By Travis Andries
MINNEOTA - After a summer littered with distractions, the best remedy for the Minneota/Lincoln HI Vikings was just to get on the field and practice.
Photo by Travis Andries
Minneota/Lincoln HI quarterback Austin Buysse, right, heaves a pass in practice Monday. Returning for his third season as a starter under center for the Vikings, Buysse finished third in the area with 1,858 passing yards in 2012.
When fall camp opened on Aug. 12, the Minneota/Lincoln HI coaches were finally able to stitch together a depth chart that was more than pure guess work. Deliberations within school board meetings, stemming from a bump from Class A to Class AA, hung a cloud of uncertainty over the team from April to August. But with that first practice also came answers.
"Obviously we knew the status of our program, as far as one more season with the Lincoln HI kids and the (Class) AA situation. But as the summer proceeded, the whole situation with Lincoln HI possibly closing its doors and the tuition agreement, kids started talking about going to other school districts," Minneota/Lincoln HI head coach Chad Johnston said. "All of a sudden we had some kids that worked with us all summer long that were going to go to different school districts. You think you have your first group kind of set up in your head. Then, you find out a guy might not even be coming. The nice thing is to get past all of that stuff. Lincoln HI made its decision to stick together for two more years and it was nice to get to the first day and actually solidify now that these are the kids that we have. There was enough distraction over the summer to where it was nice to get to that."
Seven days since the start of the final season of Minneota/Lincoln HI football, the coaches have been able to shift their concerns from who will be playing to where those kids will be playing.
2012 record: 9-2.
Little Sioux Conference finish: t-1st (6-1)
Final game: 42-21 loss to Dawson-Boyd in Class A Section 5 final
Points allowed/game: 15.2
Key losses: TE/LB Isaac Josephson, OL/DL David Noyes, WR/DB Grant Hennen
Key returners: QB Austin Buysse, RB Jeff Gladis, ATH Alec Engler, ATH Nathan Pavek, DL Daniel Harrison
Jeff Gladis, the Vikings leading rusher in 2012 and a Lincoln HI student, knows where he will line up when the Vikings open their season on Aug. 29 at Lakeview. The senior running back will look to mimic his 1,349 yard season from a year ago, but, for the meantime, he is just happy to be on the field with friends from either school.
"We're just glad to be playing football. We don't care if we're playing single A or double A," Gladis said. "We love playing with the Minneota guys. I know every one of the Lincoln HI guys, there's no hate between any of the players. We all love each other over here, we're all just having a bunch of fun out here."
Along with Gladis, Jordan Beck and Nathan Pavek highlight a group of Lincoln HI students hoping to make the most of their time with Minneota. Beck, a tight end, was second on the Vikings with 369 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Pavek, a senior, ran for 370 yards and seven scores on 27 carries while racking up 500 total return yards for the Vikings.
"We were prepared, if things hadn't worked out, to have a team without those kids. But we were also prepared to have those kids and get them ready," Johnston said. "It always makes it a tough decision because it should always be about the kids, it's just a matter of what kids you're talking about.
"We knew if we weren't with Lincoln HI, we were going to lose some valuable contributors, some kids in some key spots for us. It wasn't an easy decision to make that call and we had to take a look, three, four, five years down the road and that is what our decision was based on."
The Lincoln HI group is senior-heavy, as Minneota contributes just two seniors to the team. One of those seniors is quarterback Austin Buysse.
Buysse, who threw for 1,858 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior last season, his second as a starter. For his third season starting under center, Buysse is hoping to take advantage of the bevy of offensive weapons possessed by Minneota/Lincoln HI and limit the exposure of his young offensive line.
"We've got some experience in the backfield, but with all that inexperience up front, he's got to be making good decisions," Johnston said. "He's got to know that maybe the wrong call was made against a front and he's got to be able to check out of that. He's got to know that, with a young line, if he's getting defensive pressure, he's got to make the right reads and know where the blitzes are coming from. We're seeing good things. There's a little pressure for the man to be the man."
Regardless of what happened with Lincoln HI during the offseason, Buysse knew that he would be taking the snaps for the Vikings. Nevertheless, the offseason distractions weighed on him as well, while the opportunity to just play football again was more than welcome.
"It was really good just to get it over with. Double A or single A, whatever it is, we're still playing football and we still want to win the section final," Buysse said. "I'm glad that the Lincoln HI guys are back. It's really good to just get back and play football. It was getting sickening listening to everyone talk about it and having everyone ask me. So, I'm excited to get back on the field."
All offseason distractions aside, if the pieces continue to come together for the Vikings, and the team can avoid the dreaded injury bug, then Minneota/Lincoln HI should have a chance to compete for the Little Sioux Conference title and possibly a Section 5AA championship.
"Our focus is not changing. Our goal is to, at the end of the year, be at the top of the Little Sioux. That's one of our goals every year," Johnston said. "We feel that if we continue to do that week-by-week, that should prepare us for the section. Hopefully, if you get better every week and we stay healthy, we hope to get to AA and maybe we're still in the section finals there. It's going to be a little more difficult, but if things come together and the kids keep coming together, and staying healthy will really be a key, then our goal will be the same."