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Simply the best

The 1992 Laker Football Team1 / 2
Toby Steinmetz broke free during the Class A state championship game against Farmington in the Metrodome. The Laker quarterback helped the Lakers win their first-ever team state title with a 21-0 win over Farmington in 1992.2 / 2

It was a season to remember and one which introduced Detroit Lakes as a football power to the rest of the state.

The 1992 football season for the Detroit Lakes Lakers literally put the DLHS on the sports map in the state of Minnesota.

It was a season which produced amazing statistics, dominating performances and last, but not least, DL's first-ever state team championship.

The Lakers were absolutely dominating in 1992, which was headed by perfect balance on offense and defense.

It was the start of a string of state titles for the Lakers, which included 1993, 1995 and 2001, which established DL as a traditional powerhouse in football.

Especially in 1992 when the Lakers rolled to the Class A championship, after not allowing one point in their three state playoff games.

Absolute dominance.

The season to remember, will be just that on Saturday, Oct. 16, when the entire 1992 team is inducted into the second Laker Hall of Honor.

The season made plenty notice, too, when the television announcer who was doing the Prep Bowl games in 1992, said when the Class AA teams were coming on the field after the Laker's 21-0 victory over Farmington, that, "This game is going to be anti-climatic, because we just saw the best team in the state win."

That state championship, along with the three others, still resonate today and can be felt in the community -- especially Friday nights when the Red and White take to Mollberg Field.

Pride was established after 1992, but more specifically, Laker Pride became prevalent.

It wasn't a team of individuals, either, but a literal team, in which became champions after a 14-0 record.

Building a stalwart on the gridiron is not an overnight process, but it all started when Rick Manke became the head football coach in 1985.

"It's a process which takes time and we had a good plan in place to build a successful program," Manke said. "We had to sell it to the community and had to have the kids buy into it, along with the parents."

When Manke took over, the group from the 1992 team were in grades fifth through sixth.

That's where the program started and the playbook began to get integrated into the system.

"I remember when I was in fifth grade, we were at Washington School having a football practice," said Matt Wimmer, who was a guard, long snapper and special teams specialist as a junior on the 1992 team. "Rick walked up to us with a couple of his varsity players and told us, 'I've been to some of the other schools here in town and it looks like we have a bunch of good athletes. It looks like you guys can win a bunch of games when you get the size of (the varsity players).

"Even at that time, Manke was pulling everyone together."

As time went on, the 1992 group had to digest the Laker playbook, running the same plays as they would be by the time they reached varsity.

Success was reached by 1990, when DL won its first section championship, which was repeated in 1991 and the Lakers lost to Rocori in the Class A semifinals.

But heading into the 1992 season, the Lakers returned just nine seniors.

"Going into the 1992 season, usually when you have a state championship team, you know it and can't hide it," Manke said. "I thought we'd be OK, so it was a surprise in a way how it ended up."

Football is usually a complex game, with many different facets contributing in a team's success.

But for the Lakers, there were two main aspects which contributed to their 14-0 season -- top athletes, who were smart.

Add in the fact, the players on the 1992 team had the groundwork already laid for them to succeed, with the 1990 and 1991 teams already showing how it was done.

"What we took away from those teams prior to us was huge," Wimmer said. "For one, they beat teams so bad, that we got a lot of playing time as sophomores. I mean, there were games (in 1992) as juniors, when we were lining up against seniors who were playing for the first time and we already had a full season under our belts.

"The teams before us just don't get enough credit, that helped teach us how to win and what to expect."

Manke agrees the teams before the 1992 one were the foundation of what was to come.

"These guys saw what it took to win and they were ready to take the next step."

It was also a team of athletes, who knew the game.

And there was a bunch of them, making it as balanced a team as one can get.

As longtime Detroit Lakes Newspaper sports editor Ralph Anderson wrote after the 1992 championship game, "A whole arsenal beats a single shot."

Anderson goes on, "If there is one thing the 1992 Detroit Lakes High School football team taught us, it is that a whole lot of balance beats a team with one, two or three outstanding individuals any time.

"Simply stated, the 1992 Lakers were a team that was a veritable arsenal on offense."

