Football: Warriors ready for move to Class 6A football
The 2021 Brainerd Warriors Football Season Preview
Jason Freed’s first year as Brainerd’s head football coach was anything but normal.
After a COVID-19 outbreak postponed the start of Brainerd’s season, it had only nine days to prepare for its Week Two opponent St. Cloud Apollo. The Warriors won 35-30. It would be the only win Brainerd would celebrate in 2020.
Brainerd lost to Alexandria, Bemidji and Moorhead in consecutive games before another COVID-19 outbreak ended their season after just four games.
“Looking at this year, it kind of feels like a fresh start,” Freed said. “Last year was kind of a tumultuous first year trying to navigate everything that went with that season. Getting shut down right away and then getting shut down at the very end and dealing with all sorts of hurdles or mountains thrown our way. So it’s been a breath of fresh air in terms of having a normal August and two-a-days and camp and everything that gets involved in install and meetings and being able to use meeting rooms and the weight room and all the different things that go along with this. So it’s been pleasant in that sense.”
Freed’s second year as coach features a full eight-game schedule starting Friday, Aug. 27, in a Week Zero game against Coon Rapids at home. Brainerd also moved up from Class 5A to 6A this season. The opener against Coon Rapids will be the Warriors' only 6A opponent.
“It’s not the first time Brainerd has had to play in the biggest class,” Freed said. “For years and years Brainerd was in the largest class, so now we are there and we will have to navigate that and the things that go with that and prepare ourselves for that level of play. We’ve talked a lot about that this summer and we’ve been fortunate enough to do some stuff with some bigger schools within the summer just to give the kids a glimpse of what that level of 6A football looks like.”
With Brainerd playing a Week Zero contest, the Warriors started training camp a week earlier. It also means the Warriors will have a bye on their schedule. The Warriors' bye week is scheduled for Week Seven which is the week before they travel to play Buffalo Wednesday, Oct. 20. It is a fortunate bye as Week Eight is the short MEA week.
“In regards to our bye week, it actually comes at a nice time. We will be able to practice three times that week and give the kids a couple of days off, but in terms of timing hopefully, we stay healthy through the year, but it might be a nice time to rest up and gear up for that stretch run.”
Besides COVID-19 complications, the Warriors also put in a new offense last year. With many returning offensive starters, including four offensive linemen, Brainerd should look crisper on that side of the ball.
NDSU commit and captain Nathaniel Staehling won’t be under center for Brainerd this year and will transition to playing both ways for the Warriors. Junior Marcello Getty will be taking snaps for the Warriors to start the season.
“We put in a brand new offense last year to try and take advantage of the fact that we haven’t had that big of lineman here lately,” Freed said. “When you don’t have big lineman you can’t necessarily always go straight ahead, so we have to find ways to get angles on the defense, so we switched to more Shotgun Wing-T style offense. We also saw that we lost a starting running back last year and didn’t have much depth there and with a junior quarterback coming up who has some good tools in Marcello Getty and looking at what’s going to make us the best offense we decided to move some pieces around.”
Staehling will be featured more as a running back in Brainerd’s offense. Last season, Staehling led the Warriors in rushing with 168 yards on 50 attempts.
Junior Damen Bentho is another ball carrier expected to get the ball for Brainerd this season.
Brainerd’s new quarterback will have three returners to throw the ball to in wide receivers Jed Klang and Matt Huesmann along with tight end Mitchell Degen. Klang caught nine passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns last year while Huesmann caught four passes for 14 yards.
“Marcello will bring some things in the passing game that we are kind of excited about with what we can do there,” Freed said. “We got some receivers coming back, including Jed Klang, and he’s someone who we will rely on heavily this year from a leadership standpoint. It’s also fun, you know, Brainerd’s never really utilized a tight end in years past and we are kind of making it a focal point this year with Mitchell Degen and Caleb Lange.”
The offensive line features Carter Springer at center, who is a returner, along with Dominik Waytashek at guard and Dalton Barrett at tackle. Josh Albright, Riley DeRosier, Elijah Hanson and Caden Jager are others who will be on the O-line for Brainerd.
“Those are some kids that we are going to lean on especially in the run game and in protecting the quarterback,” Freed said. “I’m excited about the offensive line. They really gel and come together. They are up to the challenge.”
Defensively, Freed wants to limit the big plays. He thinks the front seven will be a big strength for the Warriors.
“A lot of the guys coming back this year on the defensive side of the ball got a lot of valuable experience as to what the speed of the game is like last year and the level of play,” Freed said. “We’ve seen that experience already and how much more comfortable the kids are in what we do and how we need to do things and how we prepare and the speed we need to play at. We just gave up too many big plays last year and the game of football is one of those things where you have to make the offense earn it. I’ll tell the kids all the time, 'if the offense earns their touchdown then hats off to them.' We just have to limit big plays and we have to get back to getting the ball back and having a plus turnover differential.”
Staehling will play a big role in the secondary for the Warriors, who lost Aden Extrand, a returning starter, for the season to a knee injury. Ethan DeRosier, Dillon MacLaughlin, Brandon Stark, Ethan Olson and Dawson Piepho are other defensive backs to watch for.
“We are kind of working through some pieces in the secondary,” Freed said. “Right now we kind of have a committee of corners who are vying for spots. We are trying to figure out the best combination for our secondary.”
