RED WING — Embracing the need to adapt. Put bluntly, that’s how Red Wing head football coach Nate Freier is approaching a football season that has been put through the ringer this fall.
When the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors voted to shift the football season into the spring on Aug. 4, the plan was for the Red Wing football team to hold 10 practices in the fall, focusing on getting new players up to speed on the offensive and defensive philosophies. To start, Freier said those practices went quite well. He went so far to say that there were actually some “pretty cool positives” about the drastically different practice schedule.
First, with players and coaches needing to limit groupings to 25 people or less, it provided coaches the opportunity to work more closely with position groupings and focus on the fundamentals. Second, coaches were able to spend more time with younger players that may not have always received as much one-on-one attention in a traditional preseason practice.
That being said, what was deemed to be a sound practice schedule was once again flipped on its head with the MSHSL board voting to move football back to the fall during its Sept. 21 meeting.
Suddenly Red Wing had only 10 practices to prepare for the first game of the season — a Saturday, Oct. 10, matchup in Pine Island.
Although the shift back to the fall presented a new set of challenges for the coaches, it also reinvigorated players anxiously awaiting to play in an actual game.
The ever-positive Freier hasn’t been dwelling on the negatives that a reduced practice schedule leading up to their first game has, however. Instead, he sees it as a way to not overthink things in the opening weeks.
“You don’t try to cram too much into it. You don’t stress out new guys that are just catching up to your system — new guys that you’re going to depend on,” he said. “We just had to put the basic offense and defense in. With an hour and 55 minutes a day, you have to get in as much as you can before you play a football game.”
That first football game, scheduled for tomorrow in Pine Island, will be an early test, too. The Panthers already have one game under their belts as they traveled to Cannon Falls a week ago. Last year Pine Island went 3-6 but three of their losses were by a touchdown or less.
Red Wing, on the other hand, has some work to do to improve upon its 0-8 record from a year ago. Last season, the Wingers were outscored on average 47-7. The good news is that Red Wing returns its starting offense almost in its entirety and over half of its starting defense.
On offense Red Wing returns Cooper Chandler with quarterback experience with all three primary contributing receivers from last year in Carson Baartman, Jonah Reps and Wyatt Gonsior. At tight end Reese Tripp returns, as well as offensive lineman Zach Zucker, Duane Taylor and Alexander Rice. In the backfield, Nick Knie, Vinnie Brandt, Antonio Finley and Kaleb Hove all return.
Defensively, Zucker, Rice, Quintons Smith return on the line, as do linebackers Reps, Finley and Brandt. In the secondary, Baartman, Gonsior and Tyler Rogers return.
All that returning experience will not only be relied on early as limited practices mean less preparation time, but also in how practices are conducted.
No longer does team building happen organically during the school day as students are only in the building twice a week. When they are in school they arrive to the practice field in their gear and head straight to their pods. Locker room interactions are held to a minimum so some of the traditional team bonding no longer takes place.
Taking everything into consideration, Freier is just fine with how the team is approaching the season.
“It could be worse, we might not be playing now and we might not be playing ever,” he said. “The good news is that we’re playing and that we’re playing now.”
Red Wing schedule
1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at Pine Island
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at Plainview-Elgin-Millville
7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, vs. Lake City
7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, at Lourdes
7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, vs. Stewartville