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Football: Wolfpack work to replace key players

Wide receiver/cornerback Edmond Nkwain will be a key player for the Park Wolfpack this fall. Photo by John Molene

Park football has thrived since the arrival of the district system, going 6-3 and 7-3 the last two seasons while narrowly missing a trip to state last fall.

But this season the Wolfpack will have a different look — at least on offense — as multi-talented quarterback Brandon Alt has taken his arm, legs, leadership and football savvy to Bemidji State University. Alt was a four-time letter winner and three-year starter at quarterback for the Wolfpack, basically rewriting all of Park's passing records.

Park went 7-3 overall last season, including 6-2 in conference play. Season highlights included two wins over St. Thomas Academy 31-27 and 28-14. But the season-ending 42-35 loss to Apple Valley in the section final was a bitter one.

The Wolfpack averaged an amazing 42 points a game last season, including rolling up 69 points on both Tartan and North St. Paul. Nobody stopped the Wolfpack last season. Even in the team's three losses, the Wolfpack averaged 34 points.

Whether the Wolfpack can come close to that kind of offensive juggernaut is one of the big questions this fall. In addition to Alt, the Wolfpack will have to replace top running backs Lucas Liljedahl and Noah Johnson and receivers Brendan Beaulieu and Jake Hoge.

"Strengths, with this group, I would say is their attitude," said head coach Darin Glazier, who is starting his seventh season directing the Wolfpack. "For the most part it's a really good attitude in general as far as being coachable and that kind of thing.

"We don't have a ton of experience coming back on the varsity," Glazier added. "So we need to have that attitude of coming out and learning every day and being coachable."

While it's probably unrealistic to expect the Wolfpack to have the same potent offense as last season, Glazier is hoping the defense will be improved.

"My hope, my desire, is that we're going to see a definite improvement on the defensive side of the ball this year," Glazier said. "I think we're better at our linebacker position than what we were. We're faster on the D-line. We'll see if we're big enough to last the game. But I think defensively we can be a better team than we were.

"Offensively it's going to take time to get our quarterback and receivers on track," Glazier added.

Park hopes to run a similar offense this fall to the ones directed by Alt.

"If some things we're finding that we're not doing well in practice, then we might have to make adjustments to it," Glazier said. "When you look at it, are we going to run the offense the same way that Brandon did? That's going to take a while. Because he had a lot of years running that offense. If we're not catching the ball or throwing the ball well, we know we've got to rely more on our running game. If we can't run the ball, then we know we're in trouble. We've got to try to improve in all those different areas."

Top players and captains for the Wolfpack this fall should include receiver/defensive backs Edmond Nkwain and Joe Timp, quarterback Grant Glazier, lineman Andrew Drigans and linebacker/running back Alex Haliburton. Two keys to the offense will also be Payton Shafer at running back and Charlie Gorres at receiver.

The Wolfpack will have a challenging schedule this fall, including regular season games against Mahtomedi (10-1 last fall), Apple Valley (7-4), South St. Paul (10-1) and St. Thomas Academy (6-4).

"I don't know how we're going to come out of the gate," Glazier said. "My hope is that we're going to be ready week one. But I do think we have the ability — if we stay healthy — to be a team that gets better and stronger as the season goes on."

The Wolfpack open the season Thursday, Aug. 31, with a home game against Forest Lake.

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