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2013 Fall Sports Preview: New Life Academy football team to run hard toward Tri-Metro success

New Life Academy’s Jake Brand returns to help lead the Eagles this fall. NLA has 63 players out for the football team this year. (Bulletin file photo)

Matt Michaud left some big shoes to fill at New Life Academy after last season’s 993-yard, 13-touchdown performance.

The senior running back graduated, but there are plenty of NLA Eagles players in the backfield. Senior captains Jake Brand and Matt Etzweiler will be seeing time at fullback for the Eagles. Both saw limited time running the ball last year. Sophomore Ebbie Ketema, junior Noah LeVoir and senior Andrew Nieuwsma are all vying for a spot at tailback.

“We should be pretty deep at running back,” said Eagles coach Paul Mork, who is returning to the NLA sidelines for a fifth year.

The Eagles also have seven senior starters returning on offense from a unit that scored 23.3 points per game in 2012. That crew includes tackle Blake Anders, tight end Weston Berg, guard Elliott Larson, tackle Jacob Salkowicz, split end Kai Ylonen and center Jake Wynia. Eight starters return on defense from a unit that held opponents under 20 points in each of their wins.

“We’ve got some good experience both on offense and on defense,” Mork said.

Experience is one thing Mork knows well.

Mork, 75, enters his 54th year of coaching overall. Mork, who was elected to the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002, began coaching baseball, basketball and football at Wells High School (currently United South Central High School) in 1959 and spent 32 years coaching football in White Bear Lake.

Between White Bear Lake and New Life Academy, Mork coached a variety of teams at Irondale, Blaine, Mounds Park Academy and Forest Lake, but has never stopped coaching.

They will look to help their team improve over last year’s 5-5 effort. The Eagles finished 4-4 in the Tri-Metro Conference East Division and reached the second round of the playoffs. They beat St. Paul Johnson before going down to South St. Paul.

The Eagles will have a challenging schedule this season in the middle of September with Providence Academy, Concordia Academy and St. Croix Lutheran on the schedule. Those three games will likely make the difference of where the Eagles stand in the conference by October. The Eagles open their season on Aug. 30 against Minnehaha Academy.

“If we keep out of injuries, we hope to hold our own in a very tough league,” Mork said. “If we do more than hold our own, then Hallelujah.”

Though depth will be an issue this season, the Eagles will field their largest team in the program’s five-year history. They have 63 players out for the co-op of NLA with St. Croix Preparatory Academy, Bethany Academy, Larson Home School, Liberty Classical Academy and Master’s Academy Home School.

—Matthew Davis