Lightning will be tested right out of the gate

Last year’s Class 6A finalists are Eastview’s first two opponents

Eastview special teams players recover the ball during an onside kicking drill. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Eastview special teams players recover the ball during an onside kicking drill. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Every football team wants to be playing its best at the end of the season. Eastview has been able to accomplish that, as state quarterfinal appearances the last two years would attest.

This year, it behooves the Lightning to play well from the start. Its first two games are against Rosemount and Eden Prairie, the combatants in the 2013 state Class 6A final.

“I think it’s good to be able to play teams like that at the start of the season,” said Tommy Anderson, a senior offensive lineman and one of the Lightning’s captains. “You get to see where you stand and what areas you need to improve.

“And we’re definitely looking forward to playing Rosemount.”

If the fact the schools are neighboring rivals isn’t enough, Rosemount defeated Eastview 38-7 in last year’s state quarterfinals, ending the Lightning’s 6-5 season.

The Eden Prairie game marks the return to Lightning Stadium of Will Rains, who led Eastview in rushing the last two years before transferring across the metro to the three-time defending state large-school champions.

Even though the early schedule is challenging, Eastview coach Kelly Sherwin said the Lightning did not try to change how it prepares.

“We still want to be a team that plays its best at the end of the year. That’s our philosophy, and it’s been successful for us,” Sherwin said. “We know there will be mistakes early in the season – the teams we’re playing will make them, too – but we want to get better every game.”

The Lightning didn’t take part in any 7-on-7 leagues in the summer, but they were busy. Sherwin said participation was high at the team’s off-season training activities, which gives an indication of the players’ commitment level.

The coaches will know more when the team scrimmages schools such as Osseo and Cretin-Derham Hall on Saturday, but Sherwin said it looks as if a large number of players are ready to contribute.

“We have 22 kids (starters) who we think are going to be pretty good,” the coach said. “You never want to have injuries, but if we do, there are other kids who can play. We’re looking at four kids at quarterback, seven offensive linemen, six defensive linemen and three or four outside linebackers.”

Senior running back Tommy Hutsell is likely to see his workload increase with Rains’ departure. Hutsell had a 116-yard game last year against Lakeville North, which had one of the metro area’s better defenses.

Seniors Cole McDevitt and Jack Schleisman are the front-runners to play quarterback, and Sherwin said it’s not out of the question that both will be used in games. McDevitt might be more of a prototypical quarterback, while Schleisman has the versatility to play other positions if needed, the coach said.

Anderson and Tyler Micholic, an honorable mention All-South Suburban Conference player last season, are among the returnees on the offensive line. Tom Delich, a senior captain, also could see some time there. Delich, who also plays defensive line, said Tuesday the coaches were still deciding how much action he would see on either side of the line of scrimmage.

The Lightning will remain a run-oriented team, but Obi Ibeneme, a 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver with good leaping ability, provides an inviting target in the passing game. A.J. McLean was honorable mention all-conference in 2013 as a wide receiver and also could be a candidate to play defensive back.

Eastview will have to find a new tight end because the incumbent, senior captain Leron Norton, is expected to start at free safety this year. Norton said he was eager to take on that challenge. David Schraeder, a running back last season, is likely to move to linebacker.

“I think we have a lot of really good players, a lot of guys with explosiveness,” Norton said. “People will see that when we start playing games. Right now, we’re just trying to be the best football team we can be.”

Eastview football
(All games 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Aug. 28 (Thursday): at Rosemount
Sept. 5: Eden Prairie
Sept. 12: at Lakeville South
Sept. 19: Shakopee
Sept. 26: Lakeville North
Oct. 3: Burnsville
Oct. 10: at Apple Valley
Oct. 15 (Wednesday): at Prior Lake
Oct. 24: Class 6A playoffs begin