South St. Paul's continued run of success will be tough to halt. However, the defending Section 3 champion lost much of its experience, leaving the conference's top spot up for grabs.
St. Thomas Academy is the league's defending champion but lost to South St. Paul in overtime by a point in the section championship. Under the guidance of new coach Mark Mauer, Hill-Murray will be another team to watch.
Co-coaches: Tom Orth and Stan Eskierka
2011 record: 1-8
• Though the Henry Sibley defense returns team MVP and all-conference mention Nick Goldberg, it needs to fill seven holes. The offense will be led by a group of six upperclassmen, including do-it-all junior Anastacio Vandenbosch-Romo. That could be the combination the team needs to win more than one game.
Coach: Mark Mauer 2011 record: 9-3
• New coach Mauer will have a lot to live up to. The Pioneers just missed a berth in the Class 4A state championship game last year under the guidance of former Vikings quarterback Brooks Bollinger. It's a challenge Mauer, cousin of Twins star Joe, will embrace. In seven seasons as Concordia (St. Paul) football coach, Mauer compiled a program-best 40 wins and four winning seasons in conference play.
Coach: Dave Muetzel
2011 record: 6-4
• Two-way senior starters Zach Lindquist and Luke Lindahl will be expected to carry much of the load. As a junior, Lindahl had 363 rushing yards, three touchdowns and 90 defensive tackles. Lindquist scored three touchdowns and had 282 receiving yards as the team's tight end. The pair will be backed by several senior newcomers.
Coach: Eric Longtin
2011 record: 2-7
• The Polars are hopeful that summer was enough time for a young group of athletes to mature. With a combined four players returning on offense and defense, they will rely heavily on new faces. Speed will be the strength of a team that needs to improve up front.
Coach: Todd Olson
2011 record: 1-8
• For each of the past two seasons, Richfield has finished with a single victory. The last time the Spartans won was in the 2011 season opener against North St. Paul. They were shut out twice and scored only one touchdown three times. The goal is to break the one-win trend, but a lot of pressure will be put on the team by the rest of the conference.
Coach: Rex King
2011 record: 4-6
• Last season was split into two very different outcomes. The first half was plagued by three shutouts and only one win in six tries. Then the Spartans won three of their final four games, including a first-round playoff victory. Coach King hopes this late surge carries over into a much better start to the 2012 season.
Coach: Chad Sexauer
2011 record: 10-2
• Without many returning starters, Sexauer is depending on healthy competition for playing time to improve his team. What he calls a "tight-knit group" will look to senior running back Jack Pietruszewski (all-conference) and junior offensive/defensive lineman Preston Woods (started as sophomore) for leadership. Sexauer believes his team will be well-prepared physically and mentally to make another run for conference and section titles.
Coach: Dave Ziebarth
2011 record: 9-1
• After winning their conference a year ago, the Cadets were ousted in the Section 3 final by conference foe South St. Paul. A load of defensive returners and a handful of offensive skill-position players return to try to avoid a letdown this season. All-conference wide receiver/running back Nick Waldvogel will lead the effort. The challenge will be building an offensive line to protect him.
Coach: Tim Murtha
2011 record: 4-5
• More experience and speed could help the Titans get over the .500 hump. If his team can stay healthy, Murtha expects to significantly improve. Returning running backs Eli McGeehan and Derek Zuniga will be well-protected by a big offensive line, which will be tested right away in the season opener against Hill-Murray.