by Bob San
In Matt Lombardi’s first season as the Maple Grove football head coach in 2011, the Crimson got off to an 0-3 start but bounced back to finish 3-4 in the conference. They won one game in the section before losing to Osseo and finished 4-5.
As the Crimson prepare for the season opener Thursday, Aug. 30, at Armstrong, Lombardi is hoping his team can get off to a better start.
“A goal of mine is that we start the season a little bit better than we did last year,” Lombardi said. “I want us to be a little bit more prepared and more ready for a game. I think if we can do better early in the year then later in the season we can make more noise.”
The Crimson are relative young with just a handful of starters back from last fall. But they do have some talented veterans back, especially on offense.
Senior all-conference receiver Brycen Wojta is back. He had 41 catches for 509 yards and two touchdowns during conference play. He also returns kicks and is the team’s kicker. Also back is senior 6-4 receiver Jake Wieneke, who had 10 catches for 284 yards with three touchdowns.
“Brycen is an all-purpose player who can play both ways,” Lombardi said. “Jake had a very good camp and is a big threat. He was hurt last year and only played two games when he was healthy. We hope he can get a full year in.”
Also returning are senior running back Jack Wallick, senior tackles Erik Olson and Trey Nehowig and junior center Kam Garlick.
A key new starter is senior quarterback Blake Skaja.
“He is a good leader, he has worked hard and has earned the spot,” Lombardi said.
Defensively, the Crimson return only senior free safety Tyler Field and junior linebacker Peter Olson.
“We are young and we have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball,” Lombardi said. “We have some experience on offense so we should be OK. Our defense will be a process. But we will get there.”
Lombardi came to Maple Grove last year with the goal of changing the culture of the program. He is pleased with the progress.
“We are getting there,” he said. “It’s always a process. It’s really my first full year into this and there are so many things. When a new guy comes in there are always a lot of changes and people have to get used to them and believe in them. I think it’s starting to happen. The kids have been awesome. They are working hard, they are having a lot of fun and you can tell they want to be a part of this. It’s very rewarding to see.”
After a very good summer camp, the Crimson are ready to avenge last year’s loss to Armstrong in the season opener Aug. 30.
“Armstrong took it to us last year in the first game. I am hoping we can give a better performance than last year,” Lombardi said.