Football Season Preview: Motivated Tigers ready to take the leap
LAKE CITY – The Lake City Tigers are still unsatisfied with how last season ended.
In 2012, Lake City won the Hiawatha Valley League Gold division for a second straight year, got into the top 10 of the Class 3A rankings and reached the Section 1AAA championship game behind the play of its outstanding senior class.
But, the season came to a heartbreaking end in the section championship in a 20-14 loss to eventual state runner-up Rochester Lourdes.
“Everyone on the team has a bad taste in their mouth still,” said running back Elliot Cox. “We’re still pushing to get back into that position.”
While the loss of last year’s 14 seniors is a tough pill to swallow, make no mistake: Lake City is not rebuilding. In fact, the Tigers’ sights are set on another deep section run in 2013.
“It’s not the same group of guys, but there’s still a close-knit kind of family out there,” said senior running back/linebacker Will Balow. “We don’t have as much talent, so we’re relying on our hard work a lot more.”
To combat the lack of experience, Lake City has made repetitions the top priority as the team readies for the season opener at 7 p.m. Friday at home against St. Charles.
“They’ve practiced at a high tempo and have gotten a lot of repetitions in,” said Tigers’ head coach Trevor Narum. “We graduated some phenomenal players at the skill positions and the offensive line. Once we gain some experience – because we don’t have much varsity experience at certain positions – we could get back to (the section finals). We’ll just see how that all plays out.”
Where the Tigers bring back a breadth of experience is at running back, where Balow and fellow senior Elliot Cox look to maintain an offense that ranked second in Class 3A at 42.3 points per game. Cox led the ground game with 795 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Balow added 641 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Balow and I will have to pick up the slack if the offense struggles, but I think we’ll be fine,” Cox said. “We got some young kids that are going to be pretty special.”
Narum added, “Those two (Balow and Cox), looking back at it, Will was our leading rusher as a sophomore, and Elliot was our leading rusher last year as a junior. You have two guys who have been your leading rushers in the past for one more year, that’s a nice luxury to have.”
The passing game will look to rebuild around quarterback Reid Lundell, who replaces one of the area’s top signal-callers from a year ago, Ben Schramski. At wide receiver, the Tigers look to replace the production of All-Area wideouts Coleman Sweeney and Jake Griebenow with senior Matt Glasenapp, juniors Derek Bremer and Jesse Oliver and sophomore Brady Kuchinka. Sophomore Eli Custer looks to replace his older brother, Christian, at tight end.
Up front on both the offensive and defensive line, there is concern as only two starters from last year – seniors Andrew Denzer and Tristan Creeley – are back in 2013.
“Denzer and Creeley are big, physical guys,” Balow said, “but that’s as big as the line gets. Speed is going to be our biggest asset.
Defensively, Lake City returns a strong core of linebackers with Balow, Cox and Michael Noll. Across the rest of the defense, experience is limited.
“Matt Glasenapp got some time at corner last season, and Tristan Creeley got a lot of varsity minutes at defensive end,” Narum said. “There’s some experience there, but not a lot.”
Thanks to the program’s resurgence over the last two years, expectations remain high for the Tigers even without the departing seniors. Add in last year’s loss to Lourdes, and Lake City is just as motivated as ever as they try to break through the section.
“I think it’s something that has motivated them, to get that close to state and come up six points short,” Narum said. “It’s something that’s driven these older guys.”
Balow added, “You can’t dwell on losses, but it definitely still burns. Hopefully we can use that as a learning experience and build on what we did last year and keep improving.
“We’re not going to be the team we were right off the bat, but hopefully we can build and improve to get to that point.”