The St. Paul Pioneers are the epitome of a championship organization, and head coach Mark Heiser has made it very clear early on in 2017 that nothing less than a league and national championship is his goal yet again.
Heiser has been with the Pioneers since 2006, serving as the team’s defensive coordinator in ‘06 and 2007 before being promoted to head coach in 2008. During that time, he’s put together an incredible record, including multiple league championships and three national championships.
Heiser and the Pioneers won the NAFL National Championship in 2009, the USA Bowl National Championship in 2012 (undefeated, 12-0 season) and another USA Bowl National Championship in 2014.
Since joining the NEFL (Northern Elite Football League) in 2010, the Pioneers have won the league every year. The 2016 season saw the team start off a bit slow, but they still finished with a 10-3 record and won the NEFL yet again, for the seventh straight season.
The 2016 season ended in disappointment for the Pioneers, with a last-second loss to the top ten ranked Kansas City Bulldogs, but what Heiser and his organization have been able to accomplish since 2008 — and even going back to the team’s beginning in 2002 — has been nothing short of incredible.
St. Paul is a modern day Minnesota dynasty, and Heiser plans to keep that going.
“It was a good year,” Heiser told Developmental Football USA, reflecting back on 2016 for a moment. “Our expectations every year are to win a championship in our league and then compete for a national championship, so that’s kind of the level we set our goals at every season. We didn’t quite accomplish that national championship but we were able to get that NEFL championship again.”
As far as the 2017 season is concerned, the Pioneers are in the midsts of tryouts and they’re trying to put together another team that will compete at a high level on both the league and national stage.
“We’re in the midst of tryouts and forming our team. We did have guys leave, but we do have quite a few guys coming back — some of our staple guys,” Heiser said. “One thing I really like is I think our offensive line is going to be much, much improved. We had some young guys up there who were in their first year playing and we kind of dealt with that early on. That was one of our struggles early on, but they really became a force throughout the season. They got better as the year went on. It’s going to be a really good group.”
Heiser also feels good about his quarterback, Cleveland McCoy (formerly of South Carolina State University) and the athleticism and leadership he’ll be bringing to the table on offense.
In 12 games last season for the Pioneers, McCoy (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), completed 120-of-215 passes for 1,584 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He also rushed 59 times for 471 yards and three scores.
Last but not least, the St. Paul coach is expecting his defense to be really good this season as well. The Pioneers play a 4-2-5 with six defensive backs on the field, and Heiser believes the speed his defense possess could be an X-factor. It will also keep the fans coming back for more.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can fly around the field, so it’s kind of fun to watch,” he said.
The Pioneers will enter minicamp towards the end of march. They’ll kick the 2017 season off on April 29th with the NEFL season starting soon thereafter.