Will Martin was on the Minnetonka 10B football team when varsity quarterback Luke Tollefson was lost for the season in 2019. By mid-season, he was on the 10A team, replacing Joey Gendreau, who got a shot over the final five varsity games as a sophomore.

Martin hit the weight room after the season. He did everything to prepare himself to get a shot at the quarterback role as a junior. And he won the job.

Fourteen starts later, Martin topped 2,000 career passing yards, leading Minnetonka to its eighth win in nine contests this season; a 30-15 playoff win over Brainerd on Oct. 29.

Martin entered the playoffs having completed 89-of-122 attempts -- a remarkable 73 percent good -- for 1,114 yards and 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

His growth having come so far, Martin was named one of five Skipper captains this season.

"It was a lot about working hard, growing into my body, growing into the role. I knew there might be an opportunity my junior year. We had a quarterback competition, Joey and I, and the coaches felt they could use him in so many ways, so I won the job," Martin said.

Seth Beil, another captain, as early as second grade, remembers looking over at Einer Anderson Stadium, knowing someday that would be him.

He followed his brothers, Colin, now an assistant coach with the sophomore team, and Jack, who started at safety in Minnetonka's Prep Bowl runner-up team in 2017.

After Minnetonka went 0-9 in 2019, and 2-5 in 2020, Beil and the senior class set out to leave the program in a good spot, knowing that what's behind them -- the sophomore team was 9-0, and 17-0 over the last two high school seasons -- will continue what has been started.

"With COVID last year, it was super tough especially to develop that bond. That is something we have worked so hard on this year. We've gotten so close with the younger players. It really feels like the program is a family now. It's just a different culture. I could go up to any of these guys and they'd feel like a brother to me," Beil said.

WEAPONS GALORE

Take away a 35-7 loss to Maple Grove in week three, a game Minnetonka was shell-shocked in allowing five first-half touchdowns, the Skippers have passed every other test.

They held five of their first seven opponents to single digits in points, and in impressive style beat a Centennial team with wins over Maple Grove and Wayzata in a 31-7 rout.

After missing games against Maple Grove and Champlin Park, Martin returned to throw multiple touchdowns in the final four regular season games. His 337 yards on 21-of-24 passing in week eight at Roseville Area was a career night.

"Our motto all year has been 'prove them wrong.' It started in the weight room during the off-season and it built into this. Hard work really is paying off for so many," Martin said.

Martin will be the first one to tell you, he thinks he has the best group of receivers in the state. There's speedster Cade Conzemius (38 catches, 344 yards, four touchdowns). There's big-play Tyler Lien (26 catches, 326 yards, three touchdowns). And there's Gendreau, a little-bit-of-everything player for the Skippers (31 catches, 385 yards, seven touchdowns).

Add in emerging receiver Casey Miller, who hauled in his third score of the season, now finding the end zone in three consecutive games, and Martin's weapons are solid.

Both Gendreau and Lien got shots at quarterback as sophomores. Now receiving targets, Martin feels the way things played out ended up being best for the team.

"We're able to do so many things, so many little tricks plays. Even tonight Joey was able to throw a ball downfield. We had an open guy there. So it's fun to have those guys understand the quarterback role," Martin said.

CRUSHING PEOPLE

Beil played safety his first two high school seasons, so when he showed up for camp before his junior year, naturally that's where he expected to be placed.

Nope. Linebacker.

Now in his second season starting at outside backer, he can't imagine being anywhere else. A position where he feels he can be a playmaker. A position where he can be physical and let his wild side come out.

"I love where I'm at. I was good at safety, but I'm not very fast, so I feel like I'm where I should be," Beil said.

Need the defense to seal a win, look no farther than Minnetonka, which did not allow a second-half point in six of eight regular season games.

Even in the playoff opener, Brainerd did not get on the board except for the final minute of each half; the second score long after the game had been decided.

"Sophomore year, a lot of these guys were on our 10A team. I think we allowed teams to score like three points a game. Last year, we were all juniors, and it kind of stopped. We were too afraid to mess up. This year, we've all grown up, and we understand what we need to do out here. That super aggressive mindset where between the whistles you hit, and you hit hard," Beil said.

LEARNING PROCESS

Mark Esch, in his second year as head coach at Minnetonka, knows what it takes to win this time of year. He did it many seasons at Mankato West.

After the game, calling the Skippers into the huddle, he talked about getting every team's best in the playoffs. He talked about dedication to the family, introducing one of his former West players, Charles Terry. He talked about never looking ahead, only focusing on one team, one game.

That team is Farmington. A second-round contest all set for Friday, Nov. 5.

The Tigers improved to 5-4 with a 63-20 win over Forest Lake.

It's a Farmington squad that was tested, scoring 29 points in a touchdown loss to Eden Prairie, and then followed with Shakopee and Lakeville South.

"I remember making tunnels out here for the players to run through. It feels like it's gone so fast. Tonight was the last time playing on this field. It's crazy," Beil said.

"Before every game, (Coach Esch) delivers great messages. Sometimes it's about football. Sometimes it's about playing as a team, being a family. That we're all brothers. I really think these guys have listened. They're ready to do something special with him," Martin said.

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