SLEEPY EYE - To put it bluntly, Sleepy Eye senior linebacker and running back Matt Berkner is tired of losing and wants to put an end to it very soon.
The Indians are currently on a 17-game losing streak. In fact, the last time they won, it was Week 1 of his sophomore year in 2013.
Berkner and crew have some experience back this year and the Indians believe that not only will they end that streak soon, but they can be competitive in the Southern Minnesota Conference too.
"I'll be blunt with it, we're sick of losing," Berkner said. "This year, there's been so much more excitement. Not only with the seniors but with everybody. It's posted in the weight room what our losing streak is and it's not pretty, so there's just a completely different outlook with how our practices have went this year - it's day and night, the difference."
Berkner noticed the change in attitude right away in practice.
"The focus is different," he said. "It's a lot better, drills are being completed and just the excitement, people want to come to practice just to get better each and every day."
Berkner was the team's leading tackler and rusher a year ago. The Indians have nine seniors overall on the roster.
Ken Capacia is a two-year starter and a team captain. He'll play on the offensive line and at a linebacking position.
At quarterback will be two-year starter Austin Fischer and Saul Ibarra will probably back him up.
Daniel Fischer will also play on the offensive line and at defensive end while Wyatt Kosmatka is on the offensive and defensive lines. Matthew Miller and Justin Kotten are also both two-year starters with Miller playing receiver and defensive back and Kotten at running back and defensive back. Anthony Torres (OL/DL), Daniel Jasso (special teams, DB) and Chris Linan (kicker).
The junior class also has a group of players with a lot of varsity experience. Ibarra is a two-year starter at WR/DB and Fischer also plays DE. Dylan Klein is a two-year starter at RB/DB and Kolten Nienhaus will suit up at a receiver and DB position. Other juniors include Quinton Stoll (WR/DB), Ben Bleick (OL/DE), David Jasso (OL/DL), Kyle Kjelshus (OL/DL), Jesus Montemayor (OL/DL), Miqueas Alvarez (DL), Jordan Martinez and Taylor Denton. Both Martinez and Denton are new to the program and head coach Cory Haala expects them to add depth on special teams and defense.
Lane Trebesch, Gunner McGee, Sam Tessmer, Michael Curtis, Adam Steffl, Colton Gemmill and Joel Montemayor are all sophomores that may contribute and 17 freshmen round out the squad.
The Indians have had quite a few injuries in the past. With numbers down for most teams at the Class A level, losing a starter to injury hurts the entire team. But if the Indians can stay healthy, Berkner thinks there's a good chance they can be productive.
"Honestly, I think that we can have a winning season," Berkner said. "If we play to our full potential, we have probably 90 percent of the people returning from last year, so we have that experience. That's key when you're playing varsity sport.
"It's just as simple as that. If you have experience, you have kids that come to practice each and every day to get better and we have the potential to be good this year."
Haala agrees that it's important to stay healthy and he knows he does bring back some experience.
"[It's been] Well documented how we struggled last year due to lack of upperclassman and injuries," Haala said. "We lost four seniors from last year, two of which started the whole year [Sam Hirschboeck and Austin Trebesch]. Nine seniors return all with some varsity experience. Almost every sophomore and now current juniors lettered last year, many of them playing significant minutes. Return juniors Saul Ibarra, Quinton Stoll and Kolten Nienhaus as well who would have played major minutes until season ending injuries cut their sophomore year short."