One step, one yard at a time
Just about every team that takes the gridiron each fall has one, the Blue Earth Area Buccaneers included.
For four of the last five years, BEA’s football identity has been that of a state tournament contender. In one of those five seasons, the 2012 campaign, the Bucs’ identity was, more specifically, of first-time state champions.
Four seasons removed from their title victory over Rochester Lourdes in the now-replaced Metrodome, however, a new identity is something the Buccaneers are still trying to define.
“I?think you go into every season, and you don’t know what you’re going to be,” said BEA head coach Randy Kuechenmeister, who has been at the helm of the Bucs staff for more than 20 years. “We’re just striving to be the best team we can be, and we want to improve as the year goes.”
In talking about a team that in 2015 rebounded from a 35-0 shutout loss in its regular-season finale to rattle off three upset playoff wins, perhaps Kuechenmeister was underselling the Bucs’ potential. Or perhaps, with two decades of experience under his belt, he knows all too well that a day-to-day approach, as cliched as it may be, is exactly what is needed.
“Obviously I thought our team last year was playing very well to go into the Section all three games on the road and win, and you don’t hear that too often,”?he said. “These kids (this season)?are no different in that they want to set expectations for themselves, but you’ve got to go a little bit at a time.”
Patience, Kuechenmeister continued, will be key not only for those players on an ever-changing roster but for the coaching staff, which includes assistants Brian Kokos, Shawn Gudahl, Ty Sturtz, Kyle Zierke and Brad Huse.
“We graduated seven starters from both sides of the ball,” Kuechenmeister said, “and that’s been kind of common here the last few years, so we’ll see what happens.”
Among the noted departures were running back/linebacker Kolt Gorg and wide receiver-turned-quarterback Bailey Olson, who signed with Southwest Minnesota State University in February.
Stepping in to replace Olson under center will either be senior Logan Jahnke or junior southpaw Blake Barnett, whomever trotted onto Wilson?Field with the starters in BEA’s home opener against the Fairmont Cardinals on Thursday.
Roster questions extend well beyond actual player turnover, too. In a shift from the days of big-bodied fronts that produced maulers like Jonah Pirsig, the team could lean more on the spryness of its skill positions. And for the maroon and gold, even returning players could be tasked with shouldering bigger roles as the team attempts to capture its third consecutive Section championship.
“People have got to step in and take over,”?Kuechenmeister said. “That’s kind of one of the fun things about high school every year is a transition.”
Aiding in that transition, whichever direction it sends the Buccaneers, will be a slew of developing starters, including Jared Armon, a two-year first-teamer along the offensive line; Zac Schonrock, who Kuechenmeister pegged as a key component at the center position; junior Jacob Vaske, a split end; and Kaylan Legred and Chris Sanders, the team’s projected starters at cornerback and slot receiver.
With a familiar, albeit unproven core, the Buccaneers, who began practicing Aug. 15, still have plenty of work to do, according to Kuechenmeister. Each and every fundamental of the game, from pass protection and route running to quarterback reads and gap coverage on defense, deserves attention even as the season progresses.
That is all part of the fluid approach for a team that must figure out just what exactly it is striving to be.
“We’ve got to find what we do well and branch off that,” the coach said. “Whatever the best for us is, that’s what we want.”
And with the season underway, another year’s early stages already beginning to unfold, the Bucs could find that out sooner rather than later.
“I?think everybody’s goal is to compete,”?he said. “We’re playing some solid teams that have returned a lot of kids, but we want to compete, and if we do that, we’ll be OK.”
And competing, at the very least, puts the Bucs one step closer to pinpointing an identity.