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Maple Grove running back Tahi Nomane. ] Chris Kelleher, Special to the Star Tribune, 9/20/2013, Blaine, MN.

 

Ineligible to play varsity football at Maple Grove last season because of transfer rules, running back Tahi Nomane dressed for games knowing he could not play. He remained on the sidelines even as fellow junior varsity players got action late in blowout victories.

“I was heartbroken,” Nomane said. “Missing my junior year really hurt a lot. I felt as if I would never get a scholarship.”

His desire fueled a torrid offseason workout regimen, which in turn helped him make up for lost time this fall. Nomane entered this week with team bests in rushing yards (657) and touchdowns (six) through four games. With Nomane, fellow running back Clark Wieneke (352 yards, five touchdowns) and a veteran offensive line known as the “Big Sexies,” Maple Grove has imposed its will as a running team and started the season with a 4-0 record. The Crimson plays host to Anoka (1-3) at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I knew he had the heart,” Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi said of Nomane. “He never got discouraged because he did believe in everyone around him.”

Nomane, who played football, wrestled and ran track at Park Center, sought to transfer after his sophomore year.

“Here it’s a real football family,” Nomane said of Maple Grove. “They put in a lot of time and effort to win.”

Lombardi arrived at Maple Grove in 2011 after seven successful seasons as Wayzata’s defensive coordinator and three Class 5A state tournament championships. His desire to revitalize the program has been infectious. The Crimson went 9-1 last season and lost in the section final to Minnetonka. Though Nomane did not play, he absorbed the culture he was seeking.

“It was exactly what I expected,” Nomane said. “It was a great group of guys working really hard to get what they want. I took it all in and got as much as I could. I told myself, ‘This is a year to get better. I had to keep pushing for next year.’ ”

Nomane improve his bench press to 300 pounds and his squat and dead lifts to 500 pounds. Packing more muscle on his 5-11, 208-pound frame helped Nomane pass the eyeball test, Lombardi said. But becoming a better running back took time.

After showing glimpses of his ability at a North Dakota State summer camp, Nomane went from question mark to exclamation point at the opportune moment.

“I don’t think he saw the light until during our scrimmages a week before the season,” Lombardi said. “About the second or third scrimmage he hit a switch and truly became a football player.”

Running with confidence. Making cuts with purpose. Nomane started to have more in common with his idol, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, than just his No. 28 jersey number.

“He’s a power runner,” said senior guard Kam Garlick, who helped come up with the line’s nickname. “He makes cuts and runs through holes real fast. He makes us look really good and that’s a good thing.”

The scrimmage success carried over to the regular season. Nomane started with a flourish, rushing for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the opener against Armstrong. Varsity coaches could not call his name during games last fall. But the student section chants of “Ta-hi, Ta-hi,” squared all accounts.

“I felt really, really great knowing everything I’d been through in the past year has finally paid off,” Nomane said.

One week later he rushed 28 times for 296 yards against Hopkins, taking about half those carries despite having ankle pain. Lingering soreness limited his effectiveness against Elk River (44 yards, one TD) and Blaine (71 yards).

Wieneke picked up the slack, using his shifty, speedy style to rack up 100 yards and one score against the Elks and 181 yards and four touchdowns at Blaine. Wieneke’s older brother, Jake, was a key cog in the Crimson’s solid pass-happy attack last fall. But Lombardi said this team’s identity, a physical offensive line and two strong running backs, is a preferred formula for success.

“To me, the recipe in Minnesota is simple; the best teams play great defense and run the ball,” Lombardi said. “Last year we threw a lot because that’s what God gave us — and he gave us a lot. But this is more what I want to do. This is more the personality I want our team to be.

“Our line is the heart and soul of our team and it has to be,” Lombardi said. “And it’s fun to play O-line when you have backs behind you that you believe in. The have visions of grandeur every play. That doesn’t happen unless you have backs that can do it and we have two of them.”

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