Twenty-one months ago, Mitch Underhill was the toast of the town in Wayzata.
He ran for four touchdowns in the Trojans’ 31-14 Prep Bowl victory over Rosemount. On that memorable night, Underhill carried the ball 12 times for 247 yards and left Wayzata fans hungry for more.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, Underhill suffered a knee injury in preseason last year and never played a single down. Even without him, Wayzata finished second in state in Class 5A.
Now Underhill has returned with a clean bill of health and a goal of winning another state title. He should have plenty of help because the Trojans return seven regulars on offense and seven more on defense.
“I have been waiting a whole year to play again,” Underhill said after a morning practice last week. “I was 100 percent all summer, and I feel great. I can’t wait for the first game.”
Underhill has grown from his sophomore size of 5-8 and 165 pounds to his senior size of 5-9 and 180 pounds without losing any speed.
The star back is excited about the Trojans’ offensive line, which includes four returning starters – Martin Branyon, Brandon Linger, Tyler McClelland and Chandler Wright.
Defensively, the Trojans return end
Wright was an All-Lake Conference selection last fall.
“The offensive line has been together since we were kids,” said Underhill. “They call themselves the Ultimate Alliance.”
Other returning starters on the offensive unit are back Sam Gustafson, flanker Jeff Borchardt and end Ryan Prekker. Drew Greely, linebackers Steele Berg, Chris Wipson and Will Long and backs Danny Davis, Kyle Kalivoda and Chris Pierson.
Wipson and Pierson were All-Lake honorable mention choices in 2011.
Co-captains Underhill, McClelland and Wipson share the feeling that Wayzata is going to be hard to beat.
“We have a lot of depth,” said McClelland, a 6-2, 248-pound returning starter at right guard. “There are a lot of juniors out here who are looking to make some plays.”
Wipson said Wayzata’s defensive unit is ready to match last season’s performance.
“Our defensive coordinator, Andy Hover, does a great job,” he said. “We have a tradition of doing everything full speed.”
Wipson, a 6-2, 215-pound senior, who has verbally committed to play for the University of Minnesota next season, was thrust into a leadership role last year when defensive captain Ryan Poppitz injured his knee in the first game of the 2011 playoffs.
“I called the defensive signals after Ryan went down,” he said.
Competition is what Lake Conference football is all about. Chances are three Lake teams, including Wayzata, will start the season ranked in the top five in state.
“Playing in a tough conference helps us for the playoffs,” said Wipson. “We are definitely looking forward to the Eden Prairie game. We have a lot of respect for them, and I think they have a lot of respect for us.”
Wayzata won the Lake title last fall, beating Eden Prairie 9-0 to clinch it. In the Prep Bowl, Eden Prairie bounced back to defeat the previously unbeaten Trojans 13-3.
“Watching from the sidelines last year, I was able to see a lot,” said Underhill. “Our game with Eden Prairie is always a classy game. Minnetonka has a really good team this year. We play both of them on the road.”
Wayzata will face Bloomington Jefferson in the season opener at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Wayzata High Stadium. Jefferson had a down year in 2011, finishing 1-8 overall.
The Trojans have two more non-conference games, against Eastview Sept. 7 and Armstrong Sept. 14, before they jump into the Lake Conference portion of the schedule.