Rebels open with huge expectations

Football season begins with a visit from 2011 state champs from EP

 Champlin Park running back Michael Sales runs through a hole during practice Aug. 22. Sales is one of a number of contributors returning for the Rebels this fall. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

Champlin Park running back Michael Sales runs through a hole during practice Aug. 22. Sales is one of a number of contributors returning for the Rebels this fall. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

Andrew Ziegler didn’t hesitate. Not even a second. He remembers the day. The opponent. Even the score.

He also remembered the feeling when, as an eighth-grader, his Champlin/Dayton Athletic Association football team won a state championship.

The boys beat Mounds View that day. Pounded them actually. The final was 32-6, and it wasn’t even really that close.

“We really took it to them,” Ziegler recalled. “They had beaten us 6-0 earlier that year, so we needed to come to play, and we did.”

A full four years later, the goal is a repeat – albeit in a much grander stage.

Champlin Park will open its football season Thursday, Aug. 30 by welcoming defending state champion Eden Prairie to town for a 7 p.m. start to a season in which a state title is the goal once again.

A senior in high school now, Ziegler and his teammates from that eighth-grade year are back, and intact. Naturally, the group has grown plenty as human beings, but they’ve certainly done the same as football players as well.

Last year demanded that much, as Champlin Park put together arguably the most impressive .500 season in all of high school football.

The Rebels lost five games, all to teams that – at the time – were ranked in the top-10 in what was a gauntlet of a schedule.

The season started with a 24-7 loss at Eden Prairie, and also included a 35-21 defeat at Blaine, another loss at Anoka, and then a seven-point loss on the road against Wayzata in the section playoffs.

In the end, each of the five teams that defeated Champlin Park played in a section final, four went to the state tournament, and two played in the Prep Bowl.

“You try to tell yourself that, and it makes it look better, but we were 5-5, and that is just a mediocre year,” said senior Bryce Marquardt. “We played a lot of good teams, but that doesn’t mean a lot. We have to be able to beat those teams.”

The Rebels will have those chances this year, starting this week in fact. But what they didn’t have last year that they’ll take into this season is the invaluable experience they garnered in playing at Eden Prairie, or Wayzata.

They also believe they will be able to put it to use, in large part due to the fact that nearly every player that saw the field in those games a year ago returns this season.

The offense has its top quarterback (Trevor Garrison), running back (Michael Sales) and receiving target (Marquardt) back this year. Everybody on the offensive line has started at least one game, and in addition, the offense is expecting a major boost from senior Joe Sando, who was the third place finisher in the 100-meter dash at last springs Class AA state track and field meet.

“You can put the ball all over the place and find an athlete,” said head coach Mike Korton. “And our big guys are pretty good too. We should be able to score plenty of points.”

That fact has already eased the mind of new defensive coordinator Pete Ockuly and his players, but they still vow to do their part.

“It does take some of the pressure off, but we have to go out there and make it easy for our offense to score too,” said Ziegler. “We have a job to do on our end as well.”

Much like the offense, the Champlin Park defensive unit didn’t see a whole lot of change this off-season.

Ziegler was the team’s leading tackler last year with 76. Defensive back Brady Soderstrom had a pair of interceptions a year ago, and six others played enough snaps to qualify as contributors.

“We have some guys back, and I think we might be faster than we’ve ever been defensively,” Korton said. “We have some guys that can just fly to the ball.”

Word is, Eden Prairie has the same.

Last year’s state champs had a defense that went the entire regular season allowing just one touchdown against their first team unit.

Champlin Park scored it in the opener, and despite the Eagles returning most of their defenders from 2011, the Rebels plan on pinning a few more on Eden Prairie this week.

“I’ve heard defensively they have a lot of returning starters, and that is good, because we’ll be pretty good offensively,” Korton said. “We know what we are going to see with them. Eden Prairie is not going to change a bit. They don’t have to.”