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1 Bigger the better
Tartan is hoping big numbers translate to a successful season. The Titans senior class is at its biggest in years, according to first-year coach Aaron Mullen. It couldn’t come at a better time for Mullen, who has “very high expectations for our team this year.” He hopes quarterback Tim McCarthy and wide receivers Kieran Johnson and Tristan Richert can be more productive in the air and open up the ground game. This will give all-conference running back Keenan Bellephant room to once again lead the team in rushing.
2 Another new face
Hill-Murray’s trend of new head coaches continues. The Pioneers hope that Tony Danna can help the program forget any negativity left behind by most recent former coach Mark Mauer. Mauer, who helped guide his team to the state tournament a year ago, resigned after his arrest on charges of soliciting prostitution. Danna is the fourth coach in four years and was a 2011 All-America linebacker at the University of St. Thomas. Jacob Gonzalez, Dusty Krueger and four other returning seniors have experience in two state tournaments and are confident they once again will play at the Metrodome in its final year.
3 Classic breakup
The nine-school conference will split up after this season. It is one of three metro-area conferences parting ways, joining the North Suburban and Missota conferences. Trouble in the conference began when efforts were put into motion to dismiss private school member St. Thomas Academy. Technicalities kept a 6-2 vote from ousting the Cadets, so the conference responded by breaking up.
4 Moving on up
South St. Paul hopes to shake things up in the final year of the conference. The Packers lost last year’s regular-season finale and were forced to share a conference title with St. Thomas Academy. They then lost in the sectional final to conference rival Hill-Murray. Quarterback Billy Brandecker and seven other returning offensive starters plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Brandecker rushed and passed for 1,500-plus yards as a junior. Aided by a solid offensive line, he should be even better this season.
5 top players to watch
Some names to watch for this year and potentially at the next level: Grant Oncay, OL, St. Thomas Academy; Godfrey Luke, DB, Richfield; Jackson Hull, RB, Mahtomedi; Anastacio Vandenbosch, RB, Henry Sibley; Jason Telin, OL, Tartan; Jack Vasko, OT, Hill-Murray; Akeem Sirleaf, RB, North St. Paul.