Lakes Area Screaming Eagles set to start out new football season
By Brian Wierima
The Lakes Area Screaming Eagles have gone from an idea and plenty of planning, to concrete progress and a reality.
The new semi-pro football team officially began practices a couple of weeks ago and Wednesday, they started to look like a real football team, with the new shoulder pads and helmets arriving for use.
The Screaming Eagles -- the brainchild of Jason McCloskey, an eight-year vet of semi-pro football -- begin their season in the newly formed Northern Power Football League May 24, when they host the Northern Wisconsin Thunderhawks on the Frazee High School football field starting at 5 p.m.
"There's going to be a lot of exciting football," said McCloskey, who will also don the titles of head coach and starting quarterback. "There will be a lot of big plays and you'll see the ball in the air. And you will see good, sound fundamental defense."
The steps to making the Screaming Eagles a reality were many over the course of the last several months.
McCloskey and his general manager Jon Brunner, along with assistant coaches AJ Knutson, Michael Pariso and DJ Stone, held two combines in Detroit Lakes to start building a roster.
"At first, I was pretty nervous, because we had about 30 guys at the two combines," McCloskey said. "Of those 30, though, 18-20 of them are now on the team."
The roster fluctuated from departures, due to job responsibilities and other commitments.
But as the months progressed, the roster kept going up and up, finally ending up with 40 players.
Players are from the entire lakes area -- hence the name -- which includes such towns as Perham, Frazee, Detroit Lakes, Battle Lake, Hawley, Lake Park, Audubon, Fargo, Waubun, Henning and Grand Forks.
"We definitely have a local flavor to the team," McCloskey said.
At first, both sides of the lines were filling out well in the trenches, but the skill positions were thin.
But now the Eagles have a good, young contingent of players at the skill positions, with ages ranging from 18 to 25 years old.
There is a good mixture of veteran presence, as well, with the offensive and defensive lines being on more of the veteran side, with ages ranging from 26-35.
"We have some semi-pro veteran players and some good, young players who have played in the college ranks," McCloskey added.
McCloskey himself fills an important void which most of the league's teams are having a hard time satisfying -- quarterback.
McCloskey is an eight-year vet in semi-pro football, while leading the league in passing in the past several seasons. Most teams will not have the luxury of having a veteran, savvy QB running the offense.
Behind McCloskey, the Eagles have some legitimate threats to create a formidable rushing game -- a quarterback's best friend.
Dave Moll -- a former Concordia College strong safety -- Kyler Wegner of Frazee and Jason Kirkwood will each see time in the backfield, as will Nick Sieling.
The Eagles will be running a spread offense, said Knutson, who will act as the team's offensive coordinator.
"It's a pro style offense and we want to be fundamentally sound and be smarter than our opponent," Knutson said.
"I've been on teams who win with less talent, making up for it with team chemistry and playing smart," McCloskey added.
The wide receiver positions will be important, with TJ Ash of Battle Lake (a 2004 graduate) bringing solid route running and good hands.
"I think we have a good chance to be a physical football team," Ash said. "And we already have strong team chemistry."
Stoney Grant is another big, tall wideout, providing a big target for McCloskey.
At tight end, John Lubberts of Perham has experience in blocking already, after playing as a center for the Yellowjackets.
Another tight end who will contribute will be Ben Hass.
"We have so many weapons at wide receiver, tight end and running back who can catch the ball," McCloskey said.
The offensive line is deep, with veteran DJ Stone -- considered one of the best offensive linemen in the Great Plains League last year -- leading the way.
Mark Racine is a left tackle all-star, who stands 6-2, 285 pounds, McCloskey said.
Robbie Bohn of Perham has been a good center and Griffin Schulz and Brunner will be a solid right guard-tackle combo.
The Eagles will run a traditional 4-3 defense and will be anchored at linebacker by Perham and Central Lakes College's Nick Kaphuth.
"Our strength and size will be a key (on defense)," Kaphuth said. "We also have some good veterans who have been playing for a lot of years to help out."
McCloskey and Knutson are optimistic about Kaphuth's production on defense this season, as well.
"He has a great chance to be a high-impact player this year," Knutson added.
Gemenie Strehlow will hold down a defensive end position, while Ben Geones will be a strong-side LB, with Mike Foerster providing middle linebacker duties.
The secondary is still a bit unknown, with three potential players on board, but they haven't made it to many practices.
Zach Sullinger of Frazee will be a good coverage man at one of the corner positions, though.
With the season nearing, there is still plenty of work to be done, but so far as a team, McCloskey said the chemistry is growing stronger.
"We do have a group of dedicated players and that will be huge," he said.
The team is already licensed as a non-profit organization, with the hope being the team will make enough money to break even, with potential profits going back to the players who paid a $200 entry fee.
The team is also selling sponsorships and season tickets towards meeting costs for equipment, field rental from Frazee and referees.
There is still room to add players, with the set limit being 50.
Yes, the Eagles have landed.
Northern Power Football League
Lakes Area Screaming Eagles
South Metro Dragons
Northern Wisconsin Thunderhawks
Screaming Eagles schedule
May 24 N. Wisconsin (H) 5 pm
31 at Northern Terror TBD
June 7 S. Metro (H) 5 pm
14 at Fargo-Moorhead TBD
21 at Willmar TBD
28 Farmington (H) 5 pm
July 12 at Duluth-Superior TBD
19 at S. Metro TBD
26 Fargo Moorhead (H) 5 pm
Aug. 2 Willmar (H) 5 pm
**All Home Games at Frazee High School
Lakes Area Screaming Eagles Roster (player, position): Jason McCloskey, QB/Head coach; AJ Knutson, assistant coach; DJ Stone, OL/DL, coach; Jon Brunner, FB/DE, General Manager; Nick Kiphuth, RB/LB; TJ Ash, WR; Zach Sullinger, RB/DB; TJ Getty, WR/DB; Stoney Grant, WR; Kyler Wegner, RB/DB; Rob Peterson, DB/WR; Nick Sieling, RB/LB; Jason Kirkwood, RB; Mark Olson, DB; Brian Schroeer, RB/DB; Michael Foerster, LB/TE; Ben Geones, LB; Mark Racine, OL/DL; Matthew Skersick, DL/OL; Griffin Schulz, OL/DL; Chris Brunner, OL/DL; Gemenie Strehlow, DE/TE; Anthony Ritterman, OL; Joe Hass, OL/DL; Robbie Bohn, OL/DL; Jason Bachmann, WR; Casey Grismer, WR/DB; Alex Getty, WR; Ben Hass, WR/DB; Steven Strehlow, WR; John Lubitz, TE/LB; Scott Hermanson, DE; Nick Winkler, DL.