2013 Fall Sports Preview: New approach surrounds Royals on gridiron
Woodbury coach Andy Hill sees a direct correlation between success on the gridiron this year and his team’s ability to congeal as a unit.
“We’re going to focus on who we are on the field and success will take care of itself,” the third-year coach said.
Success was an elusive creature last year for the Royals during a season that was punctuated by high peaks — including a thrilling playoff win over Cretin-Derham Hall — and disappointing lows, like a 46-6 homecoming defeat at the hands of White Bear Lake.
Woodbury finished the season 3-5 in the Suburban East Conference. After stunning Cretin-Derham Hall in the first round of the Section 4 6-A playoffs, the Royals advanced to the state qualifier, where they fell to Prior Lake.
Looking back, Hill said he’s still not sure how to define the season.
“In some ways we underachieved, but in other ways our kids really came together,” he said.
He’s not forgetting the Cretin win, though, and he’s banking on his returning players remembering the excitement that surrounded the underdog win.
“It’s something we’ll talk about for a while,” Hill said, adding that the 2012 Cretin game “sets the tone” for this season.
But while last season started with a foundation of experienced players at key positions, elements of this year’s team move toward Week 1 surrounded by more questions than answers.
How will sophomore Brady Mundahl handle his new role as the Royals’ starting quarterback? Will a two-headed rushing attack prove effective as the team moves on without Class of 2013 standout Quran Al-Hameed? Will a relative dearth of returning starters bring opportunity or challenge?
Hill doesn’t yet know the answers to those questions, and he’s OK with that.
During the offseason, he cracked the books and embraced a new approach to coaching that de-emphasizes X’s and O’s. Hill’s fresh look elevates the concept of team-building, with a focus on how lessons learned through football can be applied to life.
“We want to have kids who are difference makers,” Hill said.
Since only one team emerges at the end of the season with a trophy, Hill said it makes little sense to put victories on a pedestal.
“That’s a pretty shallow definition” of success, he said.
It’s big-picture stuff, but it also means keeping things light at the right times. To wit: As a toast to the end of the grueling two-a-day training camp sessions last week, Hill took the team to Carver Lake Beach where the kids relaxed, splashed around and performed skits.
“We’re trying to get this team to be one,” Hill said.
Just don’t confuse his new approach with going soft.
Asked about the always competitive SEC, the coach asserted that his team will compete with the best, which he said this year should include East Ridge, Mounds View, Cretin-Derham Hall, Stillwater and White Bear Lake.
“We’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere,” he said.
Mundahl will be handed the keys to the offense, which will feature two tall, 200-plus pound running backs in seniors John McNiff and Donnell Rodgers.
Hill said he’s confident in putting the offense in Mundahl’s hands after watching him persevere last season on the junior varsity team and continue to develop in off-season workouts.
“I really like his leadership and I like his poise,” said Hill, a former Woodbury High School quarterback himself.
Woodbury’s receiving corps will be buoyed by returning starter Reid Peters and fellow senior Ben Rizzardi.
Senior Nick Yan makes his return to the football field after taking his junior year off. The three-sport athlete could be plugged in at running back, wide receiver, on special teams — or all of the above, Hill said.
“We’re not holding him back,” he said.
Returning defensive starters include senior defensive back Jake Schaffer, Stefan Swenson, a senior linebacker and defensive back Ben Donnelly, a junior. Other playmakers on defense should include defensive back Howard Jones, Jake Buckeye, Sam Garvey and Steven Bunch, Hill predicted.
The team moves on without Class of 2013 graduates Sawyer Moon, Ryan Winter, Al-Hameed, Keyshawn Lee, Abiola Abodunde, Kyle Schmidt, Christian Alvarado and Tucker Benjamin.
Hill said Royals fans should expect to see some new offensive plays, but stopped short of revealing just what they might involve.
“We’ll have some fun,” he said, adding that some plays could involve ideas he “held back on” while coaching in Virginia.
The team, which rotates captains among its seniors each week, begins the season on Thursday, Aug. 29, at home against SEC foe Mounds View — a team Woodbury hasn’t faced in several seasons. That doesn’t mean Hill is unfamiliar with what the Mustangs will bring to Royals Stadium.
“They’re extremely well coached and they run the ball well,” he said.
Mounds View is the first of several top SEC teams Woodbury will face in the first few weeks. Week 2 brings White Bear Lake, followed by East Ridge and Roseville.
Hill knows victories against those teams won’t come easy, but he said he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m good with it. Let’s get after it right away,” he said.