Lakeville South’s football practice Monday morning wasn’t quite up to snuff. Not for the Cougars. Not with the standard they’ve set for themselves in recent years, which has resulted in unprecedented success.
And Lakeville South coach Ben Burk let his players know about it, while also giving them an option.
“If you don’t want me to hold you to the standard, I won’t. You just tell me,” Burk said. “But they’re like, ‘No, we want it. We know what the expectation level is.’ ”
That, Burk said, is the difference between where the Cougars were four years ago and where they are now. That standard of effort and execution was previously an idea, and now is a reality that has been realized year after year.
“Success breeds success,” Burk said. “Even the guys that didn’t play in games, (they) watched guys do that at the high level, so now they’re trying to emulate it. They have a model, and it’s easier to follow a model. So that’s kind of what we’re doing and hoping for and breeding the next group to try to be similar.”
That’s how you reach the heights to which the Cougars have ascended. They enter the 2022 season — which they open at home Thursday against Park — on a 21-game winning streak. Lakeville South reached Class 6A state tournament semifinals in 2018 and 2019. It finished the truncated 2020 season at 8-0 and atop the Associated Press state rankings. It finished off a perfect 13-0 season last fall with a state championship.
The Cougars have quickly established themselves as Minnesota high school football’s new big-school standard. And yet Lakeville South knows past success means little for this fall’s group. Each season brings a different cast of characters and ensuing results.
The consistent for the Cougars is their set of values: pride, passion, discipline and brotherhood. If they stick to those, success tends to follow. If they don’t, history will not repeat itself.
“The coaches are always saying we have a target on our back and other teams are always going to bring their best out against us every week,” said senior running back Carson Hansen, an Iowa State commit. “So we’ve got to stay motivated and ready and never get complacent.”
Part of that motivation is indeed carrying on the newly-developed tradition of success. The winning streak, for example, is a source of pride. This group doesn’t want to be the one to end it.
“It’s part of building a championship culture over time, right? It’s not just one year,” Burk said. “So they’ve got to prove that last year wasn’t a flash in the pan. It’s up to them to prove that. They care about that and it motivates them, and it should. We like to encourage and foster it, for sure.”
Senior linebacker Owen McCloud admitted the winning streak is indeed in the back of players’ minds, but the team is still primarily looking forward. That’s been the case since last season ended.
On the bus ride home from U.S. Bank Stadium last November, just hours after the Cougars claimed the state title, Hansen found himself thinking, “Man, I want to do it again. I want to enjoy the process and get back up the mountain.”
That was also the coaching staff’s message this offseason. The fire to win still burns within the program. For the coaches, that’s less about legacy building — Burk noted the Cougars’ staff is flush with hall of famers, and those coaches don’t often discuss wins and championships — but about wanting the next group of kids to experience the joy of victory as a result of hard work.
But for players, there is a bit of incentive to cement their place in state lore.
Hansen noted his senior class’ goal upon entry to the varsity level was to “dominate.” They do not use the word “dynasty”; that’s something Hansen noted isn’t discussed until after a high school career is finished, if ever. But a third straight season finished atop the state would certainly cement this group’s stature.
“It’s a goal, a goal for all of us,” McCloud said. “It’s definitely in my head every day through practice, and we think about it, for sure.”
And yet the Cougars know that possibility can only become a reality in the future by focusing on the present.
“I think we just need to put what happened in the past behind us,” Cougars senior Ryder Patterson said. “Get through camp, Week 1, Week 2, and then worry about what comes after that later.”
Is that ever a difficult task considering just how rich that recent past is?
“Maybe, but we have a lot to look forward to,” Patterson said. “What’s coming is really, really special.”