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Lakers ready to reclaim success

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Laker wide receiver Josh Stalberger hauls in a pass during the Red and White game in August.2 / 2

After sporting an un-Detroit Lakes-like 3-5 record in 2009, the Laker football team rectified its regular season shortcomings with an impressive playoff run, which was cut short by inches to reaching the Section 8-4A championship game.

The young Lakers of 2009 also gained another important aspect, which could bear much fruit for this season -- experience.

"We had a lot of people who played last year," said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher. "And we have a good senior class coming back."

Turnovers were an earmark for the inexperience the Lakers had last year, with a total of 23 turnovers for a -4 turnover ratio.

That rate should improve in itself, simply due to experience, with the return of DL's top two rushers, quarterback and the No. 1 wide receiver all returning.

Junior Joe Mollberg (6-3, 200) had a solid season as a first-year varsity quarterback in 2009, passing for 1,439 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His completion percentage was at 43.3 percent (75-173) and had 11 interceptions for a QB rating of 69.5.

"Joe learned a lot as a sophomore quarterback last year," Motschenbacher said. "He's become more of a leader and he should be better in handling the offense and reading defenses.

"He still has a long ways to go, but he'll be ready for the season."

Mollberg should have lots of familiarity with his targets, especially senior wideout Josh Stalberger (6-4, 195), who broke out last year with 28 receptions for 596 yards (21.3 yards per grab) and a team-leading seven receiving touchdowns.

Stalberger had a strong offseason and put on some more muscle, which will go well with his 6-4 frame.

"Josh is bigger and stronger and he has the ability to do it all," Motschenbacher added.

Junior Rick Hutchinson (6-1, 175) will also be solid catching the ball, along with senior Tanner Twigg (6-0, 175), so secondaries can't just focus on Stalberger.

The rushing attack may have a different look, with a slotback style of formation, which is different from the traditional veer offense the Lakers usually run.

"We'll be running multiple formations, but we'll be running basically the same plays," Motschenbacher said. "It may look different, but it's all the same."

But the switch fits the Laker running backs better, as DL does employ a versatile group of backs.

The pounder of the group is 2009 team leading rusher junior Alex Mason (6-0, 200), who compiled 569 yards on 125 carries (4.6 per rush) and nine touchdowns.

Senior Jon Gilson (6-0, 195) will also fit the bill of the ability to run between the tackles, while seniors Logan (6-0, 180) and Nathan Baker (5-9, 165) can run the slotback positions with their shiftiness.

Also in the mix for carries will be junior Brian Labat (6-2, 200), seniors Connor Hedstrom (5-11, 175) and Connor McLeod (5-11, 165).

Gilson and Labat will also lineup at tight end, providing top athleticism and good hands for Mollberg to hit.

"We do lack the burning speed, but they are all good athletes," Motschenbacher said. "We'll be using a lot of different combos."

The offensive line returns just one in senior Bryce Dutton (6-1, 205), with each of senior Chris Nelson (6-1, 240), juniors David Perry (5-11, 220) and Josh Olson (5-9, 230) all in the mix for guard duty.

Senior Josh Eggebraaten (5-11, 180) will also be in the running for playing time on the offensive line.

The defense does have some good seasoning, as well, with McLeod back in the secondary (two interceptions in 2009), Dutton and Labat at linebacker and Eggebraaten and senior A.J. Johnson (5-10, 190) at the defensive end positions.

Hedstrom and Gilson also return at the safety positions. Hutchinson also saw time at the free safety slot last year, as well.

"We have a lot of guys competing at defensive tackle," Motschenbacher said. "We do have a little more experience back, but our biggest concern is our team speed."

The Lakers won't have to be as much of road warriors as they have in the past.

DL will have three road games this year, at Bismarck (N.D.) Sept. 10, at Duluth Oct. 1, and at Grand Forks Red River Oct. 8.

The away game versus Fargo Davies has been switched to DL, since Davies still doesn't have a home field this season.

"It's a very difficult schedule," Motschenbacher said. "We play two North Dakota state champions (Bismarck and Shanley) and now Duluth (Denfeld and East) are Class 5A schools after one of their schools closed.

"Thief River Falls is always a good game and Grand Rapids beat us last year."

The Lakers did make some noise in the playoffs last year, defeating No. 3 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice and pushing No. 2 Alexandria to the brink, before losing on a fourth and inches call late in the game.

"Hopefully our guys learned the mental preparation of the game and learned how to play physically on that level," Motschenbacher added. "I think our schedule will help us get ready for the sections this year."

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.