“No” in black, “Apologies” in red. The large banner hanging in front of Lakeville North’s student section before last Thursday’s football game at Woodbury was hard to miss.

And for those outside the Panthers’ program, probably hard to understand.

The defending Class 6A champs aren’t perfect. They can admit when they’re wrong. But they’re done feeling bad for their swagger and their sport – both of which they’ve come under fire for.

“No Apologies” is this season’s motto, derived from the program’s overall “North or None” identity. Coach Brian Vossen, an alum of the legacy school that became North, coined both terms.

The south-metro suburb feeds two high schools, North and South. A recent debate about the location and financing of a sports dome has divided the athletics community. Vossen heard a South parent say, “With North or None, I guess we’re nobodies at South.” Vossen balked.

“That’s not what it means,” he said. “We’ve built a culture of finding a way to win at everything we do. If that rubs someone the wrong way, tough.”

“No Apologies” goes a step beyond. Football advocates feel their sport has drawn undue criticisms in the wake of concussion awareness. As a result, participation numbers are down. Coaches believe they are teaching a smarter, safer way to play.

But football is still football, Vossen said.

“It’s like I heard [former Vikings center] Matt Birk say at our football summit, ‘We are not going to apologize for football anymore,’” Vossen said. “We don’t want every kid to play. But we do want every kid that’s willing to pay the price of admission.”

After a 24-7 defeat of Woodbury, Lakeville North running back-turned-quarterback RaJa Nelson defined “No Apologies” as “we’re not sorry for who we are. We’re North. If you walk with us, you do. If you don’t, you don’t”

Woodbury coach Andy Hill, whose team plays at Eden Prairie this week and risks starting the season 0-2, also spoke to the tougher side of football and life lessons.

“To steal their line, I’ve got no apologies for wanting this schedule,” Hill said. “We’re trying to grow as a program and you don’t do that by not playing the best teams.”

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