2012 Fall Preview: Woodbury football team 'all in'A stable of returning players matched with a high level of team buy-in has second-year Woodbury head coach Andy Hill’s expectations sky high.
By: Mike Longaecker, Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
A stable of returning players matched with a high level of team buy-in has Andy Hill’s expectations sky high.
If all comes together as planned, the Woodbury High School head football coach sees his team rising to the top of the competitive Suburban East Conference, which includes powers Cretin-Derham Hall and Mounds View.
Hill views the similarly tough Section 4AAAAAA the same way — he expects Woodbury to finish on top.
“This is not being Pollyanna,” the second-year Royals coach said. “This is a squad where I think that really could be the case.”
If his Royals are to do that, they’ll need to surpass last year’s 5-3 regular season record and vault past Round 2 of the section tournament, where Woodbury fell 63-29 to Eagan.
For Hill, many of the necessary pieces are in place to make that leap.
On offense, the Royals return starting quarterback Sawyer Moon, running back Quran Al-Hameed, offensive linemen Kyle Schmidt, Quinn Schmalz and wide receiver Tucker Benjamin — all seniors.
Defensively, Woodbury sees Division 1-prospect Abiola Abodunde, a cornerback, returning to action, along with defensive end Ryan Winter, linebacker Christian Alvarado, linebacker Geno DeMike and free safety Jake Schaffer. Schmidt and Schmalz will buoy the defensive line; meanwhile, Winter, also a Division I prospect, looks to move into a tight end role on offense as well.
Preseason practices have shown Moon and Al-Hameed “meshing well,” Hill said.
Meanwhile, junior Matt Condon has emerged as Moon’s backup.
“We’re very excited,” Hill said, adding that — despite a lower-than-expected turnout for football this year — he has witnessed serious commitment from players. “They’re all in.”
Hill’s confidence is tempered by the fact that defending conference and section champion Cretin-Derham Hall will remain a threat in conference and section play.
“We have to beat Cretin before we can take their spot,” he said.
That’s no gimme. The Raiders beat Woodbury at home 41-7 last year.
The key to scaling that hurdle will be sticking together through the hard parts, Winter said.
“We can’t get down on each other like in the past,” he said.
Moon agreed. He said “unity as a team” is going to be critical if Woodbury is to advance further into the playoff hunt.
He admitted that keeping his cool after on-field struggles has been a challenge for him, “but I’m getting better at it.”
The team moves on without 2012 graduate Connor McKeen, an all-conference wide receiver who will be playing this year for Minnesota State University-Mankato. Other key losses to graduation include all-conference receiver Jordan Voit, all-conference running back Joe Wood, receiver Ryan Fritze, kicker Trevor Lo, linebacker Jack Winger, defensive back Jeremy Richardson and running back Junius Wilson.
Hill now has his legs under him in Minnesota after head-coaching for six years in Virginia. Last year’s experience taught him that — unlike Virginia, where teams must qualify to make the postseason — things are different in Minnesota high school football.
That means two things, Hill said.
On the one hand, it allows teams here the ability to build as the season goes on without the constant pressure to fight their way into playoffs. The flipside of the equation, though, means that teams must maintain a high level of competitive spirit and urgency throughout the regular season.
That works out fine in the challenging Suburban East, Hill said.
“It’s such a quick season,” he said. “In our conference, you really don’t get an off week.”
Full Moon rising
Leading the charge for this year’s Royals will be Moon, a quarterback who won the starting job last year in Game 2 against Hastings. His first start came in a thrilling back-and-forth affair at home against rival East Ridge.
Woodbury won the game 35-34 in overtime.
Hill said Moon showed his true colors in that game.
“He had to be resilient for us to win,” he said.
Though he wasn’t a full-time starter the whole season, Moon passed for the third-most yards in the conference last season (1,357) and the second-most touchdowns (12) while having the top completion percentage (61.7) in the league. Including playoffs, Moon passed for 1,763 yards. This year, he’ll lead a potent Royals offense, which was gained the most yards (3,040) in the conference last year.
Moon said he’s motivated by the responsibility that comes with being Woodbury’s quarterback.
“I thrive under pressure,” he said.
As a senior, Moon has emerged as more physically powerful player — he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds — and more mature, Hill said.
“He knows exactly what we’re trying to accomplish,” the coach said, calling Moon “one of the best quarterbacks in the state.”
Winter said he’s also seen similar growth in Moon over time.
“This year he looks really good,” he said. “He throws a really good ball.”
Yet with so much riding on Moon, Hill — a former Woodbury High School quarterback himself – knows the repercussions.
“As Sawyer goes, we’ll go,” he said. “That’s the world of having a good quarterback.”
Moon moves forward while dealing with some heavy-duty issues at home. His father Glen is battling cancer.
Hill said Moon has developed perspective and maturity while dealing with his father’s health issues. For his part, Moon said he’s able to block out concerns while he’s on the field.
Off the field: “It’s on my mind,” he said.
Up in the air
Despite the promise, Hill admits there are question marks.
Key among them is the wide receiver corps, left in limbo following the losses of McKeen, Voit and Fritze. Looking to shore up those gaps will be senior Keyshawn Lee, a wide receiver/defensive back who transferred to Woodbury from a powerhouse school in Washington. Others vying for action among pass-catchers will be juniors Reid Peters, Charlie Olson, Chris Ogiamien and Sam Garvey.
Hill said the speedy Abodunde may also be involved in the receiver corps this season.
Lee, meanwhile, is also showing promise as a viable kick- and punt-return option, Hill noted.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem there,” Moon said of the receiver options.
Last season’s schedule included a loss to Stillwater in Game 1. The Royals get a chance to avenge that loss in another first-week match-up when the Ponies travel to Woodbury on Friday, Aug. 31.
Hill said he’s been itching for the rematch, knowing that Woodbury’s four turnovers in the game were costly in the 27-20 loss.
“It was a game that we wish we would have played better, so we’ve circled the rematch since November,” he said.