2011 Fall Preview: New Life Academy football team moving the chainsFour years ago, New Life Academy kicked off its football program. This season, they’re continuing to move the chains — one yard at a time.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Four years ago, New Life Academy kicked off its football program. This season, they’re continuing to move the chains — one yard at a time.
From 2004 through 2007 New Life Academy — a faith-based school in Woodbury with an enrollment of 207 from ninth grade through 12th grade — had a cooperative with host-school Concordia Academy in Bloomington. In 2008, however, NLA began its own program. Then, last year, NLA became the host school in a three-school cooperative, combining with Bethany Academy in Bloomington and St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater. This fall NLA is taking another step forward, joining the Tri-Metro Conference.
“We have 60 players and six coaches this year,” New Life head coach Paul Mork said. “The guys have worked hard on the field and off, with things like fundraising. We’ve tried to add a little each year. The pieces are falling into place. We’re excited about that.”
Curt Wetsel, the NLA Activities Director for the past 31 years, has watched the team grow since its first game back on Aug. 28, 2008.
“The program has matured,” Wetsel said. “We have a great coaching staff. Our kids are hitting the weights like never before. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy.”
Two of the Eagles’ four senior captains, Dan LeMay and Cody Linton, have been with the team all four years as has junior running back Matt Michaud.
LeMay, an offensive lineman, said knowing it’s his final season with New Life is bittersweet.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” LeMay said. “I’ve thought about it, but I try not to. It’s kind of depressing really. But, it’s shaping up to be a really good year.”
Linton, a wide receiver, said he’s trying to soak in whatever he can.
“I’m just taking it one step at a time and enjoying every moment,” Linton said. “Like two-a-days, even though they’re brutal, I’m kind of sad they’re over now. Looking back, it’s over, but looking ahead, there’s a next step to look forward to. That’s exciting.”
New Life Academy’s other two captains — Max Mattila and Jordan Nieuwsma —represent Bethany Academy, whose student-athletes makes up roughly half the roster.
Mattila, a fullback, said the cooperative couldn’t be much better.
“It’s really nice to play with a team that’s so competitive, one that has a chance to win every Friday and for a coach that knows so much and has so much experience,” he said.
Mork, who is entering his 53rd year of coaching, was elected to the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002. He has coached the Eagles the past three years. Mork began coaching baseball, basketball and football at Wells High School, which is currently United South Central High School, and spent 32 years coaching football in White Bear Lake. Between White Bear Lake and New Life Academy, Mork coached a variety of teams at Irondale, Blaine, Mounds Park Academy and Forest Lake. Since 1959 he has never stopped coaching.
“We’re blessed to have coach Mork heading this up,” Wetsel said. “He’s retired and doesn’t have a full-time job, but he puts in just about that many hours a day on football. He’s a great leader for this program and a great role model for these young guys.”
Mork said it’s the kids and the chance to grow the NLA football program that make him want to return each year.
“That’s why you keep coaching, because you want to build something that’s worthwhile,” Mork said. “The kids are coachable, they’re listening and the coaches are working hard to give them something to help them improve — that makes the day worthwhile.”
Along with Mork, New Life’s assistant coaches are Matt Freese, Dave Klostreich, Ryan Wood, Andy Allison and Shawn Zobel.
Nieuwsma, a running back, said he one of the best things about the team is the coaching staff.
“We have a legendary head coach and it’s just a privilege to play for him every day,” Nieuwsma said. “I think our coaching staff is one of the best in the state. It’s just a lot of fun.”
This year, New Life Academy’s newest challenge will be its leap into the Tri-Metro Conference where it will take on high-quality programs like DeLaSalle, Breck, St. Bernard’s and St. Croix Lutheran.
“The Tri-Metro is a very tough league, but I think we can be a competitive team,” Mork said. “It’s a classy league — you’re going to feel good about every opponent on the schedule and you’re going to get what you deserve. If we play well we can knock some people off, but if we don’t we’re going to be in trouble, because it is a good, good league.”
Last year, New Life Academy was 6-2 overall, only falling to Providence Academy during the regular season and St. Anthony in the Section 4AAA playoffs. This year, the Eagles will be without the services of 2011 grads Sam Berg and Zach Jusczak. However, in addition to the captains and Michaud, Mork said other key returning players include: Jayme Nelson, Robert Grissom, Alex Heiser, Sam Dufault, Cameron Mehls, Luke Mikhail, Matt Etzweiler and Jacob Salkowicz. Important additions to the team include: Jimmy Hinrichs, Nick Brezniak, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Hrobochak, Blake Anders, Wes Berg and Jake Wynia, according to Mork.
Mattila said the team is better this year than last year, but its record may not be as good, because of the heightened level of competition. However, he said he and the rest of the players are all excited about the change.
“We’ll get some major competition and that’s exactly what we want,” he said. “We want to play against the best.”
Win or lose, Wetsel said NLA and its fans are excited for the new season.
“Football brings the community together like no other sport,” Wetsel said. “Friday nights we get a huge crowd when we play. Whether we’re home or away we get a good following. It’s a lot of fun to see.”