Everything says this is going to be a better season for the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles. And when you’re coming off an 0-9 season, there really is nowhere to go but up.
Seven starters return on offense. Seven return on defense.
Many of those players are bigger, stronger and faster. Numbers are improved in the program, especially at the freshman and sophomore levels, where there are 80-plus athletes out for football, to go with 42 juniors and seniors.
The Eagles hope that all adds up to the one number that really matters to them, more wins.
“It’s looking really good,” said Dusty Cassens, a junior who starts on both sides of the line. “I think it (the season) is going to be really good.”
The line is above average in size and experienced. Bryce Kirchner (5-11, 235, Jr.) is in his third year as a starter and wrestled in the state tournament last season. De’Mico Elyea (6-2, 210, Sr.) is also in his third year as a starter and is quick and in outstanding shape. Cassens (5-10, 255, Jr.) returns and is a load.
Matt Danielson (6-2, 215, Sr.) and Brandon Bloch (5-11, 210, Sr.) also will contribute.
Bloch is also a returning starting linebacker who started at fullback last season. He moved inside at coach Justin Skaalerud’s request to help plug a hole and to enable Jacob Tralow (5-10, 230, So.) to start.
“I just wanted to do what was best for the team so we that we can win,” Bloch said.
The skill positions have been shuffled around to make better use of the team’s talent. Ben Alvord will start at quarterback. He replaced an injured Luke Stangler last year. Stangler will start at linebacker and Skaalerud expects him to be a force there.
Larry Miller will handle the ball-carrying duties. Noel Teigen is back at wide receiver and a good athlete. Kyle Rosenthal, Michael Ashwill and Cooper Lynch all are expected to play roles.
Joe Brennan, a former St. Cloud State and Glencoe-Silver Lake football player who teaches in Annandale, is the new offensive coordinator. He was a college buy of Skaalerud and relishes the opportunity of helping the Eagles turn things around.
“I came and watched a few games last year and saw a lot of athletes on the field and wanted to be a part of it,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s a disciple of Buzz Rumrill, the hall of fame coach from Silver Lake who was famous for his teams’ impressive running games. That tradition carried over at Glencoe when the programs merged.
“They (GSL) are good at what they do and I think we’ll be all right,” Brennan said. “That’s what we’ll try to be here. It’s pretty simple. Do a few good plays and do them well.”
The defense also is experienced. Blcoh ahd 57 tackles last year and Dylan Erickson-Thoemke had 45 at linebacker. Jeremy Koffi (42 tackles), Kyle Rosenthal (31 tackles, three interceptions), Elyea (27 tackles), Teigen (27 tackles, one interception) and Derek Alexander (12 tackles) also are back.
The Eagles again will play a defense that has six defensive backs.
“I thought it was a really disappointing year,” Erickson-Thoemke said of 2011.”But I saw some good things.
“We’re starting to turn things around and we should be really competitive this year. I think we’re going to start to turn it around in the conference.”
That’s the goal.
“The kids are working hard,” said Skaalerud, who is in his third season as head coach and seen the program go 1-17 in the first two. “We’re just hoping we can turn the corner.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won here … as you know. But our numbers are up and that’s what I’ve been the most pleased with. Football is such a numbers game and so that’s good to see. Our weight-room program keeps getting bigger and bigger and that’s important.”
The Eagles are hoping to pays off with some victories.