Chaska had won just 15 times over a 55-game stretch between 2006 and 2011. Lambert Brown came into the football program and did what he had done previously at Fridley.
Changed the narrative. Changed the culture.
The same can be said about the Chaska program. Though six years removed from his departure following the 2013 season, a state semifinal appearance, what Brown started has been continued by head coach Bryan Dahl.
The family, the brotherhood, the respect of the game, the hard work needed with off-season training.
Being accountable for yourself to benefit the team.
The foundation laid by the Class of 2014 exists today in the Chaska Football program.
"I definitely believe there was a change of culture. That work ethic needed to win was there. We started to play more physical. We didn't have enough talent (in 2012), but we were moving in the right direction. The 2013 team was full of explosive players. A group of guys who worked hard, bought into what we were saying," current Chaska head coach Bryan Dahl said.
"Coach Brown instilled within us a 'win the day' and '1-0' mentality that I know Coach Dahl and the rest of the staff bring to the table each and every day. Much of the coaching staff has remained the same since our historic season," Chaska's Calvin Buesgens, Class of 2014, said.
Dahl came over from Robbinsdale Armstrong in 2012 as defensive coordinator for the Hawks. The impact was immediate. Chaska posting its first winning season in nearly a decade.
In year No. 2, things came together for a special season. A season unmatched in school history until this year.
"Looking back at the 2013 season, I’m filled with great memories from a terrific season,” Chaska alumni Peyton Sanders, a senior on the Southwest Minnesota University football team, said. “Two big things that always stick out to me was how close our entire team was with one another including the coaching staff. I’ve been a part of a lot of different teams but I’ll always remember how much of a true ‘family’ this team was.”
After winning all eight regular season games, claiming the Missota Conference title in dominating fashion -- Chaska scored 313 points in seven wins -- the Hawks advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1972 with victories over Northfield and then five-time defending section champion Mankato West.
Two touchdown catches of 60-plus yards from Buesgens from Justin Arnold were part of the 27-6 win.
The 2013 football season was a special one and it pumps me up that this 2019 team is having a storybook year similar to what we had. Our entire season and playoff run was the culmination of all the hard work put in for years and years, from the players and coaches," Buesgens, who started at St. Cloud State University before transferring to Minnesota State University-Mankato to compete in decathlon, said.
Chaska survived one week later in the state quarterfinals at Edina's Kuhlman Stadium despite five turnovers. Carter Groskreutz's blocked extra point with 1:51 remaining in regulation sealed a 21-20 win over Andover.
Playing at the Metrodome in the state semifinals, Chaska outgained Brainerd 498 to 189, but the inability to finish drives at key points, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter in Brainerd territory, cost the Hawks the game.
The Warriors won 20-19.
"When you feel like we had more, it was tough. I think the kids and our staff felt like if we were in that championship game, we would have had a shot," Brown said in a 2018 interview.
"We had a strong group of juniors, but those seniors were a special group. They were a big reason why we were able to get the program where we wanted it to be. They invested time, they cared. They held each other accountable. They helped develop the culture we wanted," Brown added.
The senior group included Buesgens and Groskreutz, running back Kolby Seiffert, center Brandon Schnabel, linebackers Lucas Ward and Alec Dodds, receiver Matthew Witthus, secondary Matt Theisen and Zach Mader, and defensive lineman Morgan Johnson.
"What I remember most about that season was the pressure and the expectations. We knew we were going to be great and we talked about it every single day. Our success didn’t surprise us one bit, because we knew how talented we were and the work we had put in, but our downfall did surprise us. It still gets to me, even to this day, but I embrace it because it was one heck of a ride with my brothers," Buesgens said.
“Another big thing that I’ll remember is the overwhelming community support that we got throughout our season. I remember being constantly congratulated on the previous game and discussing our upcoming game with people in the community. I’ll also never forget running out of the tunnel at the Dome and seeing what seemed like the entire City of Chaska cheering us on. It brings me pride to see the foundation we started back in 2013 is continuing to grow as Chaska looks to make it into its first ever state championship game," Sanders added.
A CHANCE TO ADVANCE
Chaska, playing in the program’s fourth state tournament, the third time in seven years, through 11 games in 2019 draws many similarities to the 2013 team.
While the offensive style is much different, a physical brand of football versus explosive plays, the bond the 2013 Hawks had remains in 2019.
Boos could be heard from Chaska players when they were told they couldn't practice on Sunday the day after a 35-7 win over Mahtomedi in the Class 5A State Quarterfinals Nov. 9.
A "tight-knit group," according to Dahl, day after games usually break out into a dance party in the weight room.
That is why this week, much like last week at practice, is business as usual. Why do anything different than what has Chaska one win from its first Prep Bowl appearance?
"You go through different things every year. There's the good and bad and you learn from it," Dahl said of his experience as head coach the last six seasons. "I feel pretty fortunate to have a coaching staff that has been together for a number of years. Pretty stable. We all love working together. There's that trust in each other. We know what we want to do offensively. What we want to do as a team. You're learning new stuff every year and the kids have done a great job of buying into whatever we've asked of them. We challenge them and they respond."
This week's game against Coon Rapids certainly will be different than the last 11. Inside at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, the lights are definitely brighter. And the stage is definitely greater.
"You want your kids to enjoy it. Take it in. For some it might be their first time there. It's the grand stage. But nothing changes once that ball is snapped, it's go time," Dahl said. "We have a pretty mature group of kids. They want to win ball games. They want to keep playing together."
Game time is 2 p.m. Tickets are available online or the day of the game at the northwest corner of the stadium between the Legacy and Polaris gates. Price of admission is $16 for adults and $10 for students.
Fans unable to attend can watch online at PrepSpotlight.TV/MSHSL or via radio on KCHK (95.5FM/1350 AM).
"The continued success of Chaska football shows how great (the coaching staff) are as coaches and mentors of young men. I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way and I hope they win it all!" Buesgens said.