Prep football: Opportunistic Proctor thrives on turnovers

After picking off a pass to secure Proctor's Oct. 16 win at Hibbing, safety Frank Napoli didn't have to go far to dog the former player whose career interceptions record he had just broken.

Proctor pep rally
Proctor High School football players Jack Chalstrom, Ryan McDougall and Tanner Haedrich get revved up during a send-off pep rally at the school Friday afternoon, Nov. 15, 2013. The team will play their state semifinal game at the Metrodome against St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders on Saturday at 2 p.m. (Bob King /

After picking off a pass to secure Proctor's Oct. 16 win at Hibbing, safety Frank Napoli didn't have to go far to dog the former player whose career interceptions record he had just broken.

The previous record holder was wearing a headset on the Proctor sideline.

Rails coach Derek Parendo intercepted 13 passes as a player for the Rails in the late 1980s and early '90s, a tally that stood as the program's unofficial record for more than 20 years.

When Napoli nabbed career pick No. 14 against the Bluejackets, he overtook the top spot. And it came immediately after the senior was thrust back into action with Hibbing moving the ball a little too comfortably against Proctor's second-string defense. The starters were on the field for just one play before Napoli secured a 26-16 victory with his record-breaking interception.

"That's when one of our assistant coaches was like, 'hey, he might have just broke your record,' " Parendo said. "Like the saying goes, records are made to be broken. If it's broken, I'm glad he did it."


Napoli, whose grandfather was Parendo's godfather, waited until after the game to give his coach some grief.

"When we were leaving the locker room I wanted to say something, so I was like 'good job, Parendo,' and then I didn't know what to say so I just walked away," Napoli joked.

In this whirlwind season for the Rails, which continues today at the Metrodome in a Class AAA state tournament semifinal against St. Croix Lutheran, it's not surprising that one of the program's benchmarks to fall is turnover-related. Proctor has forced 27 turnovers -- 18 interceptions and nine fumbles -- while winning nine games and becoming the first football team in school history to advance to the state semis.

(It won't, however, be the Rails' first contest at the Metrodome; they played a section playoff game there in 1991 thanks to that year's Halloween Blizzard that made many fields across the state unplayable.)

Napoli has intercepted seven passes to defy popular logic that safeties and cornerbacks are playing on the defensive side of the ball because they can't catch.

"He doesn't drop too many when he was the opportunity," said Parendo, a former strong safety. "That's the thing you see with d-backs, that's the story, if you could catch you'd be a receiver. But not in his case. He does catch the ball well."

The Rails are nine turnovers shy of the team's single-season mark of 36. Still, they have been a huge part of Proctor's success this season, including last week's 19-6 win over Pierz in which the opportunistic Rails picked off Pioneers quarterback Ethan Lochner four times.

Impressive, to be sure, but nothing compared to Proctor's Sept. 27 triumph over Virginia when the Rails produced a trio of pick-sixes, two by Jake Malec.


"It's a mentality, expecting to do it," Parendo said. "When the ball's in the air, we say that's ours. We're looking to strip the ball, tip the ball, trying to get guys to the ball so we might catch it on a tip. We do coach it, and the idea is having them prepared for the opportunity when it arises."

Napoli and his ball-hawking teammates might not have many opportunities today to step in front of errant passes. St. Croix Lutheran (9-2) doesn't throw the ball a whole lot, with starting quarterback David Ponath averaging a little more than six attempts per game.

Against the imposing Crusaders, who hail from West St. Paul and who are in the semifinal round after a 38-35 victory over traditional AAA power Glencoe-Silver Lake a week ago, Parendo knows a turnover or two would be crucial. Interception or fumble, he doesn't care.

"They're a high-powered offense, very fast," the coach said. "So if we're able to flip the field on them and basically steal a couple possessions on them, that's huge. Games like this, they're going to come down to who makes the plays. Hopefully we coach our kids up to make plays, and that includes turnovers."

Today's winner will meet either New London-Spicer or Rochester Lourdes in the Nov. 30 Prep Bowl.

What To Read Next
Get Local