NEW ULM - Records can be deceiving, but they can also be a crystal ball.
Take the Minnesota Valley Lutheran Chargers football team.
Last year they ended 4-6 on the year. But when you look closer, they won four of their last six games before their season ended with a hard-fought 28-20 loss to New Ulm Cathedral in the Section 2A playoffs.
That plus the maturing of now three-year starting quarterback Ryan Grunke (649 yards passing for seven touchdowns along with nine rushing scores last season) points to improvement for MVL, which opens the season tonight at 7 p.m. on the road against United South Central.
"We should have a better start this year," said Grunke, who rushed for 954 yards last year. "We have more experience all-around and we have more chemistry."
That experience comes in the form of 10 returning letterwinners from last year's team, which has MVL coach Jim Buboltz optimistic.
"Having Ryan back, who made some huge strides last year, is key," Buboltz said. "He really kicked things in during the second half of last year. You could see his growth and maturity. But our four captains (Grunke, Matthew Tessmer, Tyler Mielke and Sam Dose) and our nine seniors will be depended on the most."
One of the other key returners is Mielke, who has been named to the Gopher Valley Conference 2A All-Conference team twice.
"He is the leader on the defensive side of the ball and also a spark on the offensive line," Buboltz said. "We also have back Matthew Tessmer (572 yards rushing for five touchdowns), he has a lot of speed, and Sam Dose, who is going to help us on both sides of the line. Those are some key players to have back."
Grunke agrees that the returning experience, especially in the backfield, will be a big plus.
"We'll be solid back there and if we put Tyler in the backfield, we will be pretty good," he said.
Grunke said that the team has not talked about season goals yet.
"But I am sure that we want to go further in the playoffs this year, and a winning record would be nice," he said. "I think that we can build off of last year."
One of the games that MVL can build off of is its playoff game with rival New Ulm Cathedral, which was a classic game.
"We should have came away with that game, but that is just more motivation for us this year," Grunke said.
Grunke is also ready to again bring his leadership to the Chargers.
"I can help people out now," he said. "I know what is going on. I have matured a lot since my sophomore year."
One of the question marks this year will be the offensive line, where the Chargers graduated Brady Tetzlaff and Michael Martens.
"We have also had some key injuries where we have lost Caleb Ring and Corey Hoffman out of the mix," Buboltz said. "But that group right now has been the most surprising in practice. We are finishing up some pieces to the line right now, I think that that group will be exceptional again with Sam Koepsell at center, Mark Grunke. Tyler Mielke, Nick Dewanz there."
Buboltz said that the section is as tough as ever with New Ulm Cathedral, Sleepy Eye St. Mary's and Sleepy Eye Public.
"It is just incredible football, year to year there are state tournament participants and state champions," Buboltz said. "We look forward to coming back. We feel it is the best thing for our program."
Editor's note: this article was taken from The Journal's 2012 Football special section, which will be released on August 30.