John's Journal
Inspiration Is Boundless During The Season For Rachel11/22/2014
Totino-Grace football coach Jeff Ferguson was a little tired and a little emotional when I called him Saturday morning from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium. Twelve hours earlier, Ferguson’s Eagles had been defeated by Eden Prairie 28-27 in Friday night’s Class 6A Prep Bowl.

It was a heartbreaking loss, but then again there are varying degrees of heartbreak.

Totino-Grace has won seven state championships in Ferguson’s 13 years as coach. This season, however, may be the most memorable of them all because it was the season for Rachel.

The accompanying photo shows how much the Eagles cared about Rachel Woell, who died in September, a victim of brain cancer. After they received their runner-up trophy, the Eagles draped a T-shirt in support of Rachel over the hardware. The T-shirts, and neon green (Rachel’s favorite color) were worn by nearly everyone at Totino-Grace.

Rachel was loved at her school, but especially by the football players. She was a team manager and continued in that role even after she lost her ability to speak and sat in a wheelchair during practices and games. She was Homecoming queen, too.

The school rallied around Rachel and her family until the end … and beyond. The Eagles’ only regular-season loss was at Maple Grove on Sept. 26; Rachel’s parents took her home at halftime because she had a high fever. She died shortly after. Ferguson learned of Rachel’s passing on the bus ride back to the school in Fridley and he told his players in the locker room.

“I’m so proud of our school,” Ferguson said Saturday . “It went beyond our football team. Our whole community, our kids, our players and our fans. People have rallied around a family and we need to learn that's what we need to do.

“The inspiration is sort of boundless,” said Ferguson, who is dean of students at Totino-Grace. “The game last night kind of mirrored Rachel’s life. She fought, in the end she lost, but it was more about how she fought.”

Rachel’s story was a lesson in what’s truly important: Loving each other, caring for each other, supporting each other. Togetherness. Ferguson said his players understand those lessons.

“I think they do. They get that message all the time,” he said. “The loss, that’s painful and it should be, but really what’s painful is that it’s the end.”



The Vikings completed a perfect season with a victory over their Little Sioux Conference rival. Dawson-Boyd lost only two games this season, both to Minneota. Minneota also won state titles in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 2009.

Minneota ninth-grade quarterback Alex Pohlen threw a touchdown pass of 7 yards to Nicholas Esping, Garrett Hennen scored on a 6-yard run, while Cole Hennen scored on a 51-yard run and got some help from Esping on Minneota’s other touchdown; Hennen fumbled the ball into the end zone during the second quarter and Esping recovered for the score.

Dawson-Boyd’s points came on a 3-yard run by Dalton Palmer and a 10-yard pass from Jess Hansen to Hunter Olson.


Noah Hillman ran for a touchdown and passed for a score, Zach Hillman had two short touchdown runs and Carter Gerguson scored once on the ground and once through the air for the Eagles, who also won a state title in 2010.

Lourdes scored the first two touchdowns of the game before New London-Spicer rallied to make it a 21-14 game. But the Eagles did all the scoring after that to secure the victory.

The Wildcats’ points came on a 91-yard kickoff return by Shane Zylstra and a 2-yard run by Trey Austvold.


The Scarlets won their fourth state title since 1999, with Connor Watts scoring three touchdowns and Ryan Schlichte throwing for two scores and running for one. Watts had scoring runs of 2 and 9 yards and caught a 3-yard TD pass from Schlichte, who also threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jon Pytlak and ran for a 5-yard score.

Simley scored on runs of 10 and 35 yards by Michael Avwunuma and a 1-yard run by Michael Busch.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 198
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,656
A Play Call, A Little Luck And A State Championship 11/21/2014
The margin between the silent sadness of a runner-up squad and the joyous shouts of a state championship team can be razor thin. Case in point: Friday’s Class 2A Prep Bowl football game at the University of Minnesota.

The winner was Holdingford and the loser was BOLD. The score was 20-18 in two overtimes. That’s how history will record the game, but the inside story of the winning touchdown deserves to be long remembered. That’s because it’s proof of the luck that can be involved in these endeavors.

The teams were scoreless until BOLD’s Brad Wolff scored on a 4-yard run with 3:04 left in regulation. Holdingford’s Austin Gerads sent the game into overtime with a 10-yard run as time expired, making it 6-6. Each team scored six points in the first overtime; BOLD on another short run by Wolf and the Huskers on a 10-yard run by Nathan Brinker … remember that name.

The magic moment for the Huskers came in the second overtime. They had the ball first, from the 10-yard line. On fourth down from the eight, Gerads (the quarterback) lined up outside and Brinker (running back) took a shotgun snap. Nathan (pictured) rolled right, saw nobody open, frantically rerouted himself to the left side and saw Gerads heading for the end zone. Pass, catch, touchdown, 20-12 lead.

