All-star football game forges unusual alliances
One of the toughest things about being in an all-star game might be bonding with athletes you’ve been talking trash with the last couple of years.
Seven players from South Suburban Conference schools found themselves in that situation last week as members of the South team in the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game. But they were able to put past differences aside on their way to a 24-14 victory over the North squad Saturday at St. Cloud State University.
The South team had two players each from Lakeville North and Prior Lake, two schools with a burgeoning football rivalry that split two games last season. The South also had one player from Burnsville, which has its own rivalry with Prior Lake as both schools draw students from the city of Savage. Finally, the two high schools in the Apple Valley city limits – Apple Valley and Eastview – each had a player on the South team.
By late Saturday afternoon when they went to claim their traveling trophy, they were all “Southside.”
“At first, it was kind of weird” being teammates with players he’d competed against, said Burnsville’s Andrew Herkenhoff, a defensive back on the South team. “But the way it worked out, I probably ended up being closest to those (South Suburban Conference) guys.”
“It was a great experience,” said Mitch Johnson, a linebacker from Lakeville North. “Not only do you get to play with the best of the best in the state, but you play with guys you’re used to playing against. That’s a little strange at the start, but I think everybody handled it well.”
Johnson’s teammate, defensive lineman Karl Finkel, also was on the South team. They helped Lakeville North reach the state Class 6A championship game last fall before the Panthers lost to Eden Prairie. Eden Prairie also had two players on the South team.
Eastview offensive lineman Michael Backus and Apple Valley wide receiver Steven Wilson also were teammates on the South All-Stars, which proved to be a warmup for college life. Both will play football at the University of St. Thomas, the 2012 NCAA Division III runner-up.
None of the South Suburban Conference players figured in the scoring, although Johnson had five tackles and Herkenhoff had three.
The players from both team had been in camp for five days at St. John’s University in Collegeville, but they saved the hitting for Saturday.
“The practices were pretty relaxed,” Herkenhoff said. “We’re all here to have a good time.”
“We had two practices a day, an hour to an hour and a half,” Johnson said. “We had pads on, but mostly they were walkthroughs. There wasn’t a lot of hitting.”
Which was fine with Johnson, who is not likely to appear on a football field again until 2014. Johnson, an Augustana College recruit, separated his right shoulder in Lakeville North’s 28-7 loss to Eden Prairie at the Prep Bowl last November and reinjured it while lifting weights. Johnson was scheduled to visit a specialist this week but said surgery was likely, which would put him out for six months.
Finkel will attend Minnesota-Duluth, which like Augustana is a member of the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Herkenhoff is going to Iowa State, where he said he might walk on in men’s track and field. Herkenhoff was fourth in the 110-meter hurdles at the state Class AA meet last month.
Several players who have signed with Division I Football Bowl Subdivision colleges declined to play in the all-star game. The reigning Mr. Football award winner, Osseo’s Bridgeport Tusler, attended the week’s activities but couldn’t play after breaking his ankle while playing basketball six weeks ago.
The players who did attend said they never considered skipping the game.
“It’s a chance to represent Burnsville, show people what Burnsville is about,” Herkenhoff said.
Said Johnson: “It’s my last high school game, my last chance to play with Karl (Finkel), the last time I’ll get to play with high school kids from Minnesota. I really wanted to be here.”
Dave Fritze honored
Dave Fritze, an Eagan High School counselor and the director of the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game, was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game, as were the event’s four previous directors.
Fritze has been the director the last 14 years. He also was head coach at Eagan for 17 years before retiring from that position in 2005. He has since returned to the field as defensive coordinator at East Ridge High School, where his son Dan, an Eagan High graduate, is assistant head coach.