Nolan Wennenberg, as with most of the senior football players at Foley, will have an interesting story to tell when he looks back on his high school career.
The story will begin like this: “I was a varsity football player for two years and never played a home game.”
Wennenberg stood on the sidelines during varsity games when he was a sophomore, so he remembers what it’s like for the Falcons to play in front of their home fans at DeRosher Field. But last season and this season, Foley is playing most of its home games 15 miles away at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.
“It’s a lot different getting on a bus for a home game, that’s for sure,” said Wennenberg, a wide receiver and cornerback.
No kidding. How the Falcons got here – or there, depending on how you look at it – is a story of construction, reconstruction and a team that knows how to travel.
The original plan was that the Falcons would spend the 2009 season on the road while their home field was dug up and rebuilt. So last season the Falcons played at Husky Stadium, an artificial-turf showplace that was built in 2004. But things went haywire when the DeRosher Field construction resulted in a playing surface that was much too hard and filled with rocks.
Hit the rewind button. Heavy equipment is now back on the field, tearing it up once more and putting the Falcons back on the bus every week.
The top few inches of soil on DeRosher Field are being removed and sifted to remove the rocks. The soil will be mixed with sand and peat and put down again. The field replacement is expected to cost less than $100,000, with the school district paying around $10,000. The rest of the cost will be shared by the architectural firm that designed the field and the company that managed the construction.
The hope is that the field will be ready for the 2011 season. There are no guarantees, however, meaning the Falcons could end up playing three seasons on the road.
“It could be another year,” Falcons coach Larry Herm said Tuesday, “depending on when they get that grass in, the temperature of the soil, does it germinate this year or does it happen next year? Yesterday I received a little glimmer of hope that we might be able to play on that field next year. I’m more hopeful after talking to those people yesterday than I was before, looking at seeding windows. But you’ve got to have good weather, good warmth, good rain, a lot of stuff.”
There’s plenty of good stuff happening for the Falcons so far in this young season. They have defeated Yellow Medicine East 21-8 and Melrose 20-6 and will meet Milaca, another unbeaten team, on Friday at Milaca.
“It’s fixin’ to be a good one,” senior lineman Harley Stevens said of Friday’s West Central Conference game.
The Falcons are accustomed to playing every game on the road, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Transportation timetables must be set and every piece of vital equipment must be put on a bus.
“We have to deal with it as coaches as far as when are we leaving? Are we ready? Do we have everything we need? Every game is an away game, which isn’t an easy preparation,” said Herm, who is in his 22nd year as the Foley coach.
“There are a lot of things we do to make things go smoothly, because kids forget stuff. When you’re at home, you get to relax for a little bit because you don’t have to bring all the extra stuff, you don’t have to pack a bus.”
Senior quarterback/free safety Mitch Wenner, who also has never played a varsity home game, said “It’s exciting to play at St. Cloud State because it’s such a nice stadium and it’s kind of cool to get the opportunity to play on turf. But it would be nice to have a chance to play in front of a real home crowd.”
(To see a photo gallery and video from Foley, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)
Falcons fans come out in droves wherever the team plays, for which the players and coaches are thankful.
“We’ve had tons of support,” Stevens said.
Once DeRosher Field is back in playing shape, Foley – which has an enrollment of 446 and plays Class 3A football -- will have some of the finest athletic facilities in the state, regardless of school size. The football field is encircled by a new track, the gymnasium is roomy and bright and the facilities are capped off by a fieldhouse that contains multiple basketball courts surrounded by a running track. The fieldhouse also has a large, modern weight-training room.
But for now, the football team calls Husky Stadium home.
“We go to a good place, so it’s not a bad situation,” Herm said. “I think the situation could have been a lot worse if we had to use Milaca’s field or Sauk Rapids’ field or Becker’s field; not that they aren’t good fields. But there would be no sense of home, where at St. Cloud State we can create things and make it in a sense our home field.”
One of this year’s “home” games will not be played at St. Cloud State, however. Because Husky Stadium won’t be available, the Falcons will play their homecoming game against Sauk Centre on Oct. 9 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. That’s a Saturday, and the game will be played at 1 p.m.
But it doesn’t seem to matter to the Falcons when or where they play.
“A field’s a field,” said Wennerberg, “and we’re just going to go out and play as hard as we can no matter where we’re playing.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 38
*Miles John has driven: 1,926
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