Imagine being forced to eat your least favorite meal every night and then washing it down with milk that’s gone bad.
That’s about the taste that was left in the collective mouths of the Eden Valley-Watkins football team in 2012. For a team that spent the past decade challenging for and winning Central Minnesota Conference titles, section and state playoff games, a 2-7 record was tough to take.
“We didn’t get as far as we wanted to (in the playoffs) and it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” said senior quarterback Nick Pauly, whose team lost in the opening round of sections. “Hopefully, this year, we can make it work out the way we want it to … the way we’re used to.”
The Eagles had an inexperienced offensive line protecting an inexperienced quarterback and they lost their first five games.
“It was a little rough,” said senior Matt Unterberger, who will start for the third straight year at center. “The line probably didn’t hold up as well as it should have.
“But things are starting to swing around,” he said. “We just had a lot of young and inexperienced (players) going last year.”
But there were positives. Pauly threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns and Eden Valley-Watkins won two of its last three regular season games.
“We started bonding a lot better and our line got a lot better as the season went on,” senior wide receiver Cain Renner said of 2012.
“We made progress,” said Jon Thielen, who is beginning his fourth season as head coach. “As the year went on, they started to fight back.
“We started out 0-5 and they could see it wasn’t going to go our way and they struggled. But you could tell from midway through the season that they started fighting a lot harder. You hope for improvement and there was. They got better physically, but I think they got better mentally.”
The Eagles have six starters back on offense in Pauly, Renner, Unterberger, junior wide receiver Jared Streit, junior left tackle Austin Schlangen and sophomore right guard John Salzl.
“The experience really helps,” Pauly said. “It gives you a little more confidence. I know a little more of what could happen.”
Defensively, Streit returns at defensive end, Renner returns at cornerback and junior Cody Schlangen returns at linebacker.
“I think we’ll hold our ground,” Unterberger said of the defense. “We’ve got a lot of speed again.”
“We’re going to be real young defensively,” Thielen said. “That’s going to be a huge question. You don’t know, but you hope. They have potential and we have a lot of kids who want to play (defense).”
The Eagles, who are coming off their first losing season since going 3-6 in 2001, have 47 players out in grades 9-12.