For Day 2 of Week 1 of the high school football season, staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque are again pondering who might win and why. Their discussion ahead of Friday's games and their picks:
Cooper at Orono, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Under head coach Willie Howard, Cooper has harnessed the loads of talent that walk the school's hallways and is now a perennial power. The Hawks' big hopes a year ago were undermined by the death of a coach before Week 1 and the season-ending loss of their quarterback on the final play of a state quarterfinal victory. With TE/DE and LSU commit Jaxon Howard leading the way, Cooper is due for a little positive luck. The pick: Cooper 33, Orono 24
David says: Orono also finished its season at U.S. Bank Stadium last November, reaching the semifinals of the Class 4A state tournament. A solid nucleus returns, led by the senior trio of Charlie Kraus (QB), Victor Ruhland (WR/DB) and Nash Tichy, an RB/TE/LB committed to the University of St. Thomas. The Spartans send the crowd home happy by knocking off a 5A foe. The pick: Orono 24, Cooper 21
Fridley vs. SMB, at Blake, 7 p.m.
Jim says: For a long time, SMB — the cooperative involving Minnehaha Academy, Blake and St. Paul Academy — has leaned heavily on college-level players. This year the Wolfpack boast strong numbers but fewer elite-level players. Fridley coach Justin Reese has quietly built an exceptional program, compiling a 26-4 record going back to 2019. QB MJ Newton, a 1,000-yard passer and rusher, is back. The pick: Fridley 32, SMB 26
David says: Fridley always played SMB tough the past few seasons, even as the Wolfpack were enjoying success against fellow Class 4A schools thanks to talented players who could have stood out on 6A teams. A more ordinary roster seems to make SMB vulnerable. Let's see if other programs can do something with their perceived opportunity. The pick: Fridley 28, SMB 27
Simley at St. Louis Park, 7 p.m.
Jim says: St. Louis Park has big shoes to fill at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Simley, which won the season opener between the two teams handily in 2021, returns QB Caden Renslow, a 1,400-yard passer last year, and RB Gavin Nelson, a two-time state wrestling champion who plays with grit you'd expect of a wrestler. The pick: Simley 28, St. Louis Park 20
David says: Things are looking up for both teams, who are fresh off better-than-.500 seasons. And their recent pedigree is solid. St. Louis Park reached its first state tournament in 2017 while Simley has reached the final eight in Class 4A twice in the past three seasons. Call it recency bias, but it's hard to ignore a team on a roll. The pick: Simley 24, St. Louis Park 17