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Cherry coach takes state football players Down Under

Australian Rules Football will never be confused with the American version. Rugby, maybe, but not the variety played on the gridiron.

So, to be clear, Cherry football coach Justin Bakkethun is bringing a squad of high school football players Down Under this summer to play a series of games against other American squads and an Aussie team, too.    

Bakkethun, 39, is assembling as much Minnesotan talent as possible to bring overseas in a 10-day trip to Australia and Hawaii that is sponsored by Down Under Sports, which is part of International Sports Specialists, Inc. Several all-state and various all-conference players have been invited, and Team Minnesota will be announced June 1.

He’s hoping to dot that roster with Northland-grown talent, too.

“It would be nice to get a lot of kids from up here that aren’t recognized all the time,” Bakkethun said. “We have superior athletes; it would be nice to get them recognized.”

Logan Hultgren, an 18-year-old senior at Mountain Iron-Buhl, has already signed on — “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia.”

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back/middle linebacker just completed a five-year stint with the Rangers and hopes to extend his playing career later this fall at Mesabi Range Community College.

“I’m actually back in the weight room again at school, starting to train again,” he said.

Bakkethun, Hultgren and the rest of the team will leave in late June and return in early July. While in Australia, they will play a couple of games against other Stateside teams and another against an Australian squad.

“This is going to be really exciting to go somewhere else and be able to see different athletes, to see maybe a different offense and maybe a different style,” said Bakkethun.  

Or play with a different scheme.

As Minnesota’s co-head coach and offensive coordinator, he might opt to bring a wide-open offensive system to Australia.

“I’m looking at some spread offense right now, possibly with some I-formation,” said Bakkethun, who is a foreman for Hibbing Public Utilities when he isn’t drawing up X’s and O’s. “I want to come in there with a little bit more excitement, with a little bit more flair to it. I think the kids like it a lot more, too.”

He won’t have long to teach his players offensive formations and plays, but luckily, Bakkethun has experience with quick turnarounds. Bakkethun spent five seasons as an assistant coach, starting in 2008 in Chisholm before taking the same post at Cherry in 2012. This past fall, he took over a Cherry program that had lost more than 20 straight games and coached the Tigers to a 2-6 record and their first playoff appearance since 2010.

“I can’t really give them a playbook until a month beforehand; I can’t work with them until we get there,” Bakkethun said. “I have to try to put my schemes into their heads and then turn around and try to get it done in about three days.”

The trip costs $4,300, but Bakkethun said Down Under Sports helps with fundraising. The squad leaves Minnesota on June 27 and returns July 12.

Go to downundersports.com or email Bakkethun at coachbakkethun@gmail.com for more information.

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