Blue Earth Area High School football coach Randy Kuechenmeister makes one thing perfectly clear.
Last year was last year, and this is a whole new season of football.
"You could focus on how proud we are of the team's accomplishment last year (a state title)," the coach explains. "But it won't get you anything this year. You have to work for whatever you get. You have to earn it."
The 2013 Blue Earth Area Buccaneer football team includes, front row:?Chance Andres, Skyler Munoz, Darrel Raney, Jacob Hedland, Jace Huber, Adam Legred, Tyler Hannaman, Cole Hendricksen, Brandon Olson, Chandler Kienitz, Matt Goodrich, Quinn Huisman and Alex Stewart; Row 2: Tanner Wolf, Zaine Stewart, Jaron King, Jared Hassing, Jack Kennedy, Chris Leland, Jacob Peterson, Seth Anderson, Kolt Gorg, Connor Thielfoldt, Greg Claeys, Gus Phillips, Calvin Sanders, Jacob Johnson and Luke Shavey; Row 3: Jarret Torgerson, Michael Munoz, Gavin Johnson, Justus Thelen, Isaac Miranda, Dakota Jahnke, Kysten Zierke, Brett Nowak, Trevor Zierke, Justin Ritter, David Franta, Derek Johnson, Conor Barnett and Zach Curtis; Row 4: John Bosshart, Joe Yates, Daniel Krieger, Kellen Jacobs, Kyle Engesser, Mathew Bell, Martin Granados, Bailey Olson, Lane Anderson and Austin Gustafson. Not pictured: Blake Peterson, Nick Alphs, Camden Bowers, Warren Foster and Caleb Jordan.
Kuechenmeister says he, the assistant coaches and the players are doing the exact same things they do every year.
"Just like every other high school team, we are concentrating on getting better every day," he says. "We are good in some areas and some others need work."
The coach doesn't like to look back at what the team lost in personnel to graduation, but would rather look at who is returning this season.
"Sure we had some good kids graduate, but we have five offensive and five defensive starters who are back for this year," he says. "That gives us a good nucleus of leadership."
Leading the varsity is Kysten Zierke at quarterback, David Franta and Gus Phillips at slot receivers, Seth Anderson at guard and Kellen Jacobs at tackle.
Zierke and Justin Ritter are returning on defense at linebacker and Franta at safety. Kellen Sanders returns to the defensive backfield and Phillips is back at defensive end.
Ritter will also see time on offense at fullback.
The coach is also looking at having a lot of other players stepping up into various positions.
He has no lack of bodies to choose from. There are 82 boys out from the four high school grades.
"We have 19 seniors, 20 juniors, 19 sophomores and 24 freshmen," Kuechenmeister says. "That is up 10 or 11 over last year."
The Buc coach says there are several keys as to how well the team will perform in this 2013 season.
"We have to stay injury free, that is a big key," the Buc mentor says. "We stayed healthy pretty much last year. We had a couple nicks and bruises, but nothing too serious."
Next, he says, he needs the kids to buy into what the team needs to do in order to get the job done.
"It has to do with team leadership," he explains. "Someone needs to step up and make the plays. That happened last year, and it needs to happen again."
The third thing is more intangible, but it has to do with not putting any pressure on themselves because of last season.
"We need to concentrate on this year and on each game this season," the coach says. "We don't need to put pressure on ourselves. We need to compete like we always do, practice the way we always do."
The Buccaneers will play their first game of the season a day earlier than usual.
"We have Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial coming here on Thursday, Aug. 29, and not on the Friday of Labor Day weekend," the coach says. "I think it is the first time we have played Lake Crystal since some time in the 1990s."
Kuechenmeister says he really doesn't know much about the Knights, but expects it to be a good game.
As far as the rest of the season, he believes that the South Central Conference is once again going to be competitive.
"I think New Ulm and St. James will both be much improved," the coach says. "And, of course, Waseca, Fairmont and St. Peter should be really good again this year."
The coach says he looks forward to having the conference so wide open and competitive.
"It is a case of whoever plays the best will win, and whoever has no injuries and can make the big plays," he says. "Hard to predict who will win the conference."
Last season, for the first time in many years, it was Blue Earth Area and not Fairmont who claimed the conference trophy. Fairmont was knocked off by St. Peter and the Bucs defeated both teams.
Last year BEA's games against Fairmont, St. Peter and Waseca were all exciting and the coach says he expects them to be again this year.
The Bucs will have three non-conference games. The second game will be against Mound Westonka, a team they have never faced before at least not in football. That game is on Friday, Sept. 9 and is away.
The third game is Friday, Sept. 13, also away, at Windom. The Bucs will open conference play on Sept. 20 when they host New Ulm.
"It is getting harder to find three non-conference game opponents," Kuechenmeister explains. "That is why we have played teams in the Twin Cities. It would be nice to have games closer, but there are a lot of scheduling problems."
There are only six teams in the Section this year, so the Bucs could see Fairmont, Worthington, Sibley East, St. Peter or Belle Plaine come the end of the season.
Kuechenmeister has his same assistant coaches, but two have switched around a little.
Nate Lund is the freshman coach and Doug Storbeck a volunteer coach. Last year it was the other way around. Kyle Zierke is also a freshman coach.
Travis Armstrong (defense), Brian Kokos (line), Shaun Gudahl (volunteer - receivers and secondary), Logan Becker (volunteer - backs) and Jay Frederickson (junior varsity) return to their coaching positions again this season.
"We are all enthusiastic, optimistic and looking forward to the challenges this year," Coach Kuechenmeister says. "Hopefully we have the kids who will step up and make the plays. It still comes down to blocking and tackling and someone making that big play just when we need it."