Two years ago the Eagles opted up to the largest football class with players coach Jeff Ferguson hoped were talented enough to succeed. They answered by reaching the state tournament semifinals. Once again opting up to the largest class, Totino-Grace again faces personnel challenges. Eight players will miss time because of various injuries. “We have some good players who have worked hard,” Ferguson said. “The issue is one of depth.” Facing Edina and two-time defending state champion Eden Prairie in consecutive weeks won’t make Ferguson’s job any easier.
2 MAPLE GROVE
The Crimson’s bid for an undefeated season in 2012 ended one game short of the state tournament but coach Matt Lombardi said he felt his budding program grew through adversity. “The thing about the loss to Minnetonka is that our kids didn’t feel they were outclassed at all,” Lombardi said. “And then we watched Minnetonka take Eden Prairie to the brink and it showed us we’re not that far off.” Maple Grove will be led by a strong, veteran group of linemen and an emerging defense.
Losing all-everything running back Bridgeport Tusler to graduation meant transition was inevitable. But Osseo is well-equipped for change. Quarterback Matt Miedtke, at 6-4 and 205 pounds, has two receivers of similar size, Connor Kittleson and Josh Goldschmidt, at his disposal. Running back Jaimen Hampton was an all-conference honorable mention last fall. Games against Minnetonka and Blaine within the first three weeks will help determine how well these Orioles can fly.
4 ELK RIVER
“This is going to be a special team. Possibly the best team I have ever coached.” Elk River coach Steve Hamilton’s outlook says it all. The Elks are brimming with talented players and consider themselves in the Class 5A state championship mix. Denis Bardashevskiy, who posted more than 1,900 yards last fall, runs behind a veteran offensive line. Starting the season against Eden Prairie, while daunting, will show players what championship football is all about.
Former wide receiver Jared Brenny becomes the trigger man at quarterback for the Knights’ spread offense. Expect Irondale to lean on running back Victor James and a strong offensive line as Brenny settles under center. “You ask yourself each year, ‘What are we going to be good at?’ ” coach Ben Geisler said. “Hopefully for us, that’s running the football. Then we can start throwing the ball and force other teams to defend vertically and horizontally.”
David La Vaque