Here are five north-metro football teams to watch in the 2014 season, which opens for most metro-area schools with games on Thursday and Friday.

 

Columbia Heights

Happy days are here again in the Heights. A trio of talented offensive players pushed the Hylanders to a 7-3 record and within one game of the Class 3A state tournament last season. All three return. Senior quarterback David Dixon accounted for 1,015 total yards. Senior running back D’Aireus Mock rushed for 1,692 yards and junior receiver Jarrett Baptiste hauled in 21 catches for 522 yards for an explosive 24.8 yards per reception. If Dixon and Baptiste can lead a rebuilt defense, the Hylanders will challenge for a section title.

 

Maple Grove

From 4-6 to 9-1 to 10-1 in the past three seasons, Maple Grove’s records reflect a program on the rise. Crimson players are finding those last few steps toward attaining elite status to be a doozy. “The kids have high expectations and so now you’re seeing the highs and lows are more exaggerated,” coach Matt Lombardi said. “We’re trying to keep them on a more even keel.” This fall is critical to continuity. Last season’s senior group “carried the program for three years,” Lombardi said, adding, “now we’ll see if we can move it forward.” Circle Maple Grove at Wayzata on Sept. 12, Lombardi’s first game against his former program.

 

Mounds View

The Mustangs will ride smaller horses up front this season. “Our two starting offensive tackles are 210 pounds, and they are our two biggest guys,” coach Jim Galvin said. Mobile offensive linemen help power Mounds View’s wing-T offense. But whether the Mustangs have enough sand in the bucket to reach their first big-school state tournament in four seasons remains to be seen. Quarterback Joe Fredrickson and tight end Ryan Kaczynski could emerge as a top passing combination. The defense will employ a similar small-but-aggressive approach.

 

Osseo

We last saw Osseo electing to go for a two-point conversion and having the pass intercepted by Totino-Grace in the Class 6A state tournament quarterfinals. An extra point likely would have forced overtime but Osseo coach Derrin Lamker said he “would have gone for it twice on Sunday.” The Orioles will go for broke all season facing one of the state’s toughest schedules. Games against Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove and Totino-Grace will test an undersized but fast Orioles team. Running backs Justin Ekiyor and Prince Kruah and receiver Gabriel Galamue are speed merchants. “We just need to stand up physically, especially on defense,” Lamker said.

 

St. Francis

The 2011 Saints team remains a touchstone in Chris Lindquist’s program. The group earned a 7-2 record, conference championship and first home playoff game since 1981. Another special season could be at hand, given Lindquist’s assessment that “even in 2011 we weren’t this talented.” Junior quarterback Hunter Trautman, senior running back Jon Santiago and senior tight end Blake Moreno (6-6, 250 pounds) provide a strong foundation for the offense. Those special athletes and team-wide experience has Lindquist aiming for both Mississippi 8 Conference and Class 5A, Section 7 titles.

David La Vaque