Screaming Eagles prepare for 2nd season
By Brian Wierima
With the heavy work being done last year for the inaugural season of the Northern Power Football League, the Lakes Area Screaming Eagles look to build on some momentum they created in 2008.
For Eagles head coach and starting quarterback Jason McCloskey, he can now enjoy the fruits of his labor from last season.
McCloskey, who is also the NPFL commissioner, can direct his focus on building up his Eagles team, with a solid foundation being laid for the league last year.
"I was working up to eight hours a day helping start up the league and the Screaming Eagles," McCloskey said. "With all the equipment bought and everything organized, I can now just go out and enjoy playing football.
"Last year it was a time crunch and just to have made it work, was a miracle."
McCloskey isn't just interested in having fun this season, but he is expecting the Screaming Eagles to be much improved from last year's 2-7 record.
A good core of returners are back, including the majority of both the offensive and defensive lines.
"We want to blow up the league," McCloskey said. "Our motto this year is 'You won't see us coming.'"
But it won't be easy, with the league having five competitive teams, including last year's champion Fargo-Moorhead Liberty, which led the nation in passing in 2008.
McCloskey added the owner of the Liberty has also paid off all his debts which were incurred last year.
"As far as I know, he has paid all of his bills off," McCloskey said.
The NPFL lost two teams of Willmar and Duluth, but gained the highly-touted Rochester Giants.
With five teams in the league, McCloskey said the NPFL is stable and stronger.
"We are the number one league in the state right now with the top four teams in Minnesota (Northern Wisconsin is also in the league)," he said. "Each team pretty much is the only one in their area, so they all can get a good collection of players."
Northern Wisconsin will be playing its games in the University of Wisconsin -- Stout stadium, while the Liberty return the majority of their players.
The South Metro Dragons is now head coached by former Minnesota Viking defensive lineman Willie Howard and has a large base to draw players from.
Rochester has a strong tradition in semi-pro football, winning four championships in the last five years.
So it will be a long row to hoe for the Screaming Eagles, but they are gaining the firepower to possibly reverse their 2-7 record from last year.
MVP's back for Eagles
Each of the offensive and defensive MVP's for the Screaming Eagles return for another campaign.
Dave Moll of Henning anchored Lakes Area's ground attack, gaining 527 yards, with a 5.4 per rush average.
He paired well with Frazee's Kyler Wegner, who became a very good lead blocker for Moll.
"Kyler put on some muscle, so he is stronger this year," McCloskey said. "I think we'll be a better rushing team than we were last year. We have a plethora of running backs and they are versatile, so we'll use them in our passing game more."
The offensive line returns, bringing continuity and good chemistry.
Frazee's Josh Cheney is a welcome addition, as well, bringing size with his 6-1, 250-pound frame at the guard position.
Joe Hass (6-2, 240) of Ambercrombie and Robbie Bohn (5-11, 300) of Perham also return after having a solid season on the line in 2008.
"Linemen and secondary players are the hardest positions to fill, so it's key we are bringing back most of our linemen who all know the system," McCloskey added.
McCloskey is looking to improve the passing game, which struggled at times last year. He finished going 66-107 for 974 yards, 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The Eagles added a key piece for the aerial attack in James Singer (6-9, 160), who brings lots of talent to the wideout position.
"He's an all-star," McCloskey said. "I played with him in Willmar, he was my go-to guy."
Also returning will be last year's leading receiver in Mike Christensen of Detroit Lakes, who caught six touchdowns on 13 receptions and 327 yards.
Tarrel Flanigan (6-2, 200) of New York Mills will be the Eagle's utility player, playing in the slot and as a backside receiver, while John Lubitz (6-2, 230) of Perham returns as an effective pass-catching and blocking tight end.
TJ Ash (6-2, 175) of Battle Lake returns after a year of playing at Mayville State at the receiver position.
"TJ is potentially bringing along two or three other players from Mayville, as well," McCloskey said. "With the addition of Singer, it will open up things a lot for us. Defenses won't be able to stack the box against us as much."
Defensively, the Eagles bring back lots of talent, including 2008 MVP Nick Kiphuth (6-0, 200) at linebacker.
The linebacking corp. will be the anchor of the defense, which also includes Billy Quistorf (5-11, 230), who plays for the Bemidji State University Beavers.
Phil and Mark Olson of Fergus Falls will also be key players at linebacker, as well as Ben Geones (5-7, 198) of Osakis.
The addition of Andrew Brown (6-3, 300) at defensive end will give the Eagles an elite pass rusher, McCloskey said.
Cody Ware (6-3, 197) of Frazee will also be able to bring the pressure as a speed rusher.
"We'll be able to play a variety of defenses like a 3-4 or a 4-3 and even some 5-2 if we want," McCloskey said.
Returning in the defensive backfield includes Zach Sullinger (5-6, 165) of Frazee at cornerback and Cliff Stone (6-0, 180) of Carnegie, Okla. at free safety.
"We still have some question marks in the secondary," McCloskey said. "But I think we'll be stout against the run again."
The Eagles are offering home season tickets for $10, which includes four home games and playoff games if Lakes Area gains a high seed.
All home games will be played on the Frazee High School field again.
The season gets underway at home Saturday, May 2, in a non-league tilt against the Northern Terror for a 5 p.m. start.
The team also has a new website, which can be found at www.lakesareascreamingeagles.com.
McCloskey also added they are still accepting players for the season. For more information on trying out for the team, call McCloskey at 844-1284.
2009 Screaming Eagles schedule
May 2 Northern Terror (H)
23 N. Wisconsin Thunderhawks (H)
30 Fargo-Moorhead Liberty (H)
June 6 South Metro Dragons (H)
13 at Fargo-Moorhead Liberty
20 at N. Wisconsin Thunderhawks
27 at Rochester Giants
July 11 at South Metro Dragons
18 Playoffs (at high seed)
25 Playoffs (at high seed)
Aug. 1 NPFL Championship
All home games played at Frazee High School