I made a return visit to the Rogers High School football stadium Friday night. My first trip there was in 2003, when the school was brand new and the Royals faced Zimmerman in the first football game in school history.
My, how far the Royals have come.
Back in 2003, I watched the Royals practice before that inaugural game. The school had no seniors that first year and all the equipment was brand new. Part of the equation was introducing everybody. Both Rogers and Zimmerman were born of expansion in the Elk River district that year, and Marc Franz – who had been an Elk River assistant for 11 years -- has been the Rogers head coach since Day One.
After the Royals capped Homecoming week with a 53-26 victory over Becker on Friday, I asked Franz about getting from that first season in 2003 to now, when the Royals are undefeated and ranked sixth in Class 4A.
“It’s hard work and we don’t shy away from it,” the coach said. “We tell the kids that football is a hard-working game, it’s not one where you can show up and go through it half-heartedly. In today’s day and age, you’ve got to put the work in ahead of time, and these guys understand that. They’ve worked extremely hard the past couple of years and they know the work comes before the success.
“Each year it has grown and developed in pretty much every single aspect; the atmosphere at the games, the commitment of the players, the competitiveness of the program and everything. It’s been enjoyable just to watch the growth throughout the years. And there’s no one big thing if you look at what happened. Each year we did a little step, and it’s been rewarding just to see the constant growth.”
Thinking back to that first game in 2003, I remember a festive atmosphere and lots of excited people. That was exactly the scene Friday, as well. The weather was once again spectacular – 88 degrees at kickoff and 71 when the game ended – and the atmosphere was electric. There was an overflow crowd and the Rogers band, fans, cheerleaders and dance team kept the place humming.
Becker, which is now 5-1 and ranked fifth in 4A, scored 20 points in the first half. That was newsworthy, considering that Rogers came into the game with an average winning score of 47-1. The Royals began the season with four shutouts, beating Zimmerman 50-0, Elk River 55-0, Cambridge-Isanti 42-0 and St. Michael-Albertville 32-0 before finally giving up a touchdown last week in a 56-7 victory over Princeton.
So when the Bulldogs led 20-19 early in the second quarter, this was something new. But Rogers tightened up the defense and loosened up the offense in rolling to the 27-point win in the biggest game in the state Friday.
Becker and Rogers played twice last season, with the Royals winning both. They won 34-7 at Becker during the Mississippi 8 Conference season, and beat the Bulldogs again 38-0 at Rogers in the Section 5 semifinals. Rogers’ 2009 season ended in the state quarterfinals with a 56-14 loss to Totino-Grace.
The two teams know they are likely to meet again this season, as well, once the Section 5 playoffs roll around.
TO SEE A PHOTO GALLERY AND A POSTGAME INTERVIEW, GO TO THE MSHSL FACEBOOK PAGE.
--Interstate 94 has become my arch enemy (highway division). My drive to Rogers, which is in the far northwest sector of the Twin Cities, was slowed by construction on I-94 in the Maple Grove area. That was nothing compared to the return trip after the game. With the highway squeezed down to one lane, it took me 45 minutes to go about five miles. Geez Louise.
--I had a minor emergency a few seconds before kickoff. Every time I have stood on the Becker sidelines before a game, someone on the coaching staff has handed me a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. (It’s a Becker tradition.) As the teams lined up to begin the game, I found myself Bazooka Joe-less. I said to head coach Dwight Lundeen, possibly with a hint of panic in my voice, “Dwight, who’s got the gum?!” He smiled, reached into his pocket and pulled out four pieces of Bazooka Joe. Crisis averted.
--As has become customary this football season, the fantastic weather is not without a down side: mosquitoes. To quote Dean Wormer, I hate those guys.
--Everywhere I go, people ask me the same question, and that was the case at Rogers. From other media people to coaches, officials and fans, people ask: “How’s the job with the MSHSL going?’ And my answer is always the same: “Fantastic. I’m doing what I love to do … hanging out at high school events and having nothing but fun.” And that’s no lie.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 58
*Miles John has driven: 3,847
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn