Football: Tigers return wealth of experienceLAKE CITY — The Lake City football team hopes that last season was a turning point, the moment a program was changed with a conference championship.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
LAKE CITY — The Lake City football team hopes that last season was a turning point, the moment a program was changed with a conference championship.
The Tigers return much of the starting lineup from a year ago and confidence is high.
“We’re like every other team,” senior running back Mitch Kuchinka said. “We want to win a state championship and that’s our goal.”
Lake City lost 21 games in a row leading up a 48-6 victory against Hayfield during the second week last season. From there, the Tigers finished with a 6-3 record overall and went undefeated in the Hiawatha Valley League Gold Division. Lake City won through a combination of speed and grit, and head coach Trevor Narum said he expects more of the same this season.
“We’re not going to be one of the biggest, strongest team that we play, but I do expect us to be one of the faster teams in the conference and in our section,” Narum said.
The Tigers return their starting quarterback, senior Ben Schramski, along with running backs Will Balow, Mitch Kuchinka and Elliot Cox. Those three backs combined for 1,377 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns last year.
Schramski averaged 105.8 passing yards per game last season on just 14.3 attempts per game. He completed 49.6 percent of his passes for 953 yards and had nine passing touchdowns to six interceptions.
“We’ve had a lot of experience at the varsity level,” senior wide receiver Jake Griebenow said. “We’ve all played since we were sophomores, or some of us were even freshmen. We’ve got a lot of weapons we’re excited to use.”
Lake City also welcomes back three players with at least 230 yards receiving. Griebenow had 13 catches for 230 yards and five touchdowns, senior Coleman Sweeney tallied 16 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns and Balow finished with 16 for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
But last year’s team leader, Rusty Grisim, is no longer around. His leadership was crucial for the Tigers’ success, as well as his role on a defense that led the conference in rushing defense.
Still, teammates hope bringing back so many upperclassmen will fill the void.
“Man it’s tough, it really hurts losing a guy like Rusty, especially when he’s so close to a lot of us,” Kuchinka said. “But we have a lot of new guys stepping up and being leaders and we have a lot of leaders still from last year.”
Narum said most of the players took their lumps as underclassmen but the strides Lake City made last year prepared the Tigers for this season.
“I think experience is a big plus,” Narum said. “It’s hard to say any season is more important to the program. I think last year’s season might have been more important to the future of our program because it was the first year in a few that we’ve been successful. A lot of younger kids got to see that. Last year, hopefully, was a springboard for our future more than anything.”
Despite all the success, the Tigers were eliminated from the Section 1AAA playoffs with a blowout 41-7 loss to Kasson-Mantorville. If Lake City wants to be more than a one-year hit, winning in arguably one of the toughest sections in the state will be a necessity.
“Our kids have lofty goals as do our coaches,” Narum said. “We really have not done a whole lot at the section level in a number of years. That’s something that we talk about on a regular basis is competing in the playoffs and taking our program to that next step. Last year we won a conference championship and that’s great but ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs so we want to get beyond that and be successful at the section level.”
The first game of the season will be a good barometer for the Tigers. Lake City travels to Kasson-Mantorville Friday, hoping to get revenge for last season. The KoMets left a sour taste with the Tigers, Narum said, and Lake City will see how well the players deal with added pressure to succeed.
“Everybody expects them to do a lot of good things this year,” Narum said. “Along with that comes some pressure, there was no pressure on us last year.
“There’s an expectation there, now you have to live up to those expectations. I expect them to handle the pressure just fine.”