Posted On: 08/20/18 7:30 AM

The last few years, NFN’s Brian Jerzak has attempted to highlight one team per class that was coming off a sub-.500 record who has a chance to make a significant step forward. Here is the first of his seven sleeper-team stories, starting with the big schools in Class AAAAAA.

NFN’s 2018 AAAAAA sleeper: White Bear Lake

2017 Record: 0-9

Returning starters: Luke Parcyzk OL, Zach Claassen OL, Ozzie Thao OL, Matt Guenther OL, Zach Griebel RB, Russell Schoeller WR, John Townsend DL, Malek McElmury LB, Fidel Paramo CB, Bubba Peters CB

The Bears come into the 2018 season with a great foundation for a turnaround season after a winless year. They return four of their five starting offensive linemen and running back Zach Griebel. If nothing else, defenses are going to have to pack a lunch when lining up against White Bear Lake in 2018.

Not surprisingly, head coach Ryan Bartlett feels the team’s size and strength will be their biggest asset going into the season. The Bears also have Bartlett’s offseason battle with cancer as inspiration, which thankfully appears to be in remission.

I don’t like picking a team which is not returning its quarterback, but if the Bears can control the ball on the ground with their experienced offensive line, they will help a defense that returns just four starters. One of those starters – however – will be defensive lineman John Townsend who Bartlett feels will be a disruptive force on the interior of the defensive line.

The schedule won’t do them any favors. They will be obvious underdogs in roughly half of their games, but I think there are enough winnable games and enough experience on the roster to get the Bears around the .500 mark after a winless 2017.