Last school year was a good one for the St. Mary's football team. The Saints won their second straight AA state title, and had more players named to the Badlands Bowl than any other school in North Dakota.
As the Saints turn the calendar to the 2015 season, they'll do so without several key players from last year's team.
The St. Mary's Saints realize once again this season they have a bulls-eye on their back.
"There's definitely added pressure being back-to-back state champs, knowing that everybody is going to give you their best shot. So hopefully we can give everyone our best shot and be ready," said Sam Wilke, senior wide receiver.
"For the last couple years its been like that. Last year we had some good players leave and this year we have good players, so I think it should be a good battle through all the teams," said Jacob Schriner, senior center.
Before they can battle other teams, there's one big battle that must be settled on the practice field.
"We got a great competition going at quarterback. We got Logan Pietrick back, healthy. He missed last year with some things going on with injuries and not being healthy. Then Cole Gendrou, who played about five or six games for us last year at quarterback. Both good athletes, both look like they're going to be good quarterbacks," said head coach Dan Smrekar.
There is no battle at running back, where all-stater Jake Heinert is expected to carry the load. Whether they're trying to move the ball or stop it, the Saints know they have to do one thing.
"Playing fast hustling every play," said senior wide receiver Noah Kopp. "We can't take plays off, that's what coach tells us to do."
"I think that they're really excited about this group," Smrekar said. "It's their turn and they would like to see what they can do and they would like to keep good things going on for us."
St. Mary's opens their title defense with a rematch of the state title game against Fargo Shanley on Friday, August 28 at the Bismarck Community Bowl.