GRANITE FALLS - The players on the Yellow Medicine East football team don't want to waste time thinking about last season.
The Sting finished 2011 with an 0-9 record, so that's understandable. They want a clean slate, and that's exactly what they'll have. Sixteen seniors graduated from last year's team, and only four Sting players with significant playing experience return for 2012.
Head coach Mike Gaffaney said the new crew wants to return YME to its former winning ways by bringing in a new attitude.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Yellow Medicine East head football coach Mike Gaffaney addresses his players before they run through offensive plays during practice Wednesday morning in Granite Falls.
"I wouldn't say last year wasn't a successful season," Gaffaney said. "The kids played hard and we got better each week, but the bottom line is we just didn't win. It's important, but it's not the only thing in high school sports.
"With these kids it's like anything else, they want to change that mindset and not be satisfied with just being able to play, they want to win."
To win, the Sting will need to get some stops. One of the main problems YME had last season was that it couldn't stop anybody at key times, Gaffaney said. The Sting gave up the most points in the West Central Conference South at 31.9 points per game.
2011 Record: 0-9
West Central Conference Finish: 7th (0-6)
27-0 loss to BOLD
(Section 5AA first round)
Points Allowed/Game: 31.9
Key Losses:?RB Devon Dyrdahl, QB Jake Sharkey
Key Returners: RB Jacob Pederson, RB Kolten Anderson
Another thing they hope to get is some luck. Last year, they had none.
"If there's 10 breaks during a game, sometimes you get fortunate and you might get seven or eight of the breaks," Gaffaney said. "Last year, we only got one or two of those breaks. It was just that kind of a year. I've been on the other end of that, too."
Added center Cody Ulrich, one of the captains on the team, "We'd make one bad play and then we'd kind of lose our momentum and couldn't ever really get it back."
In the first week of practice for the 2012 season, Gaffaney has been trying to teach his players that they can create their own luck.
When the team was running through its offensive plays on Wednesday and the ball was fumbled on a pitch, Gaffaney got on his players for not hustling to dive on the ball. For a team that struggled with turnovers last season, he felt it was important to send a message.
"That particular group of kids, they haven't been successful yet, and if you don't change what you're doing then those bad habits end up staying bad habits," Gaffaney said. "I think you have to make them realize that you have to get better each time, and most of the time it's mentally and not physically.
"That kind of torqued me because nobody really went after the ball."
Gaffaney expects his players to take messages like that to heart. He said this group is not afraid of hard work and has exhibited a positive attitude in the time he has worked with it.
A hard-working, team mentality is something the Sting will need, as Gaffaney said YME doesn't have a lot of athletes who are going to stand out on the field. And while the Sting lack experience, Ulrich thinks the young players have a physical attribute that will be advantageous during the season.
"A lot of them, they're fast," Ulrich said. "They're not the biggest kids, but they're really quick. I think speed is going to be our biggest thing this year."
Junior running back Jacob Pederson is one of those quick players. He qualified for the Class A state track meet in the 200-meter dash last spring and hopes to have that track speed result in big plays on the gridiron.
Pederson started five games for the Sting last season and is the only skill position player who returns with starting experience. There are still battles going on at some of those positions, including at quarterback where there are four players vying to win the starting spot.
Kolten Anderson, the other captain on the team, is going to play slot back this year. He played outside linebacker and spent some time at fullback last year, and at 145 pounds, he's a player Gaffaney said is, pound for pound, one of the toughest kids on the team.
The team will hope to take on Anderson's hard-nosed style this season as it looks to replace the memories of last season with ones that are much more positive. The Sting will have their first shot at showing their new identity on Aug. 31 against Sauk Centre in Granite Falls.
Anderson said the game is important in setting the tone for the rest of the season.
"We're looking forward to it," Anderson said. "I think we have to impress a lot of people and prove something to ourselves and move on from there."