BOLD scored on a short run by Ben Steffel and a two-point rushing attempt was stopped. Huskers win.

But here’s where a little serendipity comes in: Brinker was a lineman until a month ago … Holdingford had run that play only once before, and that pass was intercepted … the play isn’t even designed to go to Gerads.

Needless to say, when the play was called the thought bubble over Brinker’s head carried these words: “Oh my gosh.”

“It wasn’t called for me,” Gerads said. “Brinker is just a playmaker; he can do whatever we ask him. They called him to roll right and throw it up there. I don’t know what he saw, he must not have seen anything. It wasn’t even supposed to come to me. I saw him look back so I took off for the sideline, trying to get open. He threw it up and I pulled it in.”

Brinker – who wears No. 52 and was moved from the line to the backfield before the Huskers played Osakis in the Section 6 semifinals – admitted that Friday’s winning play didn’t go as planned.

“No,” he said with a smile. “Definitely not. It’s something that coach threw in and I never thought we would run it. I rolled out, didn’t see anything there and Gerards made a great read and went left when he wasn’t supposed to. Great catch.

“It was definitely the right call.”

If any confirmation of that fact was needed, it came from inside the Holdingford postgame locker room; the voices of 50 boys, yelling in unison.

“One! Two! Three! Huskers state champs!”


The Superlarks captured their second consecutive state title with a dominating victory. Landon Jacobson (pictured) rushed 34 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns for Grand Meadow, which had 433 total yards to 181 for the Flying Dutchmen.

Grand Meadow’s Michael Stejskal completed nine of 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, two to Cody Ojulu and one to Blake Olson. Wyatt Richardson kicked field goals of 23 and 34 yards. The Superlarks played in the Prep Bowl for the third year in a row. Edgerton/Ellsworth won the state title in 2009.


The Bulldogs dominated from the start, led 12-0 at halftime and 24-0 before DeLaSalle scored in the fourth quarter. Michael Veldman scored on a 4-yard run and threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Matt Conzemius. The Bulldogs also scored on a 13-yard run by C.J. Schwintek and a 3-yard run by Beau Pauly. The Islanders’ touchdown came on a 25-yard pass from Billy Hart to Marquise Bridges.

Becker had played in six previous Prep Bowls, winning the Class 3A championship in 2005. DeLaSalle won the 3A title in 1999 and had played in three other Prep Bowls.


A back-and-forth game came down to a two-point conversion attempt with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. After Totino-Grace’s Lance Benick scored on a 10-yard run to make it Eden Prairie 28, Totino 27, the Eagles went for two and the win. A pass was incomplete in the end zone, Eden Prairie fell on an onside kick and ran out the clock.

Totino led 14-0 in the second quarter and 21-7 at haftime. But Eden Prairie scored the next three touchdowns to lead 28-21 with 2:46 to play. Benick’s touchdown followed.

Will Rains rushed 26 times for 230 yards and touchdowns of 1, 57 and 75 yards for Eden Prairie. Ben Mezzenga had two scoring runs for Totino-Grace. Kez Flomo led Totino with 31 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.

--Photos by; to see photo galleries from each Prep Bowl game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 192
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,606
Farmington’s Mark Froehling Announces Retirement 11/19/2014
Mark Froehling announced this week that he is retiring as the head football coach at Farmington High School. He told his team first, which is exactly what you would expect from a man who has always cared for his players above all else.

One of the highlights of my many years writing about high school sports came in the fall of 2006. I spent homecoming week with the Farmington Tigers, watching every football practice, sitting in on Froehling’s chemistry classes, enjoying homecoming festivities and writing about what took place.

That was a joyful week because I was able to write about one of the finest coaches I have ever known. As Farmington activities director Bill Tschida told me, “Mark is a treasure.”

Froehling, 52, has been a head football coach for 23 years; eight years at Caledonia and 15 years at Farmington. His career record is 122-101, but wins and losses is about the last thing for which he will be remembered. His players always knew that he cared about them as people and not just as football players.

He is known as a coach who interrupts practice to read to his team. The players rest on the field as their coach stands in their midst and reads aloud from books that are usually inspirational and always motivational.

After reading to the Tigers during a practice in 2006, he said quietly to me, “You’ve got to build a team somehow. If you just play football, then it’s only about football. This is all about team. I choose books about team, with the philosophy of being part of something bigger than yourself.”

He and his wife Lori made the retirement decision after the 2014 season ended. He will continue to teach chemistry.

