Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – School is still a few weeks away for many students, but high school athletes have been busy on their playing fields for at least a week as fall sports are underway.
For as many as 21 Minnesota football teams, they’ve been practicing for two full weeks now, and all that hard work will be on display Friday night. It’s “Zero Week” in prep football around the state, meaning that high school football is already kicking off officially. The season starts for everybody next Thursday, but some teams started practicing a week earlier than everybody else, so their seasons start Friday night.
That’s the case for at least six Twin Cities programs, another 15 across the state and one from Wisconsin. It’s a new season, which means new opportunity and optimism for the fall.
There are 11 games on tap in Minnesota Friday, and we’re taking an early look at four of them.
Hopkins (0-0) at Chaska (0-0), 7 p.m.
Chaska starts off its 2013 campaign with an unfamiliar opponent across the line of scrimmage as the Hawks didn’t meet last season. In fact, the two squads haven’t faced each other since the 2007 playoffs, a game that Hopkins won 38-14.
Chaska is coming off a 6-4 season that included a 4-3 mark in the Missota Conference. The Hawks lost to rival Chanhassen in the section playoffs. They’ll likely be led by junior quarterback Justin Arnold and senior running back Kolby Seiffert, who led Chaska with almost 100 yards per game in six games last season. They also have a senior receiver in Brandon Theis who looks to have a big year.
The Royals are coming off a 5-4 season in 2012 that included a 1-3 mark in the Lake Conference, always one of the toughest in the state. Hopkins ended the 2012 regular season with a win over Minnetonka, then lost to that same squad in the Class 6A round of 32 the following week.
John DenHartog has quite the challenge ahead as he replaces his starting quarterback. It’ll likely be Tyler Lee, who saw action in two games as a sophomore last year. Look for senior running back Shaheed Hickman to emerge as well as senior receivers Terrance Bowers and Zachary Condon. The Royals have always thrived on getting the ball down the field with their playmakers.
I look for Hopkins to come out of this one with a close victory, though it’s still too early to tell how the early portion of the season will shake out for either team.
Edina (0-0) at Holy Angels (0-0), 7 p.m.
Edina, coming off a 9-2 season and a Lake Conference title, got a taste of championship football last fall. The Hornets reached the Class 6A state quarterfinals before losing a tough game to Rosemount. They’ll travel to Richfield to take on Holy Angels in non-conference action Friday night. Edina graduated quarterback Mark Handberg, who threw for more than 1,200 yards last year. Senior Erik Veker, who saw limited varsity action, looks to take over behind center. He’ll have big help from senior running back Kevin Placide, who led Edina in rushing last season. Between Placide, Collin Ritter and Marley Allison, the Hornets have plenty of weapons on offense.
The two teams met in the opener last year, with Edina winning 28-14. The Stars finished last year 6-4, including a 5-2 mark in the Missota Conference. Look for Anthony Eckholm to replace the graduated Sam Keis at quarterback. The Stars also have their top two receivers back in senior Kyle Fallon and junior Wallace Hicks. It should be a great game between two competitive teams.
Jackson County Central (0-0) at St. Louis Park (0-0), 7 p.m.
St. Louis Park looks to improve from a 2-8 season in 2012 as it hosts AA power Jackson County Central Friday night. The Orioles mark included a tough 0-6 mark in the North Suburban Conference. Their only wins came against Cloquet in the season opener and Bloomington Kennedy in the first round of the playoffs. They’d led by senior quarterback Quinn Livdahl.
Jackson County Central went 10-3 last year and made it to the Class AA state semifinals before falling to Moose Lake-Willow River. The Huskies will also have a lot of new faces this year, but are led by running back Paden Moore.
Hudson (Wis.) at Minnetonka (0-0), 7 p.m.
The Minnetonka Skippers, coming off a 5-6 season in 2012, went across state borders to find their first opponent for the fall season. Hudson (Wis.) will travel to the west metro Friday night. Dave Nelson’s Skippers are always a competitive team, and they’re looking for a bounce-back season. Nick Rooney, who led Minnetonka with almost 1,000 regular season passing yards last year, is back for his senior season. Ian Cote, last year’s leading rusher for the Skippers, is also back. Minnetonka is always fast on defense as well, so the Skippers are a team to watch this year.
Be sure to tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally next week on Friday, Aug. 23, as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy will have all the football action covered this fall.
Other ‘Zero Week’ Games
Rushford-Peterson at Southland, 7 p.m.
New Ulm at Luverne, 7 p.m.
Pipestone at St. James, 7 p.m.
Chatfield at Caledonia, 7 p.m.
Kingsland at Wabasha-Kellogg, 7 p.m.
Hayfield at Goodhue, 7 p.m.
Spectrum at St. Agnes, 7 p.m.