The Osakis football team is as eager as any program in the area to get its season started after coming off a state tournament appearance in 2019, but the Silverstreaks will have to wait a little while longer with the first two games of its schedule canceled.
A confirmed COVID-19 case on the team forced the Silverstreaks out of an Oct. 9 game at Browerville and a home game on Oct. 15 against Royalton. Barring no other setbacks, Osakis can return to practice on Oct. 16 and will be at Holdingford for the season opener on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.
From an evening practice on Oct. 1, players and coaches talked about their excitement level on getting back on the field with a new-look group after this program graduated a big group of talented seniors from last year’s 8-3 team overall.
“I think we’ll be ready for this season,” senior offensive guard and linebacker Brock Faber said. “We thought it was going to be quite the building year, but the way these younger guys are stepping up like this, it seems like we’re playing with the same team as we did last year.”
Faber is one of the experienced athletes back who played a big role on last year’s team. Duncan Vandergon (RB/Safety), Isaac Hetland (FB/LB) and Brady Mages (offensive/defensive lines) are some other veterans head coach Bill Infanger will rely on to lead the way.
“We have some key players from last year’s state tournament team that we think are going to come back and be leaders,” Infanger said. “Then we’ve got a lot of other young guys who put work in, and it’s their time to see what they can do.”
Osakis prides itself on running the football. The Silverstreaks totaled 3,510 yards on the ground last season, led by graduated senior Luke Imdieke with 1,632 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Hetland was next in line with 901 yards and 14 touchdowns as a fullback. He is a big, strong runner who would have been the featured back on a lot of teams as a junior. Imdieke was too good not to give the ball to, and now it’s Hetland’s turn to lead this backfield in 2020.
“I’m absolutely pumped,” Hetland said. “The line has been working hard, and I’m excited with the line and the way we’ve been practicing together.”
Infanger knows opponents will key in on Hetland, so the Silverstreaks will spread the carries around. Vandergon and junior quarterback Bauer Klimek provide good speed options for Osakis, but Hetland has worked hard in the weight room for this opportunity and the Silverstreaks plan to use him a lot.
“We’re very fortunate that we have Bauer Klimek taking over the quarterback duties, who’s one of the fastest guys on our team,” Infanger said. “We have a halfback in Duncan who can run. But obviously, Isaac almost rushed for 1,000 yards last season. He’s going to be back and we’re going to give him the ball a lot of times. He’s faster, bigger, stronger than he was last year and really a motivated kid who loves the game of football.”
Infanger, Hetland and Faber all talked about how impressed they have been with the young players in the program. As much as they could during the COVID-19 pandemic, Osakis had good participation in the weight room and guys working out on their own.
“These guys, they’ve been coming in the weight room very consistently, just like us (seniors),” Hetland said. “Those guys last year set the tone because they were great guys in the weight room. That’s what these guys have seen, and that’s what they’ve stepped up to.”
That drive to be good is one of the first things Infanger noticed about this young group when he got them on the practice field this fall.
“I think any time a coach graduates 15, 16 seniors, you look at it and say, ‘Are we reloading or rebuilding?’ We’d like to think we’re reloading just because of the work that was put in,” Infanger said. “I know if you asked them, they think we’re reloading because they believe in themselves. I do think we’re going to be where (last year’s team) was a couple years ago with a ton of potential and a few key players who were back from the year before. That team two years ago won football games too, and we feel this team has the potential to do that.”
All fall sports teams know now what their postseasons will look like. The Minnesota State High School League board of directors voted on Oct. 1 to have section tournaments, but no additional state or regional tournaments after sections. Infanger and his players seemed fine with that news, saying they are just happy to be back after thinking they were going to have a season that started under uncertain weather conditions of mid-March in Minnesota.
“We’re more than happy because we’re pushing so much harder now,” Faber said. “This whole summer, we didn’t know what would happen. They were telling us we were going to play in the spring, and it was 50/50 if we were even going to do that. The fact we know we have (a section tournament), it just means a lot more to everyone.”
Osakis plans on withstanding an early-season pause in their schedule before trying to be playing their best football in mid-November come playoffs.
“It’s about learning and growing as a team and building those relationships,” Infanger said. “We’re still going to work our tails off to win football games, but I think it’s more about the journey than the destination this year.”