ran for a school single-season record 1,264 yards and scored 14 touchdowns during the Bearcats’ 7-3 season. He also established a new career rushing record, which is “difficult to do with some of the running backs we’ve had go through here in past years,” KHS coach Brandon Cool said.
Maessner also had 205 yards and two touchdowns on kickoff returns and caught eight passes for 80 yards to net 1,549 all-purpose yards last season.
“Miko had a tremendous year. ... He has great foot speed. He’s athletic. He can get the ball to the end zone in a hurry,” Cool said.
Maessner’s highlight-film year, which included a 76-yard touchdown run and a 95-yard kickoff return, has led to his selection as the Kearney Hub 11-man football player of the year.
He has committed to play football collegiately at Princeton University. The Tigers will get more than speed when Maessner joins them this fall as he’s added more power to his game.
“He’s athletic, he can catch the ball. I thought he really improved running the football between the tackles this year. So he’s gained some toughness this year, which kids usually do from a maturity standpoint,” Cool said.
After an eye-opening sophomore year, in which he went over the 1,000-yard mark, Maessner ran for less than 500 yards as a junior.
“I just wasn’t healthy all year. I had a lot of problems going on and it affected me a lot,” Maessner said of his junior season. “But I put in a lot of work in the offseason and it all paid off. ... I felt a lot better. All the work I put in, all the support I got from my family, friends, teammates and coaches, it all helped.”
It was a welcome site for the Bearcats football team.
“I think the game slowed down for him,” Cool said. “He was more patient, especially reading the blocks on the perimeter. He was more patient with our offensive linemen, whether it was a guard pulling or a tackle pulling, where he was able to read those plays a little more than as a sophomore. His confidence really, really grew from his sophomore, junior year up to his senior year.”
Maessner’s sophomore season was his first year playing running back, and he believes he’s made progress and that has happened because of “learning how to cut and read the defenses. This year I tried to cut a little more. My sophomore year I was straight up and down the field,” he said.
Across the line, Cool said he could see the opponents adjusting their defenses to stop Maessner. Not only did they have a couple of players keeping an eye on where he might be going, but “they would always have a ‘spy guy’ on him also.” That made getting him in the open field, one-on-one with a defensive back, a little bit harder, but not impossible. And when it happened — zoom.
“Foot speed in the world of athletics is the key to a lot of success and he definitely has it,” Cool said.
For the Bearcats, Maessner also had a defensive role. Playing cornerback, he made 14 tackles and recovered a fumble.
“It was not my specialty, but I’ll do whatever to help the team,” Maessner said
When Princeton started talking to him about playing running back, that finalized the deal. He had been recruited by South Dakota State, Iowa State and Ohio University, but things fell into place at Princeton when his father, a Hackensack, N.J., native and University of Virginia graduate, had a reunion with friends near Princeton. The reunion coincided with a football camp.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Then when I went to that Princeton camp, it was the last camp I went to. I just felt right at home there,” Maessner said. “The opportunities I’m going to have with the degree and everything is going to be awesome and the connections I’m going to make. And I love the coaching staff and a lot of the players.”
But he will miss the friends he’s made at Kearney.
In spite of the long runs, the touchdowns, the big-game victories, Maessner said the highlight of his senior season was the team’s first and last games — both losses.
“Even though we lost that first game against GI, it was really huge for us,” he said. “Just going out and playing with the guys I’ve played with for four years and to go play our rival was a good time. Then that very last game, even though we lost, just to play one more game at Foster Field was a very special moment.”