Coach Huie returns to Duluth Denfeld sidelineLARGE SCHOOLS PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: After spending 28 years on a high school football sideline in Duluth, a sullen Frank Huie found himself watching from the stands in 2010.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
After spending 28 years on a high school football sideline in Duluth, a sullen Frank Huie found himself watching a Rochester Century playoff game from the stands during his first year away from the game in 2010.
“It wasn’t a fun day for me,” Huie said. “And for my wife (Lynell), it was harder for her to watch me. She said to me that same day, ‘You’ve got to go coach again.’ ”
Huie described himself as extremely bitter with district administrators when he wasn’t retained as Duluth Denfeld coach during the consolidation to two public schools, and he wasn’t planning on coaching again in Duluth.
“I didn’t think it was going to be here, but thought it would be somewhere else,” said Huie, who spent 23 years as a Denfeld assistant and five years as head coach. “But this kind of felt natural.”
After Chris Vold stepped aside following a 2-7 season last year, Huie reconsidered. He says three primary reasons led to his return — support from the community, support from his wife and son Cale, a Denfeld sophomore, and unfinished business after his 2009 team fell one game short of the state tournament.
Seniors, who were on the freshman team when Huie last coached the Hunters, were happy to hear of his return.
“When I learned he was coming back I was really excited,” said T.J. Vallie, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound offensive and defensive tackle. “We were going back to Denfeld football.”
After a year of playing at Duluth Central while Denfeld underwent renovation and then a transition year back at Denfeld, returning players say the school’s tradition had been diminished.
“It didn’t feel like when we were back at Denfeld; now it feels like we are home again,” senior offensive tackle Chris Stolan said.
That’s mainly due to the return of Huie, whose booming voice has been heard daily at practice.
“It’s been really intense with lots of hitting and lots of running,” said Matt Dzuck, a senior offensive guard and linebacker.
Other returnees include senior tight end Jerome Strother Jr., junior halfback Connor Behm, junior halfback Nick Malec and senior guard Andrew Greaves.
Making the Hunters’ task more difficult is the leap to Section 7AAAAA, due to the Minnesota State High School League adding another class, and entry into the difficult Mississippi 8 Conference.
“It’s a tougher challenge,” Huie said, “but we can look at it one of two ways: We can step up to the challenge or we can whine about it. Whining doesn’t get you anywhere.”
State runner-up Bemidji joins Denfeld in moving up into a section that includes Duluth East, Cambridge-Isanti, Chisago Lakes Area and St. Francis.
“I feel fortunate that we’re in a conference,” said coach Joe Hietala, whose team has been an independent since the North Country Conference folded. “It was a scheduling nightmare without a conference, and even when we were in the North Country Conference we always had a floating open date where we would travel all over the Midwest to play. To have a schedule that’s set and not have to worry about it, from that standpoint alone it’s great.”
The Greyhounds return a host of seniors in quarterback Alex Toscano, running back-linebacker Dylan Boettcher, offensive linemen Taylor Schmidt and Nate Atkinson and Chase Dedominces, a two-year starter on the line who moves to tight end. A talented junior class is led by returning linebacker Vitaliy Goncharov, running back Brian Lansing and offensive lineman Joe Yernatich.
Hermantown seeks first state berth since 2003
Bemidji’s rise to Class AAAAA comes one year too late for Hermantown, which lost its lone game last year to the Lumberjacks in the section final.
Just five other section teams stand in the Hawks’ way from a first state tournament berth since 2003.
“It gives the kids the ‘we-can-go-to-state, we-can-win-at-state,’ type of feeling,” coach Daryl Illikainen said of class realignment. “We want to get back there and we want to win there. That’s our next goal, and we have the team that can do it.”
Always senior-dominated, the Hawks have a raft of upperclassmen again this season. Quarterback-free safety Kevin Folman, halfback-linebacker Mitch Hiner, tight end-defensive end Chad Illikainen, offensive linemen Landon Diler and Brett Sterk, linebackers Adam Olson and Rob Legarde and nose guard Corey Rankin all were featured on the 9-1 team in 2011.
Coach Illikainen says 92 players in grades 9-12 came out for fall camp, including 20 seniors. The key facet may be overall team speed, including on the line.
“Not only are our backs fast, but our guards are fast, our tight ends are fast,” Illikainen said. “We feel like we have good team speed.”
Cloquet brings back just three starters from a team that narrowly missed out on a state tournament berth, losing 14-7 to Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin in the Section 7AAA final.
The Lumberjacks jump back up a class and do so with a fairly inexperienced group. Linemen Thomas Udenberg and Alec Lamirande are the lone offensive starters returning, with linebacker Sean Kedrowski the only starter back on defense. Kedrowski also will line up at quarterback and does have part-time starters Bradley Butcher (halfback) and Kaleb Kadelbach (split end) to utilize.
“I feel like we’re in pretty good shape,” coach Tom Lenarz said. “We should be competitive in terms of the conference and the section.”
Perhaps no Northland school has a larger hole to fill than Grand Rapids does at quarterback. Austin Pohlen, who signed to play basketball at Minnesota Duluth, threw for 5,425 yards, ran for 1,242 and totaled 56 touchdowns in his career. In addition, Patrick Flaherty left for the University of St. Thomas after totaling 95 receptions for 1,221 yards and 22 TDs.
“We lost two big guns, two outstanding players,” coach Tim Botsford said.
The Thunderhawks, an affiliated member of the Central Lakes Conference, will use more wing-T formations and less spread this season. Senior halfback Austin Wiberg, tight end Matt Wunderlich and guard Cody Hall return to the offense, but defense might be the team’s strength. Four juniors — linemen Brady Thomsen and Wesley Mann, linebackers Will Rusch and free safety Andrew Carlisle — and seniors Joe Harris (cornerback), Jamison Evans (linebacker) and Zach Vaneps (lineman) all started a year ago.
Hibbing ended a 13-game losing streak last season and now seeks to stop a six-game slide. Quarterback Nick Milani is one of 12 seniors on a team that doesn’t play a true home game until Sept. 28.