John's Journal
Coach Mad Dog: A Lifetime Of Football And Survival 8/24/2015
When the Minnetonka football team opened the season Saturday with an 8-6 victory at Champlin Park, no one was happier than Skippers assistant coach John Mattox. And that happiness extended well beyond the excitement of good preparation and well-executed Xs and Os.

Mattox is more than a coach. He’s an 85-year-old football lifer who appreciates every day and loves spending time with young athletes.

“I like the young people, I like to help them, I like to be with them and I would say it probably keeps me young,” said Mattox, who is lovingly known to the Skippers as “Coach Mad Dog.”

Mattox introduced himself to Minnetonka head coach Dave Nelson shortly after Nelson left Blaine to join the Skippers in 2001.

“We met 14 years ago and he’s been here ever since,” said Nelson, who coached Blaine to a state football title in 1988 and did the same with Minnetonka in 2004. “He loves the game, he loves the kids. And the kids love him.”

Mattox is a graduate of Minneapolis West High School who also coached football at St. Louis Park, Blake, Bloomington Kennedy and with the Arena Football League’s Minnesota Fighting Pike. One of his longtime friends is Minnetonka ninth-grade assistant coach Roger French. One year younger than Mattox, French spent 21 years as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator at Brigham Young University, as well as stints with the University of Minnesota, Memphis State, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa.

Mattox is something of an entrepreneur; he collaborated with former Vikings kicker Fred Cox in inventing the Nerf football in the 1970s. Mattox treasures every day, because 35 years ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he probably didn’t have long to live.

“They gave me a bilateral thoracotomy; they slit you all the way down the back and open you up,” he said. “They took out the upper lobe of the right lung, five ribs, the scapula, radiated me, fried the collarbone and sent me home with a handful of pills and said, ‘You’ve got about a five percent chance of living five years.’

“Everybody should be a survivor; that’s what these kids are learning, they’re learning how to survive. How do you face adversity? You don’t know how to deal with adversity unless you’ve faced it.”

Mattox and Nelson work with Minnetonka’s offensive linemen. Coach Mad Dog isn’t afraid to needle a player when the time is right, and the Skippers appreciate his humor as well as his knowledge of football and life.

“He’s always got the quick wit and he’ll lighten the day when it needs to be lightened,” Nelson said. “Deep down, he really cares about this program, he really cares about our players and I think our players know that. He would do anything for any of the kids here.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 11
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,150
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
14 Football Openers Moved To Monday8/23/2015
Saturday's weather interrupted many Week 1 football games across Minnesota, and some games were either suspended or never started. Here is the list of games that have been moved to Monday...

Henry Sibley at Hastings, 1 p.m.
New Life Academy at St. Croix Lutheran, 4:30 p.m.
Hibbing at Virginia, 5 p.m.
Bagley at Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, 6 p.m.
Brooklyn Center at Fridley, 6 p.m.
West Lutheran at Alden-Conger, 6 p.m.
Ada-Borup at Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, 7 p.m.
Belle Plaine at Norwood-Young America, 7 p.m.
Roseau at Warroad, 7 p.m.
St. Paul Central vs. St. Paul Johnson, 7 p.m. at St. Paul Harding
Hill City at Cromwell, 7 p.m.
Breck at Providence Academy, 7 p.m.
Cherry at Carlton, 7 p.m.
Moose Lake-Willow River at Barnum, 7 p.m.
Preseason Challenges Faced, Football Openers Beckon 8/20/2015
With the first games of the 2015 football season being played Saturday, a strange period of preseason practice is winding down. Preparation has been a challenge on several fronts for every football team in Minnesota, and time has been of the essence.

The normal three weeks of practice before the first game has been trimmed to two weeks this year. That was done because the Prep Bowl will be played two weeks earlier than usual; the University of Minnesota has home football games scheduled Nov. 21 and 28, so the stadium is available for Prep Bowl games only on Nov. 13-14 instead of the normal post-Thanksgiving timetable.

Preseason practice and Prep Bowl schedules will return to normal in 2016 when the Prep Bowl moves to its new home, the Vikings new stadium. But for now, getting ready for the season has been a test for coaches and players.

