Cougars hoping for a quick rebuild

New South coach said players are in place for team to compete

Note: First in a series of previews of high school football teams in the Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune coverage area.

Seniors on a high school football team – particularly a team that won one game last season – typically aren’t interested in long-range plans.

Despite a 1-8 record in 2016, Lakeville South is reaching for high goals this season under new head coach Tyler Krebs. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

They want to know how much better the team can be right now. Three senior captains at Lakeville South said they believe the Cougars can distance themselves from a 1-8 season in 2016 fairly quickly.

“We have the players we need to be successful,” said Brady Torborg, who is listed on the roster as a defensive back but likely will see playing time on offense as well. “The guys we had last year wanted to be just as successful as we do this year. We’re just doing things to fix what happened last year and make ourselves a better team.”

The Cougars had winning records in the first six seasons of the program’s history but have had just one winning season in the last five years. Larry Thompson, who was the team’s head coach for its first 12 years – including a 2006 Prep Bowl appearance – stepped down and was replaced by Tyler Krebs, who supervised a turnaround at Burnsville that saw the Blaze go 16-5 the last two seasons.

“We can be competitive right away,” said Krebs, who played for the 1991 Lakeville High School state championship team coached by Thompson. “Our senior class is very good. A lot of them played last year and the ones who didn’t are ready to play this year. We’ll go as far as those guys take us. I’ve been impressed with the work ethic and attitude. They’re good kids, intelligent.”

The Krebs-coached Burnsville team defeated Lakeville South 14-7 in the second week of the regular season. Asked what he remembers about that Burnsville team, South senior Logan Gudmundson said “they were very calm and collected, very well put together.”

“The team reflected the coach,” Torborg said.

The Cougars’ offense didn’t score in five of its last six games in 2016. A minus-15 turnover differential didn’t help, said Krebs, who added the Cougars will first try to build a defense that keeps them in games.

“If you can stay in the game defensively, which we were able to do at Burnsville the last couple of years, you have a chance to win,” Krebs said. “But if you can’t stay in the game defensively it’s going to be a long season.”

To that end, almost all of the Cougars’ top athletes will see at least spot duty on defense. South returns its two leading tacklers, senior inside linebackers Pete Eklund and Zach Stelzer. Matt Borowicz, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior, will be at nose tackle. Ty Willman, a senior, also saw time on defense last season, making two interceptions.

Seniors Gudmundson and Jeremiah Jacobson played primarily running back last season, but Krebs plans to use their speed – Gudmundson and Jacobson both have competed in sprints at the state track and field meet – in the defensive backfield.

Last season at Burnsville Krebs used the Blaze’s top two running backs almost full-time on defense. On offense, they would take turns at running back. That could be the blueprint for how Gudmundson and Jacobson are used.

“For Logan and Jeremiah, the question is can we play them on defense if we have a couple of juniors who can play running back, and rest them on offense? That’s kind of what we did at Burnsville,” Krebs said.

Senior linemen Tyler Haglund and Stephen Shabaz will play defense. Senior defensive back Drew Ahrenholz and Tavian Laden also are likely to be on defense.

Gudmundson rushed for more than 500 yards last season. Injuries cut short Jacobson’s 2016 season, but he’s also likely to get some carries this year. They, and the other South backs, will run behind a line that has three returning starters – Borowicz and seniors Abdulla Alishaqi and Nate Rongitsch. Ben Huddock had 12 catches as a wide receiver last season.

Offensive lineman Jordan McCall and fullback Jared Stewart, both juniors, also are expected to be on offense. Freshman Riley Mahlman is a 6-9, 220-pound tight end.

Tyler Mahlman, a 6-5 senior, and 6-3 sophomore George Brekke were two of the players competing to start at quarterback. Torborg also could be in the picture there, but also could be at wide receiver in addition to his defensive duties.

South’s best players will be on both offense and defense, largely out of necessity. If a player is full-time on one side of the ball, he likely will be part-time on the other, Krebs said.

“We have 60 guys in the upper two classes, and against (Class) 6A schools that could be problematic,” Krebs said. “It’s hard to two-platoon when you don’t have that many guys. We’d love to be able to do that.

“But out core group has been here all summer long. They’re extremely hard-working guys and good kids. We’ve taught them all multiple positions and we feel like we’ve created some depth.”

The Cougars will test it in their season opener Thursday at Edina.

“I think we’ll do pretty well,” Borowicz said. “We’ll find out all this hard work will pay off at some point in time.”

Lakeville South football
(Games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Aug. 31 (Thur.): at Edina
Sept. 8: at Eagan
Sept. 15: Burnsville
Sept. 22: at Lakeville North
Sept. 28 (Thur.): Minnetonka
Oct. 6: Rosemount
Oct. 13: at Shakopee
Oct. 18 (Wed.): Farmington