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Lakeville South running back Carson Hansen (28) leaps over Lakeville North linebacker Noah Nephew (24) on his way to a 75 yard touchdown run during the second quarter of high school football game at Lakeville South High School in Lakeville on Friday, Oct.

High school football: Lakeville South eager to defend its spot at the top

By Jace Frederick, Pioneer Press, 09/09/21, 4:30PM CDT

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A remembrance of Lakeville South’s remarkable season last fall hangs above the entrance to the Cougars’ football stadium, where a plaque reads “2020 state champions.”

A remembrance of Lakeville South’s remarkable season last fall hangs above the entrance to the Cougars’ football stadium, where a plaque reads “2020 state champions.”

You can bet the Cougars would have preferred the opportunity to play out a potentially state tournament to definitively prove they were the state’s best team last season, but without that, the determination of the state’s “top team” was left to voters.

And undefeated Lakeville South finished just ahead of undefeated Eden Prairie.

So the Cougars are, by at least one account, the defending Class 6A state champions this fall, giving them something important to defend.

A remembrance of Lakeville South’s remarkable season last fall hangs above the entrance to the Cougars’ football stadium, where a plaque reads “2020 state champions.”

You can bet the Cougars would have preferred the opportunity to play out a potentially state tournament to definitively prove they were the state’s best team last season, but without that, the determination of the state’s “top team” was left to voters.

And undefeated Lakeville South finished just ahead of undefeated Eden Prairie.

So the Cougars are, by at least one account, the defending Class 6A state champions this fall, giving them something important to defend.

Lakeville South has combined the two. The Cougars have movement programs in place that extend all the way down to the third- and fourth-grade levels. Those kids essentially are doing warm-up exercises during which they learn how to properly squat their body weight and get back up after falling down. But by starting then, by the time they get to high school, they can do those same things at a much faster level.

“We’re not building for one year, we’re building for long term,” Burk said. “We hope, over time, that will consistently give us players ready to play under Friday night lights.”

Lakeville South has now reached a point in its program building where every kid who’s now a senior has been running the same Power-T offense since their freshman year.

“That’s how I think good programs are built, if you look around the state,” Burk said. “We’re trying to model ourselves after programs that have that type of consistency, and it pays dividends when they become juniors and seniors, for sure.”

Lakeville South seems to be entering that echelon of programs. With that status comes a challenge the Cougars embrace. Senior tight end Zack Juckel noted the Cougars may have reached the top of the mountain, but it’s often more difficult to stay at the peak than to reach it.

“The special thing this year is we have the biggest target on our back, so it’s dealing with that,” he said. “Our program now has the winning culture to it, and we want to keep that rolling. So I think when it comes to owning expectations and knowing that we are the team. Because you can’t play overconfident. You can’t play cocky. You’ve got to walk onto the field knowing that we are the team, we can beat anyone we play. That’s kind of the goal, and that’s why I think our team has a really good mindset on that now. We’ll see how it plays out the rest of the season, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team.”

Senior tight end Chase Androff has no fears of complacency with this team. He said his teammates are the hardest workers you’ll find in the weight room, adding it’s the “strongest” Lakeville South team in years.

“I can tell, just by every practice, they want it more than I’ve ever seen before,” Androff said.

“I think the main motivation factor is we just push ourselves to do better, no matter what the circumstance is,” Cougars senior running back Josh Jacobson said. “Play our best no matter what, and even though we’re at the top, still fight to be at the top and act like we’re not.”

Burk said the kids and coaches do their best to not pay attention to rankings or outside noise. He calls all of that “rat poison” — an ode to Alabama coach Nick Saban. But that doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t know it exists.

“We know our own expectations, we know our own limits,” Juckel said, “but the sky is the limit for us right now.”