Grit and talent, highlighted by 6-7 quarterback and Division I prospect Reid Travis, might be just the formula the Islanders need to overcome their recent history of coming close but never reaching the top.
The cozy 3-year-old football stadium that is home to DeLaSalle on Nicollet Island couldn't be more of an opposite to the team's practice field.
With no room on the island to practice, a team chock-full of Division I prospects heads to a dry, dusty plot 2 miles north of the school. At Marshall Terrace Park in northeast Minneapolis, the greenspace is more accurately brown space. Amenities are few. Dirt from the softball fields leaks into the practice grass.
For coach Sean McMenomy, it's perfect.
"It keeps us salty," he said. "I tell our guys that we don't need anything. We'll practice anywhere, even a parking lot if we have to. We just want to play football."
A little grit and a lot of talent, highlighted by 6-7 quarterback and Division I prospect Reid Travis, might be just the formula the Islanders need to overcome their recent history of coming close but never reaching the top.
In its past six seasons, DeLaSalle has compiled a 61-12 record with four state tournament appearances. That includes Prep Bowl losses to Glencoe-Silver Lake in the 2007 and 2008 Class 3A championship games.
The Islanders have created a small-school collegiate pipeline, routinely sending a handful of graduates to play at the next level. Two players from the 2011 team, considered a rebuilding season, were set to play DI football this year -- Lucas Wiborg is an offensive lineman at Cornell while Ross Barker was a wide receiver at Wisconsin before a heart ailment forced him to give up football.
The 2012 edition is more impressive, and then some. Defensive end Jareid Combs, offensive lineman Chad Fahning and defensive back Oscar Opara are all weighing multiple D-I offers.
Junior halfback Chris Williams has turned heads this season with 484 yards and six touchdowns rushing in two games.
But what sets this team apart, and has McMenomy even more enthused than normal, is Travis, athletically gifted and possibly the state's best high school quarterback prospect since Joe Mauer.
Travis is well-known to basketball recruiters. He led the Islanders to the Class 3A boys' basketball title last March with a dominating 20-point, 18-rebound performance in the championship game.
But his height, athletic ability, smooth delivery and intelligence -- he carries a 3.9 GPA -- also has college football coaches mesmerized.
"Oh, you should see the mail we get," McMenomy said, shaking his head in wonder. "We get 20, 30 letters a day. Alabama, North Carolina State, Washington. Boston College has already offered. It's crazy."
With his size and skill set, Travis would have attacted college recruiters regardless of how he performed, but his stock went up after a 2011 season in which he passed for 16 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards.
He figures to better those marks this season, but so far the strong play of Williams and the Islanders' defense has masked him as just another member of a talented offense.
That doesn't bother Travis a bit.
"I love football, but I don't play 7-on-7 leagues or go to football camps,'' said Travis, citing spring and summer basketball commitments. "Most of my time is playing basketball. But I feel like this team is good enough and hungry enough that I don't have to do everything right away. I'm working and getting better."
Opara, who also spends time at running back, has witnessed the quarterback's development first-hand.
"His reads are getting better and he's more poised," Opara said. "You can just see how much he's improved."
DeLaSalle is hoping for the same from its large number of less-experienced juniors. McMenomy feels that as long he's seeing progress, he's happy. And he can't wait to see where this season goes.
"A season is a work of art," he said. "By the end of this season, we could have a masterpiece."