Tigers believe they can turn defense from liability into strength
Note: Third in a series of previews of high school football teams in the Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune coverage area.
Turnover is inevitable on high school football rosters, yet it’s a little troublesome for a Farmington team that relied on seniors to lead the Tigers back to respectability last fall.
Who will the Tigers have to replace cornerstone players such as Tanner Sundt, Darby Grengs, Kole Hinrichsen and Isaac Ferm, who have moved on? The answer, according to head coach Adam Fischer, is a whole lot of athletes.
“This is the most athletic team we’ve had in three years,” Fischer said following a Tigers practice last week. “We’ve got guys who can run. We’re finally at the point where we don’t have to use a freshman or sophomore as a starter.
“The younger kids are buying in. We have 66 freshmen signed up for football. We’re definitely headed in the right direction. Now, can we continue that in Week 1 against Woodbury?”
Several Tigers players said that wouldn’t be a problem. “We have a lot of good guys coming back,” said senior lineman Luke Kriesel. “Our defense is looking strong. We should be good to go. Everything looks good.”
Defense was an issue last season for the Tigers, who went 4-5 despite allowing almost 34 points a game. It did improve in the second half of the season, and Farmington shut out Lakeville South 38-0 in its final game before the playoffs.
This year “I think we’re going to make stops. There are a lot of returners on defense, and a lot of new guys making plays,” Kriesel said.
“Defense is going to be our strength while we wait to see how quickly the offense catches up to the speed of varsity football,” Fischer said. “We’re going to be pretty competitive when that happens.”
Senior linebacker Brock Mogensen, who has verbally committed to the University of South Dakota, was second on the team in tackles last season and recovered a fumble. Fischer said Mogensen also will get some snaps on offense – he had five receptions last season – but his full-time role will be on defense.
Nate Roschen started every game at nose tackle as a sophomore. Junior Adam Weed already is a two-year starter at defensive back. Senior Avery Filapek is a returning starter in the secondary and Sam Castillo is expected to start at defensive end after playing there as a reserve last year.
Fischer said the Tigers won three 7-on-7 tournaments in the off-season, and the play of the cornerbacks and safeties was a key element. “At corner and safety, we have guys who are going up and making plays,” the coach said. “In the past we were a little young and losing out on those jump balls, those 50-50 balls. We’re winning a lot of those right now.”
Last year’s Tigers had mostly seniors at the ball-handling positions. They will build around linemen with varsity experience, including Kriesel, who returns as the starting center. Charles Korbein, a 285-pound senior, was a starter on the offensive line before being injured.
Everybody who rushed for 100 yards or more for the Tigers in 2016 graduated, so there are opportunities for new players to contribute. Weed, senior Jarret Hunt and senior Caden Freetly are likely to see time at receiver.
Hinrichsen, now at St. Cloud State, passed for 1,770 yards and rushed for 356 last season, then received a spot in the state all-star game. Replacing him at quarterback is the Tigers’ biggest offensive challenge.
“We feel we have two guys.” Fischer said. “Alijah Moe, who played corner for us last year, is a junior and is going to be our starter. Ryan Booker, who’s a sophomore, has played really well in camp. It’s going to look a little bit different. Alijah brings a lot of athleticism, but he can throw it, too. He’s not Kole, but that’s OK. We want these guys to be themselves, be who they are, and play to their strengths.”
Fischer and his players said a 28-17 victory at Rosemount turned around their 2016 season. Farmington, 1-4 at the time and coming off a 2-7 season in 2015, played on the road against a top-10 team in the Class 6A rankings. Few expected the Tigers to win, but they pounced on several second-half Irish turnovers to overcome a 10-0 halftime deficit. It started a three-game winning streak.
“That was the most fun night of my life,” Mogensen recalled. And the Tigers believe it changed how they viewed themselves.
“Now that it happened last year, we’re going into Woodbury (Farmington plays its opener at Woodbury on Friday) thinking we’re going to win,” Filapek said. “Last year we went into our games thinking, ‘We sucked the year before, what’s going to happen now?’ Now we know we’re going to win games, and we’ll start off strong.”
The Tigers don’t want to take a step back now. This year, one of their goals is to not have to board buses once the playoffs start.
“We want to get our first home playoff game. That’s something I’ve been striving for since I was a sophomore,” Hunt said.
(All games 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Sept. 1: at Woodbury
Sept. 8: at Shakopee
Sept. 15: Lakeville North
Sept. 23 (Sat.): at Rosemount (5 p.m.)
Sept. 29: Eagan
Oct. 6: Burnsville
Oct. 13: Eastview
Oct. 18 (Wed.): at Lakeville South