One step at a time

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Cottage Grove coach Joe Polamalu said he’s focusing on setting standards for commitment and competitiveness.

COTTAGE GROVE – When Polamalu took over as head coach two years ago, the program was in rough shape. The Lions had gone winless in 2019, and Polamalu said he barely had enough players come out to field a team. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly did him no favors. 

The Lions took the field for only one game during the spring 2021 season and didn’t get to do much offseason practicing leading up to last fall. They went 1-8, with two of the losses coming by forfeit.

The good news, Polamalu said, is that numbers are back up. Fifty-seven players came out for the team this summer. The downside is that more than 40 of those players are freshmen or sophomores. Polamalu said the program is still at “Ground Zero.”

“We’ve really got some kids coming up through the program that are going to get a lot of playing time, but just they’re a year out from being fully developed physically, mentally, emotionally,” Polamalu said.

As a result, Cottage Grove’s focus this season will be less about its record and more about establishing a standard for how Polamalu wants his teams to operate. The major qualities he’s stressing are commitment and competitiveness.

“Obviously, we want success as soon as possible, but a lot of things have got to be in order,” Polamalu said. “And that’s developing a relationship with players and families and building for the future. I think we’ve got a good step in that direction.”

One of the few seniors on the roster is Crump, who started at quarterback the past two seasons. But Polamalu isn’t handing Crump the starting job this fall. That has a lot to do with Lemon, a sophomore who has looked good during preseason practices. 

Polamalu said he wants to see how Crump and Lemon play in the upcoming jamboree before deciding how reps will be divided, but he anticipates Lemon getting some game action in spot duty, at minimum. 

“They both have been in the program, they both know the expectation,” Polamalu said. “We’re keeping things pretty simple and familiar with what they’ve both done in the past, and so I just want them to play without having to worry about a lot – just having a better understanding of what we’re trying to do and keeping it as simple as possible for them.” 

Other seniors who will be featured at the skill positions are Petersen, Julien and receiver Chase Cordin. All three should start on defense, too. Bottorff and Bentley will anchor both lines of scrimmage.

Polamalu is optimistic about his defense. While the Lions lack size, he expects his squad to make up for it with effort and physicality. 

“I think we’re just going to hang our hat on, No. 1, our hustle,” Polamalu said. “Our tackling. Just working hard to get to the football.”

Polamalu believes Cottage Grove can take a step forward from last season. But at this point in the rebuilding process, his biggest focus is on laying a foundation that his young players can build on for years to come.

“I think as a program, as a whole, that they can see success in different forms. And we’ll have to go back to the drawing board, find out where we’re short, what we’re positive on, and just continue to build,” Polamalu said.



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