Detroit Lakes head football coach Josh Omang and his staff have had a smooth transition from the first day of practice to the first game with a pack of 24 seniors on this year's team.
That group is comfortable with the format of practice and the playbook allowing the Lakers to get up to speed quickly with a core of team leaders on board.
"They know all the little stuff; how we come out and lineup, so that's good," said Omang. "This is a really good group. They're good in the school and in the community and have been awesome all year. We know if we get those bigger senior groups that's a big advantage. A lot of these guys played two years ago when we started the most sophomores we ever had."
One new face in that group of upperclassmen is multi-sport athlete Drew Schwan, a hockey player and member of the state golf team who was not on the team last season.
"He's been playing free safety for us and looks good," said Omang.
DL has a lot of senior firepower in the backfield behind quarterback Max Gunderson. Last year's single-season rushing record holder Isaiah Thompson and Reed Mace provide all the speed and Gabe Hanninen and Jackson Fields give Omang a bruising combination together or with either of the tailbacks.
The Lakers will obviously be a run-first oriented offensive group.
The front seven of the defense made a solid showing against the combined run games of Bemidji, Moorhead and Perham on Scrimmage Saturday of the preseason. One area that the staff has been working to shore up tighter is in the secondary, according to assistant coach Flint Motschenbacher.
Omang and his staff work throughout the offseason to set individual and team goals along with the senior group, but this collective has prioritized how to get to those goals first.
"The hard part is the process," said Omang. "You can't get there if you skip over bunch of stuff. You just have to work hard every day and that gives us a chance."
This season, Omang gets to see the most complete version of what he began three seasons ago stressing a specific culture he wants his teams to have, along with incorporating the standards of practice during the first two weeks leading up to the opener.
"We do all that stuff every day," said Omang. "We've had some work with our unity council already and character lessons every day. We still do the old school stuff of hitting the sled and the chutes."
The Lakers open against Willmar at home. The two teams met in the section championship game with a high-powered Cardinals offense putting up 50 points to end the Lakers' season with the only loss of the year (9-1).
"We haven't won a home opener since I've been here and they're going to be a good team," Omang said. "They're a good program too and well coached. It's a good one to start out with."
Granted, there has only been one home opener to start the season in Omang's three seasons, a 20-12 loss in 2017 to then defending section champs ROCORI. Both times DL has opened on the road the Lakers have produced big wins over Little Falls in 2016 and last year at ROCORI.
Omang has a specific list of things DL needs to do to take care of business Friday, Aug. 30 against Willmar.
"Take care of the ball and that's in every game," he said. "If you take care of the ball, 75 percent of the time you win the game. Our play and potential have to match, that's what we talked about a lot. You have people excited saying we could be good but the reality is there is a long list of teams that should have been good but weren't. There's a very short list of teams that were actually good. Sometimes, that's hard for all of us, but especially high school kids. We try to focus on right now, what's one thing we can get better at every day."
The Cardinals are coming off an 11-2 season after going to state for the first time since 1988 ultimately losing to SMB in the Class AAAA finals. Another big loss for the Cards was quarterback Drey Dirksen, a key difference-maker in the section championship last year.
ROCORI is in a similar situation to DL with 19 seniors on the team, but not in what the Spartans have to overcome from last season. While DL was rattling off nine straight wins to get to the section final, ROCORI struggled through injuries and a 2-8 campaign after four straight section championships and trips to the state tournament 2014-2017. The Lakers ended the Spartans' season 14-0 in a muddy, section semifinal at Mollberg Field.
Section 8AAAA has dropped to five teams with the loss of Fergus Falls to Class 3A and St. Cloud Apollo to 5A.
Grand Rapids moved from 8-5A to the section this season to join ROCORI, Willmar, Little Falls and the Lakers. Fergus Falls was the section runner-up two seasons ago.
DL is pursuing a first section championship since 2013. The Lakers stopped ROCORI's run last year in the section semis and 8-4A has had a number of different teams come and go over the past seven seasons as can be seen by the teams that reached the final in that span with the Spartans dominating at 5-1 in six of eight section final appearances.
While Willmar will have a new face under center, ROCORI counters with Division I Nebraska baseball recruit and senior Jack Steil at quarterback.
Little Falls is coming off a 1-8 season and Grand Rapids was also 1-8 in Section 7AAAA last year. With a five-team section, the first round of the playoffs will be a one-game scenario with the top three teams earning byes to the semifinals.
8AAAA Section champions 2011-18
2018 Willmar 50, Detroit Lakes 28
2017 ROCORI 30, Fergus Falls 0
2016 ROCORI 41, Willmar 6
2015 ROCORI 7, Willmar 0
2014 ROCORI 21, Detroit Lakes 6
2011 ROCORI 37, Sartell-St. Stephen
Detroit Lakes 2019 schedule (All games at 7 p.m.)
Friday, Aug 30, vs Willmar
Friday, Sep 6, @ Park Rapids
Friday, Sep 13, @ Thief River Falls
Friday, Sep 20, vs Pequot Lakes
Friday, Sep 27, vs East Grand Forks (Homecoming)
Friday, Oct 4, @ Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton
Friday, Oct 11, @ Fergus Falls
Wed. Oct 16, vs Perham