Adding to the changes are new regulations that limit practice time and contact during practice. Teams cannot hold two-a-day practices on consecutive days, two hours of rest are required between two-a-day workouts, and the amount of time teams can employ full-contact drills are limited. One major result for many teams has been more walk-through drills than in previous years.

One of the big matchups Saturday has Hutchinson playing at Becker; Becker is the defending Class 4A state champion and Hutchinson reached the 4A state semifinals. Becker coach Dwight Lundeen -- who started the Bulldogs football program 46 years ago – said preparations have indeed been rushed this season.

“Everything is getting jammed into a shorter amount of time, even team pictures needed to be taken the first day of practice so they can print the programs by the first game,” he said. “We have less X and O time so we’re going into the first game with less plays and defensive calls. But it’s fair and the same for everyone.”

Bloomington Jefferson coach Tim Carlson, whose team will play at Cooper on Saturday, expressed the sentiments of many coaches regarding the shortened prep time before Week 1.

“Not only do we have just two weeks to prepare, we have less time within those two weeks with the limit on two practices a day,” Carlson said. “There is no way we can be as prepared as we have in the past. We will be limited on offense, and defense and special teams will not be as polished. Schools that have players play both ways are at a greater disadvantage.”

Blaine coach Tom Develice said the Bengals have simplified their preparation for Saturday’s game at Wayzata.

“Instead of teaching our schemes against multiple offenses and multiple defenses, we are really concentrating on the specific schemes that our game one opponent will most likely run,” he said. “The biggest challenge is evaluating our talent without a scrimmage and with very limited contact during the short two weeks.”

Gene Teigland, coach of the New Life Academy/St. Croix Prep/Bethany/Liberty
cooperative team, said seven-on-seven work during the summer helped his players prepare for the season.

“Also the playbook is getting trimmed a little for the first couple of weeks,” he said.

“I am concerned about tackling,” said Tiegland, whose team will play at St. Croix Lutheran on Saturday. “I’ve never been big on doing a lot of hitting and we already use bags, but the shortened weeks concern me more than the daily limit. Younger guys need more reps so when the stress of the game comes they don’t fall back into their bad habits and are using proper technique. We are doing a tackling circuit every practice to help alleviate this potential issue.”

Blaine’s Develice said he thinks the limited two-a-days and less contact in practice will work out well in the future.

“I think in a typical year, where you have three weeks to prepare, the changes in practice format is going to pay dividends with keeping players out for football,” he said. “Parents and players will like the idea that every other day there is only one practice, and more importantly there are limits to the amount of contact you can actually be exposed to each day.

“I think the hardest part is that this year we have that change and then also playing one week sooner. My only concern with playing one week earlier: is there a chance for increased injuries in game one? Players are not in game shape yet, the month of August is usually hot in Minnesota and with one less week players might still be making mental mistakes in games. We are trying to handle this by simplifying our schemes on offense and defense along with increasing conditioning in practice.”

Conversely, Jefferson’s Carlson said he is worried about the limits on contact in preparing for games.

“We will have no contact the Thursday and Friday before our game,” he said. “Games are two and a half hours long and full of contact. In a notice we received from the MSHSL, it told us we can teach tackling, blocking, getting off blocks -- in other words ‘contact’ -- without having them actually do it. That's like sitting a 16-year-old in a car, telling him how it should work, but not letting him practice. Then send the kid on a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Or explain how to play a piano, but you just can't touch the keys before the recital. We are going to use our time the best we can to make sure our players are prepared and safe.”

For some schools, the new limits on practice and contact are not an issue.

“There is not really a huge impact on our program,” said Albany coach Mike Kleinschmidt, whose Huskies will play host to Fergus Falls in Week 1. “Over the last 60-plus years, we've always had only one-a-day practices and never have live contact.”