“We’ve been talking about it the last couple years,” he said. “I wanted to make good decisions about where things stood. We’ve had multiple changes with the team, conference, classes, and I didn’t want to abandon the program during those transitions. They can be challenging and you want some stability.”

Indeed, Farmington has seen changes in recent years. The football team has moved from Class 4A to 5A to 6A, and when the Missota Conference dissolved this year Farmington joined the South Suburban Conference, which was a big step. The Tigers didn’t win a game this fall.

“We anticipated facing very good football teams every week,” Froehling said of the South Suburban. “And they didn’t disappoint. Every team was well-prepared, every team had great athletes and a good number of athletes, they knew how to play the game well.

“It was a little tough for us this particular season; we happened to be in a year where we just brought back about four starters from last year and we ended up doing this transition with a very young team. But to their credit, if you had come to practice you wouldn’t know what our record was. The kids came to play every week and practice was always positive. I told the seniors they were a great group to go out with. It has to be fun and they allowed that to happen.”

Froehling is only the second coach Farmington has had in 35 years. Earl Wetzel had the job for 20 years and Froehling was an assistant under him for two years; when Wetzel retired, Froehling was named head coach.

Trey Davis, a 2007 Farmington graduate who went on to compete in football and track at the University of Minnesota, said, “His impact goes beyond football to the example he sets as a man and just how much he cares about his athletes. It speaks to the way he did his retirement, waiting until after the banquet.”

Davis, now assistant activities director at Shakopee High School, added, “You never questioned that he cared about you. He would give you the shirt off his back if it meant you would be a more successful person.”

Tschida said Froehling set an example for all coaches at all schools.

“Some people are able to set their ego aside and really understand the true purpose of education-based athletics,” he said. “Mark is one of those people who has always looked at the greater good when it came to coaching. It was never about serving his ego and collecting accolades. It was always ‘How can I make a positive impact on the young men I’m coaching.’ That’s why he is so well-respected. He kind of sets the gold standard on how you can coach in this very machoistic sport yet do it in a manner that’s respectful of the individuals.”

Last season I was at Farmington for a game against Northfield. After warm-ups, the Tigers gather in the school weight room for last-minute words from Froehling. Here is what he told his team that day…

“We’ve got to be ready to play. I want to see effort and I want to see execution, right away. Let’s be moving out there, let’s get this thing going at our pace, not at their pace. Let’s dictate the pace, let’s run ‘em out of gas and take care of business, fellas. We’ve got to withstand any initial surge they might have.

“We know how to face adversity. This is football, gentlemen. There is always going to be adversity, nothing’s going to be perfect. There are going to be things we’ll have to overcome. Let’s not pretend that nothing bad’s never going to happen. We’ve just got to be prepared for it; how are we going to react to it? It’s a sign of the character of this team. And we know what kind of character we have, right? We know we can handle anything if we handle it together, can’t we?

“We’ve got to be able to play this one play at a time, right? Whatever happened on the last play, do we really care about that? No. Does it really matter what the next play is, the play after the one that’s being played right now? No. Will you please give me great focus on that play? Work your technique, do your job; you know your buddy’s counting on you to be focused right then, don’t you? He needs you. We all need each other, and let’s be sure we’re all taking care of our friends out there on the football field.

“Let’s show respect for our opponents tonight by the way we play the game. Every time we walk out on that field, we’re going to respect the game and make sure that we’re playing good, tough Tiger football. Gentlemen, let’s bring it in here and take a knee. What a beautiful night for the game of football, right fellas! This has gotta be fun, and let’s be thankful for being able to be here.”

Notice, Froehling didn’t say one word about winning the game. He talked about togetherness and focus and teamwork and being thankful.

After practice one day during that homecoming week in 2006, I talked with then-senior J.J. Akin, who went on to play football and graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College, where he now works as coordinator of marketing and technology and an admissions counselor.

Akin said to me, “Our coaches talk a lot about family, and they back it up. It brings unity. We’re not always going to be football players. We’re going to be husbands and fathers. Those are important things in life.”

And those lessons are taught by important people.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 184
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,556
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Football In The Cold Sure Beats Not Playing At All11/17/2014
When it comes to playing the state football tournament in the great outdoors instead of the cozy confines of an indoor stadium, the words of Edgerton/Ellsworth coach Andy Fleischman ring true for every coach and every player in Minnesota: “I think our boys would be ready to play in a snowstorm at three o’clock in the morning.”

Fleischman made that statement after the Flying Dutchmen defeated Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 20-13 in Friday’s nine-man semifinals at St. Cloud State. The conditions at Husky Stadium were wintry to say the least, with temperatures in the teens and piles of snow surrounding the field.

For the teams that are headed to the Prep Bowl Friday and Saturday – on the University of Minnesota’s outdoor field – the fact that their championship hopes remain alive makes up for all the layers of cold-weather gear and slippery footing on snowy fields.

