Cardinals return one starter from state title teamOnly one starter from last year’s 9-man state championship team – senior lineman Jake Ramberg – returns to the defending state champions. The Cardinals have just five seniors and only two sophomores on this year’s 22-man roster.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
In last fall’s Prep Bowl, the Cromwell-Wright Cardinals claimed their fourth Minnesota nine-man football championship thanks to one of the most remarkable individual performances in Minnesota high school football history.
That epic 49-42 win over Lanesboro featured the legendary 382-yard, five-touchdown rushing performance from Jordan Suhonen. Yet now, Suhonen and 10 other Cromwell-Wright seniors are departed, leaving behind a talented but inexperienced Cardinal roster.
Only one starter from last year’s team – senior lineman Jake Ramberg – returns to the defending state champions. The Cardinals have just five seniors and only two sophomores on this year’s 22-man roster.
But don’t tell coach Jeff Gronner that this is a rebuilding year.
“A lot of people would consider this a rebuilding season, but in our case, our expectations are by the end of the season that we will contend for a section title,” he said. “That is always our expectation here, and I feel we have enough talent to do that. It’s just going to be a case of how long it takes to show that talent on the field, and staying healthy.”
There’s the rub. Of Cromwell-Wright’s five seniors, two are foreign exchange students. Gronner feels both can help.
Swedish exchange student Max Garcia and Brazilian exchange student Luis Martins will probably both play, according to the coach.
“Max has played a lot of American football in Sweden,” Gronner said, “but both are athletes.”
The early days of practice have been all about finding positions for the players, but Gronner is optimistic.
“We have talented kids but we don’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “We have four kids who started games last season due to injured players, but our goal is to get better and see where we can be at the end of the season.”
Add to all this the ultimate intangible – as the defending state champ, Cromwell-Wright will get every opponent’s “A-game.”
“Everyone wants a piece of us,” Gronner said. “That’s what you want. I hope our kids understand that even though we have only one returning starter they should have confidence since we are defending state champs.”
Gronner said his players had a solid off-season.
“They are looking forward to playing,” he said. “The team is excited. We had a good off season and we have a great deal of pride in the program here.”
That pride helped forge a state championship out of a 2-4 start, and Gronner is counting on that pride again this fall.
“The kids take pride in the fact that we are state champs and the community also takes pride in it,” he said. “It’s kind of a close-knit thing.”
The team opens its schedule on Friday, Sept. 2, at Nevis.
“It’s our first time going out there for an evening game,” Gronner said. “They haven’t had lights on that field until last year. Last season they beat us in overtime and like us, they lost a lot of players to graduation.”
Gronner said Floodwood and McGregor will be teams to beat in section play this season but looks forward to the challenge of defending the title.
“It will be a challenging season, but we’ve had other challenges here,” he said. “The big thing is our lack of depth. With only five seniors and three experienced seniors and two sophomores, we don’t have a lot of depth. We need to stay injury free but still go hard and get better in practice.”