An Eden Prairie five-peat was all but certain two years ago, but Totino-Grace dashed the Eagles title hopes in the 2015 playoffs and again last fall. The Class AAAAAA runner-up begins this season as the clear-cut favorite again in the big-school level.
The Eagles return talent around the field on both sides of the ball. Their defense was dominant for most of last season, but this year it might be the offense grabbing the headlines.
Quarterback Cole Kramer should have more freedom in his second full season as the starter. He’ll have leading rusher Solo Falaniko back, along with Daejon Wolfe and two offensive linemen.
The back end of the Eagles defense will be its strength. Benny Sapp III, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2018, headlines the secondary, but Kyler Kluge and D.J. Johnson are also returning. Senior Antonio Montero – one of Minnesota’s best linebackers — is the veteran in the front seven.
With the success of Brian Vossen’s program the past seven years, it’s hard to believe the Panthers have only qualified for one Prep Bowl since he took over. Their 2012 appearance is also the only time North has played for a state title since Lakeville split into two high schools in 2005.
The opportunity to make it to Prep Bowl XXXVI is as good as ever this fall. North returns four offensive lineman that played significant time last season, including Division-I recruits Nathan Boe and Bryce Benhart. The offense will have to replace reigning Mr. Football Wade Sullivan, but newcomer Brian Curtis Jr. should fill in nicely once he gets acclimated to varsity football.
On the other side of the ball, two starters at each level return led by Boe and Peter Bercich on the line, but the safety positions and the depth up front are relative unknowns.
Many around the Blaine program said after last season that 2016 was the year that would hopefully spark a return to prominence in Class AAAAAA. With multiple players back from their dynamic offense, the Bengals should have a good shot to return to U.S. Bank Stadium this season.
Linebacker and senior captain Tyler Ososki, along with safety Tony Strand and corner Sam Browne are back for the Blaine defense. A lot of starters on this side of the ball must be replaced, though, as zero starters return in the trenches.
Quarterback Connor Melton returns after starting the second half of his junior season. He’ll have weapons on the outside like Byron Bynum Jr. and Browne, but replacing running back Chase Harper might be the difference between an average season and another deep postseason run for Tom DeVelice’s squad.
Maple Grove’s season ended last fall by being demolished by Eden Prairie in the state quarterfinals, but prior to that, the Crimson had won six straight games. Led by a fast and aggressive defense, they’ll hope to use that momentum to get off to a good start in 2017.
The Crimson are doing a little reshuffling to try and replace the production from quarterback Brad Davison. Curtis Haugen, who registered four interceptions at safety last season, will assume the duties under center. Senior Joe Raymon will play either safety or corner on defense, but could also see a significant amount of touches at running back along with lightning-fast junior Evan Hull.
One constant on defense will be linebacker Jake Hanson, who led the team in tackles and was named the team’s defensive MVP last season.
Totino-Grace’s group of seniors was nothing short of historic last season. The Eagles went undefeated and won Prep Bowl XXXV with a mix of talent and experience on both sides of the ball, but only a few underclassmen received significant varsity action in 2016.
That inexperience is why the Eagles are a few notches below the top spot as the 2017 season begins. The offensive line should be the strength for Jeff Ferguson’s offense, with Zach Collins and Michael King back to block for senior running back Sam Hanson and others.
Junior Luke Kubesh is a load in the middle of the Eagles defense, but replacements for a majority of the front seven need to be found. Ryan Suggs begins his second season as a starter in the secondary, and should also be a playmaker on special teams.