Team: Mayer Lutheran football
Coach: Dean Aurich
Years with this team: 30+, 25 as head coach
Assistant coaches: Tim Zupke (defense), Mike Orth (junior varsity), Gary Loontjer (junior varsity), and volunteers Dan Hoernemann, Fred Pawelk, and Jeremy Hegle. Captains: Philip Burfeind, Jeremiah Grimsley, and Tanner Luebke
Conference: Minnesota River
Section: 4AA – Brooklyn Center, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Kimball Area, Maple Lake, Mayer Lutheran, St. Paul Humbolt, Spectrum, and St. Agnes
Team state appearances: 1980, 1987, 1988, 2000
2011 finish: The Crusaders finished last season 6-4. They began the regular season with a 3-0 run, collecting victories over Maple Lake, Watertown-Mayer, and Sibley East in the first weeks of September. They also defeated Montgomery-Lonsdale and Jordan to finish the regular season 5-3. Mayer Lutheran finished fourth in the Minnesota River Conference with a 4-3 conference record.
In the first round of Section 4AA, the Crusaders defeated the Centaurs of Brooklyn Center in a 33-14 win at home on Oct. 25. Four days later, the season came to a close as Mayer Lutheran fell to Maple Lake 20-14. The Irish went on to win the section, but lost to Caledonia in the first round of the state tournament.
Key losses: Missing from this year’s lineup are 2011’s 15 seniors, including All-Conference players Connor Machemehl, Grant Noennig, Adam Kohls, and All-Conference Honorable Mention player Erich Strehlke.
“Anytime you replace seniors it’s a lot of work,” Aurich said.
Key returnees: All-Conference and All-Section player Philip Burfeind is back for LHS this year, after leading the team in rushing yards last season (596 yards), and grabbing three interceptions. All-Conference Honorable Mention player Jeremiah Grimsley returns to the field this season to lead the Crusaders at quarterback. In 2011, Grimsley was 85-176 for 999 yards. He also snagged three interceptions while on defense.
Also returning for Mayer Lutheran are defensive end Anthony Gruenhagen, linebacker Joel Burfeind, defensive back Tanner Luebke, and linebackers Cole Buttenhoff and Nate Webber.
Teams to beat: While Mayer Lutheran, Sibley East, and LeSueur-Henderson are all Class AA schools, the remaining five MRC teams are in Class AAA and include Belle Plaine, Jordan, Norwood Young America, Tri-City United, and Watertown-Mayer. As one of the smallest Class AA schools, Aurich said their five Class AAA conference schools on the schedule will be a challenge.
Goals: Aurich said the goals this season are simple: to play hard in the conference, but most of all, to stay healthy. With only 36 players on the team, the Crusaders don’t have much wiggle room for illness or injury. If the team can remain able-bodied throughout the season, Aurich said the Crusaders have a shot at winning the section.
“I think we could be in the hunt,” he said.
The season begins Aug. 30.