The format will remain the same next year, and the state semifinals and Prep Bowl will move to the new Vikings stadium in 2016. With the Metrodome long gone and the new stadium still two years away, the 2014 season has provided new challenges for teams that normally would be playing indoor football for the final two games.

“We practiced outdoors all week and I don’t see why we wouldn’t stay outdoors,” Fleischman said. “In August you’ve got to give them a break for heat; now you tell them to go inside and thaw out.”

One advantage of playing in the Gophers stadium will be the heated turf field. State quarterfinal and semifinal games were all played on turf, but last weekend’s snow was a challenge on non-heated fields.

“The conditions kind of changed our footing, offensively and defensively,” New London-Spicer coach Dan Essler said after the Wildcats beat Glencoe-Silver Lake 13-12 Saturday at Eden Prairie. “Both teams couldn’t run the ball effectively in the first half, especially sideways. Once the kids got used to it they maybe had to take an extra step or two, chop chop chop, and they were able to run.”

Prep Bowl preparations can be vastly different depending on geography. Teams in the Twin Cities can practice indoors in fieldhouses or inflated bubbles, while many outstate teams don’t have such options.

BOLD, for example, has practiced outdoors throughout the season, no matter the weather.

“Out in the country, we don’t have the artificial turf so a guy volunteered his four-wheeler and went out and cleaned off our field,” said BOLD coach Steve Solem, whose team defeated Caledonia 21-0 Saturday in the Class 2A semifinals at Eden Prairie and will meet Holdingford in the Prep Bowl on Friday at 1 p.m. “We warm up inside, go through our game plan, then we suit up and get outside and practice.”

The team from Grand Meadow – which will face Edgerton/Ellsworth in the nine-man title game on Friday at 10 a.m. – took advantage of another sport in preparing for the semifinals (the Superlarks beat Kittson County Central 49-0 Friday in St. Cloud).

The day before that game, Grand Meadow practiced at an indoor facility called Soccer World in Rochester.

“They’ve got a field that’s about 60 yards long and 30 yards wide,” Grand Meadow coach Gary Sloan said.

The Superlarks were hopeful that Rochester Community and Technical College would have their football field covered by an inflatable bubble this week. The day before playing a state quarterfinal at Irondale High School, Grand Meadow practiced on the outdoor turf at Minnetonka High School. That field also is covered by a bubble during the winter, and Sloan was hoping the bubble would be available for a walk-through on Thursday.

The New London-Spicer Wildcats -- who will face Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A Prep Bowl game Saturday at 1 p.m. – will follow the script from their state championship season in 2009.

“We’ll be in our gym, like when we won it in 2009,” Essler said. “We went out one day for about half an hour. We’re used to practicing in the gym.”

BOLD’s Solem said the only likely place for an indoor workout for the Warriors would be a fieldhouse in Redwood Falls, but he wasn't planning on it.

“We just figured, ‘Let’s stay home. If we’re going to play in it we just as well get used to it.’ ”

Edgerton/Ellsworth’s Fleischman said the nearest indoor facilities for the Flying Dutchmen are in Brookings or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“We’re kind of isolated a little bit,” he said, adding that playing in cold conditions is certainly worth the trouble.

“Honestly, I just hoped it would be a problem,” Fleischman said. “It suits our style.”

The nine-man Prep Bowl will be a matchup of teams that run the ball. Grand Meadow senior Landon Jacobson ran for 214 yards in the first half Friday and finished with 30 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns. On the other side, Edgerton/Ellsworth senior Tyler Kurrasch scored all of his team’s points, rushing for three touchdowns and a two-point conversion.

“In Grand Meadow we say, ‘If you’re going to win you’ve got to run and you’ve got to stop the run,’ ” Sloan said.

For all the teams that are still playing, Kurrasch’s words after Saturday’s game stand tall.

“It didn’t even feel like 10 degrees. It was game day. It was perfect.”

Friday, Nov. 21
Nine-man: Grand Meadow vs. Edgerton/Ellsworth, 10 a.m.
Class 2A: BOLD vs. Holdingford, 1 p.m.
Class 4A: Becker vs. DeLaSalle, 4 p.m.
Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Totino Grace, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 22
Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 183
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,406
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Matchups Are Set For Prep Bowl XXXIII11/15/2014
At the University of Minnesota

Friday, Nov. 21
Nine-man: Grand Meadow vs. Edgerton/Ellsworth, 10 a.m.
Class 2A: BOLD vs. Holdingford, 1 p.m.
Class 4A: Becker vs. DeLaSalle, 4 p.m.
Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Totino Grace, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 22
Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.