Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We’re in the heart of the summer, which means most high school kids are working full-time jobs or taking family vacations. A few of the state’s best football players have the sport on their mind as they attend camps and think about what their future holds.
Soon enough, players and teams will be hitting their fields for two-a-day practices, some are already in the weight room bulking up and the bright lights of Friday night will be in full force.
Last week, we started a slew of conference previews with the South Suburban Conference where I predicted last year’s state runner-up to be the favorite. This week, we head just a little north and west of the Twin Cities metro to take a look at the Northwest Suburban Conference.
Maple Grove, Totino-Grace are early favorites
It’s a league that’s always filled with deep rosters and talented teams, and it only gets stronger this year with the addition of last year’s 5A state champion Totino-Grace. Last fall, Maple Grove won the league title with a perfect 8-0 mark. There’s a technicality in that record as Osseo did beat them in the rivalry game 26-20, but the Orioles had to forfeit the game after it was learned they had an ineligible player on the roster.
Other than that, Maple Grove’s only real test of the regular season was a 17-12 win at Champlin Park. The true shame in this year’s schedule is that the Crimson are likely to contend with Totino-Grace for the conference title, but the two teams won’t meet in the regular season. When there’s 12 teams in a league and only eight regular season games, playing everyone in the league is logistically impossible.
Blaine, Anoka, Champlin Park could contend
After Maple Grove and Totino-Grace, there’s a bunch of teams that could contend at the top if the chips fall into place. That cluster includes Blaine, Anoka, Champlin Park and Andover. The teams fighting to stay out of the bottom tier of the league are Robbinsdale Armstrong, Park Center, Elk River and Centennial.
Park Center and Armstrong each only won one game last year, while Elk River won three times in the regular season.
If Maple Grove is going to defend the Northwest Suburban Conference, they’ll have to do it with a new quarterback behind center as Blake Skaja graduated. Look for Evan Pukal and Corey Ross to battle for the starting job.
Totino-Grace will also feature a new quarterback after A.J. LaPanta graduated. Look for Lance Benik or Seth Sullwold to take the spot over. The Eagles have run a dominant program in recent years with multiple state championships, and this year shouldn’t be any different.
I would definitely keep my eye on Blaine, Anoka and Champlin Park. Those three schools always seem to field competitive teams that can beat anybody on any given night. The team that comes out of this league should have no issue getting to the state playoffs and competing for a championship. The league is that good every year and seems to have great match-ups on a weekly basis.