If the players are as motivated as their head coach, the Brainerd Lumberjacks should have a successful inaugural season.
In two months J.J. Kern, head coach and general manager of the first-year semi-pro football team, brought the franchise to Brainerd, filled his roster, found coaches, a place to play and put together what he believes is going to be a successful team.
Kern and the Lumberjacks get their first test when they host the Lakes Area Screaming Eagles of Detroit Lakes 6 p.m. Saturday at Franklin Art Center in Brainerd.
"Our goal is to win the championship right off the bat," said Kern. "That's it. We've tried to set ourselves up to win the championship. Anything less than that and we're going to do everything we can to achieve that goal next year."
Kern is going to rely on a spread offense, led by quarterback Karson Pike. The former Central Lakes College signal-caller and current Raiders quarterbacks coach will orchestrate the spread.
With depth at running back and wide receiver Kern isn't concerned about scoring.
Opener: 6 p.m. Saturday, Harvey Shew Field, Franklin Arts Center, Brainerd
Opponent: Lakes Area Screaming Eagles
"Our quarterback knows the game," said Kern. "He's played it in high school and college. He has a lot of knowledge and experience. I really don't have concerns about his physical ability or knowledge of the game. He's going to be a solid asset to the team. Plus, he's a good leader."
The Lumberjacks will use a hybrid 4-3 and 3-4 defense. The strength will be team speed and size, which Kern couldn't stop talking about. Players like defensive lineman Raheem White (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) will anchor the line, while a batch of former Brainerd and college linebackers will run wild behind the big defensive line.
"Our defensive linemen are huge, but they're fast," said Kern. "Guys like Raheem and Mike Munsterteiger, they're huge, but fast, too. We really only have one defensive tackle that is just really big (6-4, 347). We're asking him to just fill up gaps and let our linebackers get to the ball."
Kern said the Screaming Eagles run a lot off-tackle. They opened their season last week and beat the Northern Terror 41-7.
Season tickets are available for $12.50 with game tickets going for $5 for adults. Students 16 and under get in free.
As far as coaching, Kern said he's excited and confident in his players. He knows they'll be nervous, but he expects that of any football player. He also knows his team is ready to hit. He's had to hold his players back in practice because they're anxious for contact.
What's concerning Kern are his off-the-field responsibilities.
"As far as coaching and getting my team ready I think we're there," said Kern. "All the other things that we've had to put together in a short amount of time, like finding a clock keeper and refs, has been stressful. Getting sponsors and paying the pizza guy, things like that, are more nerve-wracking to me.
"The coaching part, I'm confident in my coaches and my players. I know we're ready to play."
May 9: Lakes Area Screaming Eagles at Brainerd 6 p.m.
May 16: Willmar Mustangs at Brainerd 6 p.m.
May 23: Rochester Giants at Brainerd 6 p.m.
May 30: Brainerd vs. Northern Terror at New Brighton
June 6: Brainerd at Northern Wisconsin
June 13: Duluth Superior at Brainerd 6 p.m.
June 20: Brainerd at Melrose
June 27: Playoffs TBA
July 4: League bye
July 11: Semi-Pro Football League championship game
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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