Wildcats anxious to blow up the past

Young Eagan roster looking for improved season

An Eagan player goes airborne to take down a tackling dummy at practice last week. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

An Eagan player goes airborne to take down a tackling dummy at practice last week. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

The highlight of Eagan’s 2012 football season might have been coach Rick Sutton’s wrap-up of the year.

Two returning Wildcat players said Sutton created a multimedia presentation showing the scoreboard in each of the eight games Eagan lost, then depicted those scoreboards exploding.

It got a hearty two thumbs up from the film reviewers in the Eagan High School meeting room.

“We loved it,” said linebacker Joe Kovach, a junior. “There was a lot of hooting and hollering in the room. It was a lot of fun.

“One thing about football is you have to have a short memory. You have to be looking ahead.”

And that was Sutton’s message: It’s time to move on. This year’s Wildcats are a young team – there are 37 juniors on the preseason roster, compared to 22 seniors – but look at this season as a blank canvas, giving them the opportunity to create any kind of artwork they want.

“I think we have good chemistry,” said senior Nathan Gilson, a senior captain who will play tight end this fall. “Last year we had a lot of situations where one guy made a mistake and the play broke down. I don’t think that’s going to happen as much this year.”

Sutton said he liked how the leaders on the team pulled everybody else along, getting them to fully participate in the team’s off-season program.

That’s important because “we do a lot of our (offensive and defensive) installs in the summer,” the coach said. “So when we start two-a-days, it’s stuff they already know.”

The Wildcats will have to be sharp right away, playing a schedule that includes five teams that reached at least the quarterfinals in the Class 5A or 6A playoffs last year. They open at Prior Lake, which shared the 2012 South Suburban Conference title with Lakeville North, on Aug. 30.

Kovach was the team’s defensive points leader with 57 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and three interceptions. He was named a captain as a junior, meaning the Wildcats hope he’s someone who can inspire other young players.

Kovach said he thinks about that responsibility “off and on, but not for that long,” he said. “I think the best example you can set is by how you play.”

Defensive lineman Kai Nerhus and defensive back Derek Lauermann, both seniors, are returning varsity players. Shane Kalb, a junior, could have an impact on the defensive line after being injured last season.

There’s still competition to get the start at quarterback. The Wildcats have five quarterbacks on the roster, three of whom are sophomores. Senior Ian Entzion and junior Sam Zenner both saw playing time last year. Sutton said both have the skills to run the Wildcats’ offense, which resembles the read-option attack that’s popular in college football and is now infiltrating the NFL.

T.J. Sands, a senior, had playing time at running back. Sutton said Scott Danielson, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver, has looked very good during two-a-days and in summer workouts.

Lauermann and senior tight end Andy Jubenville were winners in the Iron Man competition held on the final day of ES4, Eagan’s sport-specific strength and conditioning program. The Wildcats also were cited for their work ethic by the South Dakota State University coaches at a summer camp they attended at the college.

That, Sutton says, tells him he has a group of players that want to excel. Moving up will be tough in the South Suburban, which has become one of the state’s strongest football conferences, but “the kids are here to win and they’re going to work hard,” the coach said.

Eagan football
(All games 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Aug. 30: at Prior Lake
Sept. 6: Burnsville
Sept. 13: at Lakeville South
Sept. 20: Eastview
Sept. 27: at Rosemount
Oct. 4: Bloomington Jefferson
Oct. 11: Lakeville North
Oct. 16 (Wednesday): at Apple Valley

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