Just in the Section 8-A playoffs and the state tournament, DL used 16 different ball carriers in the six games, 10 different players caught passes and 14 Lakers were involved in the scoring process.

In that six-game span, the Lakers outscored its opponents 216-37 and outgained them by a combined 2,138 yards to 1,259.

"The bottom line to the entire season, certainly, is that the Laker defense met every test in championship fashion and the offense, which started slowly, developed into a potent force that just got better and better as each week passed by," Anderson wrote in his Dec. 6, 1992, column.

The ability to adjust on the fly -- which was a perfect example of the players' football smarts -- also overwhelmed opponents.

"If there were plays which didn't seem to be working, we could easily adjust," said Erik Gunderson, who was a junior running back on the 1992 team. "But a lot of the guys on that team were born to be football players. That's what we thought about all year and that's what made us work out all summer long.

"We just always thought no one could beat us."

It was the truth.

Between that junior classes' seventh to senior years, the group only lost four games -- none their junior and senior years.

It was just a team full of natural born athletes.

"We were the entire package," Wimmer added. "Yes, we were undersized, but there were a lot of the guys who were just great athletes."

Chemistry was near-perfect, as well.

Running the famous veer offense Manke brought to the Lakers from Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, the offense became a juggernaut, as the backfield, led by quarterback Toby Steinmetz, became a threat to take it the distance on every play.

"Lining up at guard, I could look down the line and know what the other guys were thinking," Wimmer said. "I could look up at Toby at quarterback and knew what he was thinking. We all just knew the offense because we've been through it since sixth grade."

Manke said that's why adjustments were made so quickly.

"These players could make adjustments by play, not during an entire halftime," Manke said.

Perfection. That's what was demanded out of the Laker teams and in most instances, that's exactly what was produced.

In a game in 1991 at Crosby-Ironton, the sophomore offensive unit was called on to play in another blowout.

The sophomore squad ended up fumbling twice, with no major consequences resulting.

But after the win, Manke lined up the sophomore unit on the field and made them run their offensive plays until they had it down perfectly.

"We learned it and we learned it to perfection," Wimmer said. "There was never any guesswork when we played."

Defensively, the Lakers again were undersized, but the quick and agile defenders dominated their bigger opponents.

Coordinating the defense was the job of current Laker head coach Flint Motschenbacher.

The coaching staff was also elite. It was one which had the players ready for gametime each and every week.

"The time and effort the coaching staff put in during the season is ridiculous," Wimmer said.

Players also studied game film, when studying game film wasn't done normally back then.

"It was just a combination of great coaching and preparation on defense, we could visualize each play before it happened," Gunderson added.

The Lakers set a Prep Bowl record with five interceptionS against Farmington, which obviously was a key to the 21-0 victory.

"To go through an entire state tournament without giving up a point, is quite amazing," Manke said. "But we never mentioned that during the (state playoffs), we just went out and played each game."

After their first state championship was in the bag, the entire community celebrated.

"It was a relief, playing that many games is a grind," Manke said. "It was nice to be able to put that one in the bank. I felt what it was like to lose in the state title game (at D-G-F) and until you've been there and lost, you can't appreciate it when you win it.

"I have a hard time taking any credit for it, the players are the ones who did it."

For Gunderson, it was strange not being able to play again the next week.

"It didn't really sink in after we won it," Gunderson said. "But it was just such a gratifying achievement. We felt like since we were from outstate, we never got the respect. Now, as the years have gone by, it's meaning more and more."

For Wimmer, it was a wonderful feeling winning the school's first state team title, as well as getting inducted in the Laker Hall of Honor.

But it means more for the 1992 team, he added.

"After we won it, I just said, 'We finally won one! We finally did it!'

"It no doubt put DL on the athletic map. I'm honored that the 1992 team got the stamp as the start of a great football program. The 1992 team will accept the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Honor, but we will be accepting it for everyone, for every team before us who gave us hope and the ability to believe in ourselves. It's not just about the 1992 team, but it's something bigger than us.

"It's about the entire Laker football program."

The 1992 season ended with perfection, but it also was the beginning of something bigger for many Laker athletes, which still lingers strong today.

As Manke put it, "You can go to a Laker game today and still feel what they accomplished."

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