Spring Grove still going strong

Surprise Lions are unbeaten

In Spring Grove, the tendency is to do things in large chunks. At least the Lions football team has gone this route.

On Aug. 29, Spring Grove opened its season with a 24-0 win over West Lutheran of Plymouth, Minn. It was monumental and also the start of things.

Spring Grove hadn't won a game since midway through the 2000 season, having endured 20 straight losses. Maybe all it took was a refresher on how to win, in order to get things back on the happy track again. Because the Lions haven't left it and the season is already four weeks old.

Spring Grove, fresh off an impressive 34-20 win over Houston, takes a 4-0 record into Friday's home game with Lanesboro.


"To get that win in our first game of the year, our kids were able to gather their own momentum after that," Lions coach Brad Groth said. "These kids deserve a lot of credit, because the older guys on the team were playing regularly when they were freshmen and sophomores. They'd been taking a pounding.

"But now, they are older and bigger physically."

They are also the odds-on favorite to win the Southeast Conference. Mabel-Canton began the year as the slight favorite. But not anymore. Spring Grove already sent a message to the Cougars, dropping them 22-19 two weeks ago.

The Lions have done it behind what Groth calls a tremendously improved offensive line, a steadily improving defense, and contagious enthusiasm. Groth points to captain Tim Morken as being the catalyst there. A linebacker who leads the team in tackles and a tight end/offensive tackle, Morken has a way of lighting fuses.

"It all starts with Tim," said the 31-year-old Groth, a Spring Grove graduate. "Tim gets guys (fired) up, and then someone else gets some more (fired) up. These guys really feed off each other. Now that we've won a few games, the atmosphere is really different than before. Guys are excited. Every practice, they show up with enthusiasm."

TOGGLING: Spring Grove is one of three Southeast Conference schools who are playing both 11-man and nine-man games this season. They've been joined there by Houston and Lanesboro, while Mabel-Canton is playing strictly an 11-man schedule.

Spring Grove coach Brad Groth, who played three 11-man games before moving to a nine-man contest last Friday, says the shifting around is not easy.

Strategies change drastically between the two versions of football. With it, so do lengths of practices.


"When I found out we were had to play both (11-man and nine-man) I didn't think it would be that much different," he said. "But when we started doing it, I just said 'oops,' we are going to have to make a few more changes. Last week felt like two weeks of coaching. We basically had to give our kids a new playbook (in order to play nine-man). Last Tuesday, we practiced for three hours, then on Wednesday we went for 31⁄2.; Everything changes."

SOPHOMORES GIVE K-M A BOOST: Kasson-Mantorville has gotten a huge boost from a pair of sophomores, running backs Kellen Rendler and Cody O'Malley.

Rendler especially has stood out. The 6-foot, 195-pounder is neither built nor plays like a sophomore. Rendler is a pounding back with speed and shiftiness. He showed that to previously No. 5 Class AAA ranked Byron last Friday, with 157 yards on 18 carries. That included touchdown runs of 62 and 67 yards. He also returned a fumble 60 yards for the game's first score.

It led to a K-M 27-21 win, keeping the KoMets unbeaten at 4-0 and dropping Byron to 3-1. K-M was an uncharacteristic 1-7 last year.

"Physically, Rendler has a lot of the tools that you look for in a high school running back," K-M coach Ivan Kroulik said. "He can bust an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage, and then take it home. He pulls away from you and he also sees the field so well."

Kroulik uses those same descriptions for O'Malley, who at 165 pounds, is a smaller version of Rendler.

"O'Malley is really quick, and both of those guys have such great vision," Kroulik said.

KEEPING LAKE CITY TRADITION ALIVE: Lake City coach Phil Olson thought he had his hands full. And he did. It's not easy becoming the new head football coach of a team that graduated 20 seniors, including a bunch of two-way starters off a Hiawatha Valley League Blue Division champion.


Good thing that Olson wasn't nearly in the dark when he took over for Gordy Ziebart, who resigned in June after five years at the helm. Olson been an assistant at Lake City for 12 years, including the last nine as its defensive coordinator.

Though the 35-year-old Olson has installed some new offensive systems, he has taken over where Ziebart left off. Lake City brings a 4-0 record into its game Friday with fellow unbeaten Cannon Falls.

"I credit Gordy with the organization of our total football program and getting everyone on the same page as far as the goals of the coaches are concerned," Olson said.

Olson credits his players, who he says are typically undersized but play with a lot of desire and skill, with allowing the wins to continue to flow.

"It's fun to be able to carry on the Lake City tradition," he said.

Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be e-mailed at

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