Childhood friends rewrite Maple Grove football record book
By Bob San
Blake Skaja, Jake Wieneke and Brycen Wojta have known each other their whole life. They went to the same school and played on the same soccer and basketball teams. But they never played football together until this past fall when Skaja was the quarterback and Wieneke and Wojta his favorite receivers on the Maple Grove football team.
They should have played football together more often because the three had a magical season and gave Maple Grove one of the most lethal passing combinations in the state. Skaja and Wieneke ended up breaking many of the school passing and receiving records set by former Crimson greats Mitch Brecke and Greg Martin in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Wojta was the team’s Mr. Everything and won the conference Special Team MVP Award. Wieneke led the state in receiving and hauled in numerous awards such as all-state, all-metro, all-conference and conference offensive MVP.
“I didn’t expect all these awards but we knew we’d have a good year because we knew we’d pass a lot with me and Brycen as receivers and Blake as the quarterback,” Wieneke said. “Lombardi (Crimson coach Matt Lombardi) gave us a chance to have a good year.”
Wieneke and Wojta entered the season with reputations as two of the best athletes in the conference, but Skaja arrived on the scene with little notoriety and no one outside of the Maple Grove football circle expected much from the first-year quarterback. But Wieneke and Wojta knew their childhood friend well and had confidence Skaja would do well.
“Blake is a lot better than most people expected,” Wieneke said. “People wondered if he could throw it far enough or if he could throw because it’s the first time he played quarterback, but he did a great job.”
Skaja knew there were doubters but he had confidence he could get the job done.
“A lot of people didn’t think I was ready and people on other teams didn’t know who I was,” he said. “But I have confidence in myself and my ability. I didn’t think it would go as well as it did but I always thought I had a shot to make plays for my teammates and to be able to help the team win. So that went pretty good.”
That’s an understatement. Skaja threw for 262 yards in the season opener against Armstrong and never looked back. For the season Skaja went over the 200-yard mark in seven of the 10 games and threw for 331 yards against Coon Rapids. Skaja now holds the school records for most completions in a game with 22 against Minnetonka, most completions in a season with 141, most yards in a season with 2104, tied for most touchdowns in a season with 17, and the highest completion percentage in a season at 62.9 percent.
“I was kind of surprised how well I did,” Skaja said. “I just tried to put my team in the best position to succeed and get the ball to Jake and Brycen and the running backs so they could score touchdowns.”
Wieneke overcame early season injuries to have a huge year. Despite missing the Osseo game, the only game Maple Grove lost during the regular season, Wieneke still finished with 68 receptions and 1,330 yards, both school records, in nine games. Wieneke also owns the following marks: most receptions in a game with 13 against Blaine, most yards received in a game vs. Coon Rapids with 232, most touchdowns in a game with four against Centennial and longest reception at 98 yards against Armstrong.
“The three of us have very good chemistry. We have been playing sports since we were little and we have gone to the same school all our life,” Wieneke said.
If not for Wieneke, the multi-talented Wojta would have at least one school passing record. Wojta not only played receiver, he was also a running back and a defensive back, returned kicks and punts and kicked field goals and points after. Even with all the duties, Wojta still caught 59 passes, which beat Martin’s old record of 58, had 722 yards with five touchdowns. He also had one rushing touchdown and returned one interception for a touchdown. Wojta’s effort did not go unnoticed because he was selected the conference’s Special Team MVP.
“I just tried to do whatever I could do for my team,” Wojta said.
As for the success of the passing game, Wojta praised the performance of Skaja.
“Blake in his first year as the quarterback did an exquisite job with me and Jake,” Wojta said. “He is a very smart player. I think Lombo was smart and put Blake in that position because he knew he could succeed. Blake always makes the right plays. We could not have asked for anything better from him.”
Skaja said he was living a quarterback’s dream because he could air the ball out to two of the best receivers in the state in the 6-4 Wieneke and 6-1 Wojta.
“They are both Div. I athletes,” Skaja said. “Jake better gets an offer somewhere and Brycen is a great two-sport athlete. He can probably run track and be one of the fastest guys on the team. They are great guys, great receivers with great hands. What it really came down to was I had trust in them and they had trust in me and we were able to make plays.”
Their high school careers are over but Skaja, Wieneke and Wojta can look back with pride to the contributions they made to rejuvenate the Maple Grove football program and the records they set together.
“That’s fun to see (my name in the record books),” Skaja said. “It’s something I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season but it’s something I am leaving here with. It’s kind of a legacy. I am on top of most of the records now. It will be fun coming back next year and see my name up there.”