By Jake Schroer
Crow River News Sports
After bowing out of state under the friendly confines of the late Metrodome’s roof, the Knights football team gears up for another season with similar goals.
“That’s kind of where we’re at right now at STMA, you know. You build on some tradition, you have some success, and we hope to keep it rolling from year to year,” head coach Jared Essler said.
Essler is in his fourth year as head coach of the Knights (10-2 in 2013). STMA looks forward to a new challenge in the 2014 season as the defending section champions. Rogers captured the conference crown in a 38-37 thriller between the then-undefeated teams.
The Knights recently named a pair of captains in Tyler Berg (defense) and Jackson Greenwaldt (offense).
“The kids really look up to those two and we’re expecting that they’re going to fill the void as leaders on both sides of the ball,” Essler said.
Greenwaldt showed excitement for his new role as captain of the offense.
“Being a leader now, instead of taking a backseat role and kind of riding along with it, I’ve got to kind of lead the ship,” he said.
Berg was honored to be voted captain by his peers. He said the team had high expectations.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys and a lot of younger guys who’ll be able to fill in the spots of people that graduated. So we should be pretty good again this year, we hope so. We’ve just got to put it all together,” he said.
The player void this season includes graduated senior runningback Chris Kartes and wide receiver Dallas Freeman, among others. Newcomers such as Isaiah Weston, who came very close to a high jump championship, hope to fill those shoes.
On the defensive side, the Knights have some spots they hope to fill as well. Eric Barthel and John Zimmer look to help out on the defensive line. Jacob Moran and Garret Hahn return to the secondary for STMA. Essler said that some of the new faces are really playing well including Elijah Rice, a 6’ 4” junior defensive end.
Losing some key players from last year’s team did nothing to diminish STMA’s confidence for the upcoming season.
“We’re a big enough school that we should have a good shot to be a conference or section champ every year, and make a run at a state tournament if we can stay healthy and have some things fall in line for us,” Essler said.
The Knights look forward to hitting some players in different color jerseys; something they did at the annual Wayzata scrimmage on Saturday. The first real chance comes against rival Buffalo and new head coach Todd Bouman, former Minnesota Vikings quarterback.
“It’s kind of a slow build throughout camp to get ready for that first game, and to make it a rivalry game, a trophy game with the Muddy Crow trophy and a nearby school, it kind of makes it all that sweeter. It’s going to be a great opener.”
Concussion awareness has been an important trend in sports at all levels. The Knights, like every team, went through concussion situations during games last season. Essler hopes everything can be done to make the game as safe as possible.
“It shouldn’t be the old-school ‘rub some dirt on it’ type of philosophy anymore. There’s a lot of things we know about the human body, but the brain is kind of untapped with what our knowledge is,” he said.
Essler said the fans have been extremely supportive and he and the team appreciates it.
“I would expect them to see some exciting, unpredictable football. That’s kind of what we try to hang our hat on.”
STMA opens its season Thursday against the Buffalo Bison at home with the Muddy Crow on the line. Game time is 7 p.m.