Knights optimistic heading into season opener Friday

Kingsland’s Nick Ramaker flips the ball to running back Dallas Jones in a scrimmage at Dover-Eyota. CHRISTINE VREEMAN/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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The Kingsland Knights football team is finishing up preparations for the season opener Friday at Rushford-Peterson, the last team Kingsland played in 2017.

In spite of finishing with one win in nine games last season, the Knights are coming into the fall with higher expectations. The Knights bring back a lot of experienced football players who’ve put their time in, showing a lot of fight in the final game of the season last year that could be a springboard into this season.

Third-year head coach Brent Stinson returns to lead the program. Stinson had two overriding goals when he took over the program: solid academic achievement in the classroom and increase the number of kids out for football, both of which have been accomplished. He expects to have 39 kids in grades nine through 12 on the roster.

“When we finished the season last year, we only had three seniors on the field,” Stinson said. “One of those three actually got hurt against Rushford-Peterson during the first series. Two of the kids we were counting on to lead last year’s team had season-ending injuries. We’ve been a young team the last few years. This year, we bring in a number of juniors and seniors.

“We’re building the program around the values of ‘Finish, Fight, and Family,’” he added. “We’ve taken some lumps over the years but anything that’s worthwhile takes time to build. I’m happy with the way things are going.”

The Knights ended the 2017 regular season with a solid win over Hayfield, and then put together a fantastic effort against Rushford-Peterson in the playoffs before coming up short (42-22). Stinson said that’s the kind of effort that a team can build on going into the following season.

“To put 22 points on a top-ranked Rushford-Peterson squad that had been in the Top 10 all season was a great effort,” Stinson said. “At one point, they actually had to put their starters back in because we kept fighting. I had a lot of district coaches tell me they were happy they didn’t have to play us at the end of the year.”

The Knights kept busy with off-season workouts, which Stinson says is the place his team will build itself into the kind of program they want to be. Coaches find out a lot about their players in workouts.

“It’s the foundation of the program,” he said. “Kids learn to develop team cohesion, they challenge each other, set goals, and handle adversity. That’s where you find kids that really want to succeed and get to the next level.

“Football is a game in which adrenaline disappears in the first quarter,” Stinson added. “That’s where you find out how valuable the weight room program is, and kids draw upon that investment during the final three quarters of each game.”

Football success begins along the line of scrimmage, where the Knights return their entire offensive line and tight end. They’ll clear the way for some returning skill position players behind them.

“We return our leading rusher, Dallas Jones, this year,” Stinson said. “We also return Reid Krugel, a senior cornerback and safety that can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. He’s the voice out there on defense that handles a lot of the defensive adjustments. Reid is kind of like a coach on the field.

“Things will look a little different on offense this season as we’d like to get back to a power-running game, which used to be the Kingsland way,” he added. “Everything starts up front. We’ll be a standard pro I-formation with some spread formations thrown in. However, we won’t necessarily just lean on one of those. What we do from game-to-game will be based on the teams we’re matching up with.”

The Knights head to Rushford-Peterson on Aug. 31, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. The Trojans will look a little different than last year as they lost a handful of solid players to graduation. However, Stinson said that doesn’t make things any easier against the Trojans.

“They’re always well-conditioned and well-coached,” Stinson said. “Davin (Thompson) and Chris Drinkall do a great job of having those kids ready to play. Those kids always play their hearts out, no matter how big they are. We’re going to put our 11 best players on the field and get after it.

“You have to fight and you have to believe,” Stinson added. “Three years ago, there was some doubt as to whether or not we’d even have a team. I really believe we’ve turned a corner ever since halftime of the Goodhue game last season. We saw where we can be and that’s exciting.”