SLEEPY EYE - Minimal surprise is applicable to Sleepy Eye St. Mary's 4-0 start to the 2013 season that has earned it the No. 4 ranking in Class A.
Last season, the Knights went 8-0 en route to a state tournament berth led by then-seniors quarterback Jordan Anderson and receiver Sean Mathiowetz. However, St. Mary's coach Brent Kucera said there is one key difference between last season's team and the one that suits up now.
"I think we're a better team this year all around," Kucera said. "If you take all 22 guys on both sides and combine them, we're a better team than we were last year."
File photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s junior quarterback Bandon Helget evades MVL?linebacker Chad Lease in the Knights’ 20-12 win against the Chargers on Aug. 30. Helget has led the Knights to a 4-0 record so far this season in replacing three-year starter Jordan Anderson.
St. Mary's has a big task ahead of its perfect season in hosting its rival down the road, New Ulm Cathedral (3-1), for its Homecoming game this Friday.
The biggest aspect of St. Mary's success so far has been its defense. Through four games, the St. Mary's defense has allowed 6.3 points per game - second-best behind top-ranked Mahnomen's mark of 3.5 per game.
"Keeping the points low and capitalizing on turnovers," said junior David Surprenant. "We only lost three people on defense, so that's probably why we still have a good defense."
Junior Brandon Helget has had a smooth transition in replacing Anderson, who was a three-year starter as the Knights' signal caller.
Through four games, Kucera said Helget, who played wide receiver last season, has already exceeded his expectations.
"Last year I learned a lot from Jordan just from watching him and playing with him," Helget said. "This year I just kind of had to step up and learn every week, try to get better."
Helget's knowledge of the offense and understanding of the wide receiver position has aided his ventures behind center.
"He knows where he would want the ball just watching Jordan last year and whatnot," Surprenant said. "He got the hang of it pretty good."
Surprenant has been another playmaker for the Knights as the starting running back. Weighing in at 215 pounds, Surprenant has a size advantage in the backfield that makes him tougher for defenders to tackle.
"He's a strong runner and he's not afraid to lower his shoulder," said senior lineman Andrew Steffl. "I think that's an advantage. He runs hard and he's willing to get hit a little bit."
Attendance in the weight room during the offseason has improved drastically since Kucera's arrival at St. Mary's in 2010, which has helped in more way than just developing size.
"The most important thing with lifting weights is it keeps them healthier," Kucera said. "They're less prone to getting injured and that's one of the biggest factors I think with getting them into the weight room."
Kucera said roughly 75 percent of his team has been partaking in the offseason weight training program, a vast improvement from the "two or three" that took part regularly in his first season.
"We've had more guys in the weight room and it's definitely starting to show," Steffl said. "We're getting bigger guys who are just getting better in general because they're lifting and getting ready for the season ahead of time."
As far as on-the-field differences go, the Knights have not had the deep plays that were so prevalent a season ago.
"We don't have the 30-yard completions five times a game," Surprenant said. "We had the deep threat, but we still have players that can catch the deep ball."
St. Mary's will host rival New Ulm Cathedral for its Homecoming game on Friday.