A common saying throughout football is that offense wins games but defense wins championships.
That theory will be put to the test by this year's Central Lakes College Raiders football team as it opens the season at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Mesabi Norsemen at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The Norsemen will have a new coach in Jeff Sims and should field a high-caliber team that won six games last season.
Rather than thinking about championships, the Raiders will be focused on having their first winning season since 1998.
In order to do that, fourth-year head coach Mike Degen will try to put together a defense that can shut down opponents and give his young offense a chance to win.
So far in practice, Degen likes what he's seen.
"Even though they're young," said Degen, "I think we're much farther ahead than we have been in the past because they're all such good practice players. I haven't had to stop a practice yet and say, 'Come on, let's pick it up.'"
As Degen points out, he doesn't foresee a letdown on the defensive side of the ball.
"I expect our defense to be very tough," he said. "All the way from the defensive line to the defensive backs should be tough."
Defensive lineman Chris Gordon, a 6-foot-4, 400-pound freshman, brings new meaning to the term "anchoring the line." Gordon will team up with 6-1, 250-pound Carlos Delassalas.
"We'll put Chris at nose tackle and let the other teams try and figure out how to block him," Degen said. "He should shut down all the traps and counter plays just by getting that push into the backfield."
At the linebacker and secondary spots Degen believes the Raiders will excel.
Sophomore Ross Burau will lead a deep linebacking group, including Matt Kern of Verndale and Preston Peters.
Sophomore Marvin Kimble has made a successful switch from running back to cornerback. Joining Kimble in the secondary are returning sophomore Shawn Thielbar and freshman Chris Bramer of Verndale.
"Our overall speed on defense will be good," Degen said. "I worry a little about the pass rush, but overall we should be able to get the job done."
There are a few more question marks on offense, however.
One of those is who will be running the offense?
Former Pierz standout Dan Saehr was slated as the starting quarterback but tendinitis in his shoulder has sidelined him for a week.
Matt Gohl, a 6-2, 185-pound freshman, will start against Mesabi. Another former Pierz athlete, John Kahl, will back him up.
Two players the Raiders look to for offensive firepower are sophomores Shaun Peoples and Brandon Flanders.
At 5-6 and 168 pounds, the diminutive Peoples, who will start at running back, will have to rely on his speed to find running room. Flanders, 6-4, 180, was a member of last year's CLC basketball team.
"Brandon will be a force on offense because he's 6-4 and can jump to the moon," Degen said.
Depth in the offensive and defensive lines could be a problem, especially if the injury bug sets in.
"We have only 42 players and if we can stay away from injuries, then we'll be OK," he said. "With a young team, getting off to a good start and having some early season success will help."
Shaun Peoples, RB, Bishopville, N.C.; Brandon Flanders, WR, Miami, Fla.; Matt Yde, P, Brainerd; Shawn Thielbar, DB, Faribault; Marvin Kimble, DB, Memphis, Tenn.
Ross Burau, LB, Howard Lake; Brandon Peters, LB, Madison, Wis.; Josh Bork, OL, Paynesville.
Mark Steffen, TE, LeCenter; Jorgen Hartje, K, Brainerd; Donnell Simpson, DB, St. Louis, Mo.; Matt Smithknecht, K, Brooklyn Park; Chris Bramer, DB, Verndale; Chris Gross, WR, Pierz; Matt Gohl, QB, Royalton; John Kahl, WR, Pierz; Dan Saehr, QB, Pierz;.
Darnyl Lovejoy, RB, Madison, Wis.; Maurice Noethtich, RB, Indianapolis, Ind.; Jabaja Gussine, DB, Madison, Wis.; David Schneider, DB, Kimball; Thiago Castro, DL, Pequot Lakes; Kent Schleif, DB, Becker; Lucas Jensen, LB, Springfield; Craig Golkowski, OL, Frazee.
Matt Kern, LB, Verndale; Wesley Holmquist, LB, Long Prairie; Carlos Delassalas, DT, Miami, Fla.; Matt Flier, OL, Aitkin; Preston Peters, LB, Madison, Wis.; Josh Goedderz, OL, Royalton; Danny Burkholder, LB, Big Lake; John Caird, OL, Kimball; Trent Betley, DT, Aitkin;.
Mark Ludovissie, LB, Verndale; Chris Gordon, DT, Flint, Mich.; Rob Martin, OT, Onamia; Nick Porter, OL, Big Fork; Nehemiah Barrett, DT, Madison, Wis.; Brian Kath, WR, Sauk Rapids; Devin O'Reilly, WR, Brainerd; Dillon Hines, TE, Aitkin.
24-Mesabi at UMD, 7 p.m.
31-at Vermilion, 1:30 p.m.
7-Northland, 2:30 p.m.
14-at Rainy River, 2:30 p.m.
21-at Rochester, 2 p.m.
28-Hibbing, 1:30 p.m.
12-Ridgewater, 1:30 p.m.
19-at Minnesota West, 2:30 p.m.
26-Fergus Falls, 1:30 p.m.
2-State semifinals, TBA, 1:30 p.m.
9-State championship, TBA, 1:30 p.m.
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