Lundeen said, “We do very little hitting in practice anyway, so walk-through practices are procedures that we have done for years. We will be physically ready to play our first game.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 720
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Edina Girls Soccer: Coach Is Hobbled But Determined8/19/2015
Two weeks ago, Edina girls soccer coach Katie Aafedt sent texts to her school’s activities director and her team’s captains. In a matter-of-fact way, she informed them that she had been sidelined with a torn ACL in her right knee … only days before tryouts and practice began for the 2015 season.

One of the captains, Eva Anderson, recounted the text. “She said, ‘This is not a joke. I tore my ACL. This won’t affect anything. I will just be a lot slower for a while.’ ”

Activities director Troy Stein received a similar message. “She said, ‘Sorry I didn’t call you back. I tore my ACL last night.’ It was just a casual text,” he said.

Aafedt has taken her injury in stride, even though she can’t take much of a stride. After surgery on Aug. 12, she was told she would need crutches for seven to 14 days; she stopped using them after four days.

She was playing in an adult soccer league when she planted her leg and heard a snap in her knee. She immediately knew it was the ACL because she had suffered the same injury in her other knee while playing high school soccer at Edina 20 years ago.

“The second it happened, I knew I had done it again,” she said. “It was painful for about the first two minutes, then I was able to walk off the field.”

She went straight to one of her neighbors, who also happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Christie Heikes had Aafedt lay down on her living room floor, where she confirmed the ACL tear.

“Our kids are friends, we’re neighbors, she’s a former D1 athlete, we’re very like-minded,” Aafedt said.

The coach’s physical therapist is another familiar face. Aafedt is working with former Totino-Grace and University of Minnesota soccer player Julie Eibensteiner. The two have played soccer together on summer teams.

“I’m in great hands,” Aafedt said. “It’s fun, relatively speaking, being back with a former teammate.”

She wears a full-length brace that immobilizes her knee. At practice, Aafedt moves slower than she would like but her assistant coaches step in.

“I’m walking slash waddling slash hobbling, whatever you want to call it,” she said. “Really the only thing it inhibits me from is running around demonstrating stuff. But I’ve surrounded myself with a great coaching staff so they do that. I’m very loud, and the knee doesn’t inhibit my voice.”

The team captains said Aafedt’s injury hasn’t changed anything other than her mobility.

“I’m sure if she was making a big deal out of it, we would be making a big deal out of it,” Molly Hiniker said. “And if she’s not, that’s why we’re not.”

Emily Rethlake said, “She’s really positive about it. She’s handling it in the best way possible.”

Stein said Aafedt’s injury doesn’t detract from her commitment to the game and the team.

“She is extremely passionate about working with our outstanding student-athletes, she has a passion to work with the girls, connect with kids and lead in a positive manner that is infectious and contagious within the program,” he said.

“She uses soccer to build relationships with young women, make connections and grow with them. She’s super organized and detailed and dedicated to the team and the program. We’re lucky to have her.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 720
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
High School Students Make History At New Stadium8/17/2015
In a very quiet way, a very special occasion took place Monday afternoon at the new stadium under construction in downtown Minneapolis. The very first seats in the 73,000-seat stadium were installed – a half-dozen plastic purple seats – and the very first people to sit in them were high school student-athletes.

The owner of the stadium, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), worked with MSHSL staff to find a small number of students to represent the high school activities that will take place in the stadium after its completion in 2016.

The students were Jacques Lyles, a football player from St. Paul Central; Emily Sullivan and Bailee Hyde, soccer players from Wayzata; Teddy Broxterman, a baseball player from Roseville; and Joe Nelson and Mia Prideaux, band members from Eden Prairie.

The students -- wearing hard hats, eye protection, gloves and safety vests – were escorted into the stadium by Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the MSFA. They posed for photos and had a chance to see the stadium from the inside. The playing field is currently the home of several cranes and assorted construction equipment, and the roof is well on its way to being completed.

The stadium, which will open in time for the 2016 Vikings season, also will be the home of the MSHSL state football semifinals and Prep Bowl, state girls and boys soccer semifinals and championship games, as well as regular-season baseball games (as was the case at the Metrodome) and marching band competitions. The first seats were installed in one of the end zones.

--See more photos on the MSHSL Facebook page,

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 662
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn