COTTONWOOD - The Lakeview Lakers appear to be bigger in numbers and stronger in muscle and heart this year, which has the players and coaches extremely optimistic about the upcoming season.
John Sterner, who is beginning his fourth season as head coach at Lakeview, cannot help but be thrilled about the numbers and the attitude of his 2013 team.
"We've got the most kids that we've had out, 9-12, since I've been here," he said. "We're at 54 right now. So, we're pretty excited with our numbers. We've added 35 students to the school, too, so we're growing like you wouldn't believe."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Lakeview senior Braden French leads a line of his teammates through agility drills on Monday in Cottonwood. The Lakers were winless in 2012, but look to rebound behind their largest roster under fourth-year head coach John Sterner.
The lack of numbers and experience have kept the Lakers from being as competitive as they'd like to be the past few seasons. Last year, Lakeview was 0-9 after finishing 0-8 in 2011. But the team looks to change that pattern this season.
"The numbers have been killing us, that and the youth," Sterner said. "When we've stepped on the field in the past, we looked like boys. Now, we'll have some guys who look like men out there. That's a big difference."
Sterner started seeing signs of the transformation during team camp at Southwest Minnesota State University.
2012 record: 0-9
Little Sioux Conference finish: 9th (0-7)
Final game: 54-0 loss to Minneota/Lincoln HI
Points allowed/game: 50.0
Key losses: OL/DL Spencer Larsen, RB Derek Larsen, WR Jacob Louwagie
Key returners: QB/DB Taylor Pickthorn and Seth Goepferich, RB/LB Jordan Larsen, RB/LB Garrett Wee, RB/DB Cody St. Aubin, OL/DL Cory Schreier
"We only had 13 kids that were able to make it, because of summer requirements, but we did really well," he said. "The kids felt really confident and really feel positive about where we're at, so the enthusiasm is there."
The dedication and effort was also noticeable at the Lakers' summer camp and in the weight room this past year.
"We had a lot of people involved with team camp and that helped everybody comprehend the offense, said Garrett Wee, one of three returning seniors for Lakeview. "And then, when we had summer camp, we'd get together and go over the offense. So, that helped a lot, too. As far as improvement, compared to the last few years, we've made big strides."
In addition to making an impact as a wide receiver, Wee is expected to be a leader on and off the field this season.
"My role will be to carry the team and keep them going if we get down, to keep pushing," Wee said. "We've got the potential to really do some damage, I think. I'm excited for the season."
Senior Jordan Larsen, returning as a running back, also believes that the Lakers came into fall camp more prepared than in previous years.
"A lot of the kids have been improving in the off-season," Larsen said. "They're in the weight room every day. I think we're making big improvements, especially with our offense. They're really picking it up."
Key losses to graduation include lineman Spencer Larsen, wideout Jacob Louwagie and flanker/receiver/running back Derek Larsen.
Junior Taylor Pickthorn and sophomore Seth Goepferich return as potential quarterbacks, while Cody St. Aubin is a returning running back. Along with Wee, Jacob Neu, Jonah Dovre, Jaden Hoffman and Christopher Berg are returning starters and look to lead the receiver corps. In addition to center Josh Meiners, Jeremy Rodriquez and Cory Schreier are returning to the offensive and defensive lines, which look to be stronger this year.
"We're impressing the coaches a lot more than last year," Schreier said. "They said we're bigger, faster and stronger than we've ever been. So, that's good."
Schreier, a sophomore, said he has spent four summers lifting weights. His individual goal this season is to get his first sack.
"We'll have a bigger line this year. So, that'll be better," he said. "Because of the lifting, I have more energy and I'm ready to go. I want to get a few sacks. I haven't gotten one yet. So, that's my goal."
While the Lakers are still young, with three returning seniors and three new seniors on the team, there are larger numbers coming up.
"The last few years, we've been super young," Sterner said. "We're still young, but we've got a 15 class and a 15 class coming up. We're older, wiser and we've been in the weight room, so there's been a lot of changes. We're feeling pretty comfortable with that."
The team's willingness to improve was obvious Monday as players continued to push through the repetitive football drills.
"I think our main goal is to put wins up on the board," Larsen said. "The conditioning drills are brutal, but they'll probably help in the long run. I want to help keep the team fired up when they get tired, to just keep them going. I think we're going to do good this year."
Sterner echoed the positive thinking, noting that he was very pleased with the team's intensity level, which he feels will lead to positive results throughout the season.
"The intensity of fall camp has been way better this year," he said. "And I don't think it's that they're getting used to me, it's that they're getting used to what they're capable of and they're finally believing what they're capable of."
Lakeview opens its season at home Aug. 29, against top Little Sioux Conference contender Minneota/Lincoln HI.