The Prior Lake football team has always had the mentality that it can compete with anyone in the state.
And this season should be no different as the Lakers return some strong talent on both sides of the ball. Coach Matt Gegenheimer has built a strong program entering his 14th season.
His teams have made the state quarterfinals four times since 2011 but lost in each of those games. Last year, the Lakers fell short of state, losing 34-7 at Blaine in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs to finish the season with a 5-5 mark.
It was the third year in a row the two teams met in the second playoff round; Blaine also won in 2016, and Prior Lake won in 2017.
“Our goal is to be competitive week to week no matter who we play,” Gegenheimer said. “We have a tough schedule as always, but we believe we can compete with everyone we play and do well.
“We hope to playing our best football at the end of the season and be in a position to compete at playoff time,” Gegenheimer added. “We have been right there the past eight seasons.”
The Lakers have some speed back on offense, starting with senior receiver Parker Ellis, who caught seven touchdown passes last year. Senior Nate Raddatz will take over at quarterback.
Raddatz started one game last year at Eden Prairie and played in three other games, so he some experience. Senior Sam Emmerich and Nick Theis will open the season at running back, and seniors Jonah Hoeg and Hunter Anthony are back on the offensive line.
Juniors Jake Anderson and Kyle McCullough look to provide depth to the receiving corps, while senior D.J. Doyen looks to be in the passing mix at tight end. Juniors Tyler Shaver and Cam Miller will provide depth to the backfield.
Juniors Jason Lagrange and Joe Kohlbeck will also be up front on the offensive line.
On defense, Prior Lake will welcome the return of senior defensive back Dylan Bair, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Senior Austin Gordon started at safety last year. Seniors Nick Larson and Will Jones are also back in the secondary.
Senior Blake Whaley will be the leader on the defensive line, while Emmerich, senior Carter Effertz and junior Tanner Newlin are back at linebacker.
Junior Brandon Butler and senior Logan Hennen will be in the defensive trenches with Whaley.
“I think one of the obvious strengths this year is our team chemistry,” Gegenheimer said. “These guys really care about one another, and they push each other and support each other everyday at practice. This is a tough, gritty group, and they will help re-establish our culture of being a tough, physical football team.”
Gegenheimer will have to replace both his offensive and defensive coordinators. Mark Esch ran the offense last year, but he’s now on the Minnetonka staff. Tom Menke has been the defensive coordinator for the five years but now is coaching the defensive backs at St. Olaf College.
The Lakers numbers are also down a little from previous seasons, but that’s not much different from many programs around the state.
“We may not have the large teams that we have had in the past, but the quality of this group is really, really good,” Gegenheimer said. “It’s all about staying healthy and playing your best football at the end of the season.”
Prior Lake will get a good test in its season opener Aug. 29 at home versus Rosemount at 7 p.m. The Irish are expected to be one of the top programs in the state.
The Lakers and Rosemount have not played since 2014. Prior Lake lost 21-0 to the Irish on the road that year.
The Lakers are at Shakopee in week 2 (Sept. 6) and home to Wayzata in the third week (Sept. 13). Both games start at 7 p.m.
Prior Lake’s other five games in the regular season are at Edina (Sept. 20), at Lakeville South (Sept. 27), versus St. Michael-Albertville (Oct. 4), at Eden Prairie (Oct. 11) and home to Minnetonka (Oct. 16).