The Prior Lake football team is used to playing top competition.
Lakers coach Matt Gegenheimer wouldn’t have it any other way as he enters his 15th season leading the program.
“We feel we can be very competitive week to week both in our district and section play no matter who we play,” Gegenheimer said.
There will be no state tournament this fall due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Minnesota State High School League originally pushed football back to the spring in a board of directors meeting back in early August, but the league reversed that decision Sept. 21.
The regular season has been reduced to six games and the Lakers don’t get a week off with road games versus defending Class 6A state champion Wayzata (Oct. 9), St. Michael-Albertville (Oct. 30) and Minnetonka (Nov. 11) and home contests against Edina (Oct. 15), Lakeville South (Oct. 23) and Eden Prairie (Nov. 6).
Prior Lake heads into the season off back-to-back 5-5 campaigns. The Lakers lost at Champlin Park last season in the second round of the playoffs to fall short of a state berth.
The last time Prior Lake made state was in 2017, losing 10-6 to Minnetonka in the quarterfinals.
The Lakers return a strong nucleus, including senior captains Tyler Shaver, Tanner Newlin, Cam Miller and Joe Kohlbeck and junior captain Kyle Haas.
Shaver rushed for 657 yards and five touchdowns last year. He looks to be the lead back, while Haas started five games at quarterback last fall. He finished with three touchdown passes, completing 61.8 percent of his passes.
Miller had a touchdown running and receiving last year and will be in the backfield with Shaver, along with Newlin. Senior Jake Anderson looks to one of the main targets at receiver.
Kohlbeck will help anchor the offensive line, along with seniors Billy Trees and Jason LaGrange and juniors Gavin Field and Cole Indihar. Senior Reid Bowman will start at tight end.
On defense, Newlin, Miller and Shaver will be pulling a lot of double duty. Newlin and Miller will also double as linebackers, while Shaver will play at safety.
Senior Preston Swartz and Brandon Butler look to anchor the defensive line, along with senior Lane Reetz and junior Christin Elert.
Seniors Dustan Green, Caleb Rios and Ryan O’Connor will be part of the secondary.
“We return a good group of offensive (players),” Gegenheimer said. “Defense will have some new faces, but I like the progress they made this offseason
“We have some guys without much Friday night experience, so they will have a learning curve to go through, but should be very good players for us when all is said and done,” Gegenheimer added. “We don’t have the large numbers that we have had in past teams, but our quality is very good.”
How has Gegenheimer’s team dealt with the distractions of the summer programs and the uncertainty of the fall season due to COVID-19?
He said there’s a lot planning and logistics that go into a normal season, so it’s been more challenging during a pandemic.
“There will be a lot of programs that will miss games or lose players week to week and the thought of being shut down at any point looming over your head is tough on all of us,” Gegenheimer said. “We are excited to play and we just hope the season doesn’t get cut short or we have to miss any games.
“We feel fortunate each day that we get to practice or play and be with our guys on the field,” he added.