Riley DeRosier, who was All-District last year, returns to anchor the defensive line for the Warriors along with captain Grant Gardiepy. Max Barber is a new member of the team, who moved from Canada and will play defensive line. Jack Schafer, Eli Wiskow and Mitchell Wind are other defensive lineman for Brainerd.
Captains Camden Langerman and Jacob Holm anchor the linebacker core for Brainerd that features six players, including Brady Toensing, Andrew Albright, Connor Erickson and Dylan Gross.
“We got a really deep group of linebackers,” Freed said. “Which is great to have some depth and we got five to six guys rotating on the defensive line.”
For special teams, Degen returns as the long snapper along with Staehling and Klang as punters. Senior soccer player Ryan Westerberg will look to come over and kick along with sophomore Braedon Manecke.
Freed said he’s excited to see how his team does Week Zero against Coon Rapids. He thinks the biggest advantage the Warriors have is upfront on defense along with some playmakers on the offensive side.
“The front seven on defense I’m excited about. We move around and aren’t crazy big, but we move well and the kids are reading and reacting well,” Freed said. “Offensively, you know, the offensive line has really come together, but the front seven on both sides I'm really excited to see what we can do. Then when you have someone like a Nathaniel Staehling and Jed Klang we got a lot of guys who are like swiss army knives — we are going to use them in different spots and different places. It’s fun to have pieces you can move around because it makes you more diverse offensively and defensively.”
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.
Seniors: Jed Klang, Matthew Huesmann, Mitchell Degen, Ethan Windorski, Ethan DeRosier, Sam Spieker, Jacob Holm, Nathaniel Staehling, Camden Langerman, Gavin Schwen, Dawson Piepho, Kouper Seidl, Aden Extrand, Dylan Wgeishofski, Gabe Wagner, Delon Kosloski, Brady Toensing, Grant Gardiepy, Riley DeRosier, Ian Hegner, Carter Springer, Dominik Waytashek, Caden Jager, Jacob Borgstrom, Mason Callstrom, Dalton Barrett, Elijah Hanson, Ethan Olson, Andrew Albright, Jack Schafer, Max Barber
Juniors: Eli Wiskow, Marcello Getty, Reece Isle, Damen Bentho, Conner Erickson, Dillon MacLaughlin, Gavyn Bowers, Jesse Rodman, Daric Caughey, Aiden Sills, Izayah Schultz, Rhyen Buckmaster, Josh Albright, Kolbie Bernu, Henry Hopkins, Devonte Anderson, Caleb Lange, Reece Meyer, Noah Hines, Forrest Wentz
Sophomores: Sam Harting, Ryan Kennedy, Atreyu Marcelo, Jake Merseth, Landon Severson, George Campbell, Nolan Johnson, Eli Hoelz, John Hagen, Ben Grams, Preston Siebolds, Andrew Garding, Braedon Manecke, Sean Holbrook, Nate Herkenhoff, Derron Tumpkin, Lee Beckrich, Brandon Stark, Dilan Sypnieski, Leif Cruse, Dylan Gross, Matthew Toews, Daniel Tollefsrud, Sam McCulley, Mason Maske, Mitchell Wind, Riley Johnson, Peter Yeager, Titus Thompson, Jaxon Fasching, Matthew Thomas, Asher Borle, Landon Liebel, Ethan Carlson, Cody Becker, Gavin Kostohryz, Reese Molby, Hayden Patton
Friday, Aug. 27: hosts Coon Rapids 7 p.m. (parents night)
Sept. 2: at Andover 7 p.m.
Sept. 10: hosts Moorhead 7 p.m. (BYAA night)
Sept. 17: at Sartell 7 p.m.
Sept. 24: at Bemidji 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: hosts Alexandria 7 p.m. (senior night)
Oct. 8: hosts Rogers 7 p.m. (homecoming)
Oct. 20: at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Oct. 29: Round One of Class 6A Playoffs
Nov. 5: Round Two of Class 6A Playoffs
Nov. 11-13: Class 6A Quarterfinals
Nov. 18-20: Class 6A Semifinals
Nov. 26-27: Class 6A Finals
Head coach: Jason Freed (2nd at Brainerd, 5 at Houston).
2020 finish: 0-3 in North Central Red Subdistrict, 1-3 overall
Career record: 33-24 (.604)
Brainerd record: 1-3
Returning starters: Jed Klang (WR/P), Matthew Huesmann (WR), Mitchell Degen (TE), Ethan Windorski (WR), Jacob Holm (LB), Nathaniel Staehling (RB/DB), Camden Langerman (LB), Aden Extrand (DB), Brady Toensing (LB), Grant Gardiepy (DL), Riley DeRosier (DL/OL), Carter Springer (OL), Dominik Waytashek (OL), Caden Jager (OL), Jacob Borgstrom (OL), Ethan Olson (DB), Andrew Albright (LB)
2021 captains: Nathaniel Staehling, Grant Gardiepy, Camden Langerman, Jacob Holm
Manager: Aaliyah Lemm
Statistician: Mike Bialka
Assistant coaches: Troy Nelson (OC), Wade Haapajoki (OL), Curtis Brisk (OL/JV), Jace Marcelo (WR/ST), Logan McElfresh (TE/Specialists), John Stumpf (head JV and RB), Aron Anderson (DL), Mark Erickson (DL/JV), McKinley Anderson (DB), Mitch Feierabend (LB), Mike Zauhar (volunteer/DB/returners), Jonathan LeMieur (volunteer/OL)