Once you reach the summit, you become accustomed to the view.
The Rocori Spartans, after winning the state Class 4A title in 2011, are still aiming high.
“Everyone wants it just as bad,” said senior linebacker Adam Dingmann, one of only a handful of returning players from the Spartans’ 12-1 season that included Central Lakes Conference and Section 8-4A championships.
“Once you get a taste, you want it more.”
Rocori won its first Central Lakes Conference title since 2003 and its third in school history since joining the conference in 1988. (The other came in 1991).
They did it with a great senior class that has nine athletes playing college athletics this year, beating Bemidji 17-10 in the Prep Bowl after surviving Hill-Murray 37-35 in the semifinals at the Metrodome and after a 17-6 win over Rogers in the quarterfinals at St. Cloud State.
This season’s group say they believe they have what it takes to repeat.
There are 31 seniors out. They have some talented skill people, some good size on the line and the experience of watching first-hand what last year’s group accomplished.
“Last year, when we practiced and played against the varsity, we were playing against the state championship team,” senior defensive lineman Colton Johnson said. “We know what that’s like.”
The new quarterback will be Mac Mueller. Mueller saw frequent time in the offense last season, backing up Nate Meyer and spending time in the backfield as a running back spelling Sam Moriarty.
“I think playing running back really helped me,” Mueller said of picking up Rocori’s no-huddle, spread offense.
Mueller will have a receiving crew that includes Derek Kuechle, Jeron Terres, returning starter Nick Thorpe, Dingmann, Jake Huber and Mason Ruegemer.
Running the ball will be Ryan Tong, Alex Austad and Jacob Herges.
They’ll run behind an offensive line that includes Kyle Schramel (6-7, 310, Sr.), Max Nelson (6-2, 230, Jr.), Andrew Hoese (5-9, 160, Sr.), Tyler Salzer (6-0, 210, Sr.) and Peter George (6-4, 210, Sr.). Only Hoese, the center, isn’t decent-sized or better.
Defensively, Dingmann returns at linebacker after making 97 tackles in 2011. He has the size (6-4, 220, Sr.), experience and athleticism that will draw college scouts.
Levi Klein played some outside linebacker and Terres and Mueller saw time in the secondary.
Otherwise, there will be a lot of new faces on defense.
The schedule remains difficult. Rocori opens at Brainerd, the perennial CLC power. The Warriors are also in the new Class 6A. In fact, Rocori plays only one other Class 4A school during the regular season, Oct. 5 at Big Lake. All the rest besides Brainerd are Class 5A programs.
Big Lake and Monticello are new teams on the schedule, both Mississippi 8 Conference schools that worked with the CLC and Granite Ridge Conference to fill out area schedules.
The schedule should have the Spartans ready for the Section 8-4A playoffs. Rocori was moved to a section with Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Little Falls and Thief River Falls. The Spartans face none of them during the regular season, though Fergus Falls is a CLC member.
“I think we need to stay healthy,” Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said. “That’s everyone’s cliche.
“We need to develop that trait we had last year of being very close-knit. The tighter we are as a team, the better we are and I think you need that to be successful.”
He stresses that it’s a new season with new players and while they did win the state title last year, that guarantees nothing in 2012.
“This team needs to make its own legacy,” Rowe said. “Whatever that is, it needs to be determined. Whatever we do this year is what we get. We can’t ride on last year. That’s not going to get us anything.”