MINNEOTA - Entering the second year of their co-op, the Minneota/Lincoln HI football team seeks to benefit from their union and keep the Vikings winning tradition alive.
In order to do so, however, the Vikings will have to replace several key players from last year's Section 5A runner-up.
Perhaps the biggest loss is that of fullback Adam Josephson. On offense, Josephson racked up 1,708 total yards and scored 29 touchdowns. Josephson also led the team in tackles (67), tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (11), sacked the quarterback twice and forced two fumbles.
Photo by Travis Andries
Minneota/Lincoln HI defender Andrew Swanson (8) goes for a tackle on the ball carrier during the first day of full pads Thursday in Minneota. The Vikings look to stay among Section 5A’s elite after going 8-3 last season and reaching the section finals for the fourth straight year.
Also gone is last year's second leading rusher, Jacob Bottelberghe, and leading receiver Cory Drietz. Drietz and Bottelberghe combined for nine touchdowns and over 1,200 yards of total offense.
Another major loss comes in the form of Josh VanOverbeke. His 7 1/2 sacks were a team best, as were his three forced fumbles. The offensive and defensive lineman leaves behind a hole in both trenches.
But replacing talented players and expecting similar results has become a theme for the Vikings, who reached their fourth consecutive section championship game in 2011. If their is a formula for reloading, as opposed to rebuilding, Minneota/Lincoln HI head coach Chad Johnston may have found it.
"We try to do our best to get young kids into games at certain situations, that we feel won't hurt us, to give them that kind of experience that they need as underclassmen," Johnston said. "The last three years, we've had as many seniors as we've had in a long time, which helps our success. Let's face it, seniors make a big difference in the program. So we've had to do that the last few years. The next group of kids have got to step up.
"We feel like we do a pretty good job of getting experience throughout the season, the previous season, so we're hoping that continues with this group," Johnston added.
Key to the reloading process this year will be optimizing the impact of players from both Minneota and Lincoln HI. During Year 1, the partnership arguably lacked synergy.
"Last year, we didn't even know until literally the night before if it was finalized or not," Johnston said. "So we didn't know if they were coming over, if they weren't coming over. You got kids coming over, you don't know who they are. We really didn't know anything about their background."
The tune has changed for 2012. Three key positions will be manned by players from Lincoln HI, and the past year has allowed the coaches to become more familiar with the players and the players more familiar with the system.
Austin Buysse, the Vikings' junior quarterback agrees.
"They've been a big help," Buysse said concerning his teammates from Lincoln HI. "We have a lot of guys. Jeff Gladis at running back, Jordan Beck at wing back and Jordan Twedt on the line. They're good help and ... they work hard."
Added senior tight end Isaac Josephson, "I think this year, after having been with us the last year, this year they'll be playing a lot and they're going to be a big part of this program."
Minneota/Lincoln HI will test out the beta version of its coupling when the Vikings begin their season on Aug. 30 with a trip to Wabasso to face the Rabbits.