Longtime Centennial football coach Mike Diggins knew before the 2023 season that there was much more to the Cougars than outsiders believed.

Centennial had developed a reputation as a gang of roughnecks, bruisers who trafficked in pounding on foes. The soundtrack to the typical Centennial football game was "thud."

In his 32 years as a coach at his alma mater — he graduated from Centennial in 1982 — and the past 14 years as head coach, this is how Diggins has liked it. Let the other guys try to look pretty. In Diggins' mind, it was always better to be comfortable in your own skin and know your strengths than to try to be something you're not.

Here's who the Cougars of fall 2023 are — state champions and the All-Metro Sports Awards Boys Team of the Year.

"If you ask our kids, 'Who are you?' they'll go, 'We're blue-collar. We're blue-collar kids that are going to hit you,' " Diggins said with obvious pride while his team was preparing to play in the Prep Bowl last November.

"We've kind of ingrained that. And they're competitive. We have competition every day in practice and weight room. It's always competition. All summer it's competition. We compete against each other, we compete against other teams. We take pride in that."

As fulfilled as Diggins always feels about the program he has crafted, he saw something special in last year's team. There was more than just a team that runs the veer offense. The Cougars had plenty of talent. Running backs Maverick Harper and Ty Burgoon were an effective inside-outside tandem. Two-way star Marcus Whiting stuffed offensive foes on defense and ran over them on offense. And quarterback Daylen Cummings was a consummate leader, a threat both running and throwing.

While still committed to a familiar run-first attack, Diggins saw his team's depth and let the Cougars open things up just a little.

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It paid off when the Cougars jumped to a two-touchdown halftime lead, then leaned on their grittier side to hold off a late Edina comeback to beat the Hornets 28-27 in the Class 6A championship game. The defense, long Centennial's bread and butter, came up big in the second half, making two interceptions and stopping Edina in the shadow of the goal line on a potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt.

A surprise? To others maybe. Diggins knew from the get-go that this team had championship potential.

"These guys believed in our dream and our goals the whole year," Diggins said. "We thought it was possible in June, to be honest with you."