It feels odd writing this in late July, but the high school football season is nearly upon us.
The state tournament — which is played at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Gophers and temporary home of the Vikings — has been moved up one week due to scheduling reasons, causing the whole schedule to move up accordingly.
Had the school district not moved the first day of school up to Sept. 1, before Labor Day, the Litchfield Dragons would have already played three games before school started. As it is, they’ll have played two.
Litchfield opens its 2015 football season at home against Milaca on Saturday, Aug. 22, the Minnesota State High School League’s first available contest date.
The early start means that Litch won’t host its annual watermelon scrimmage, the popular Saturday scrimmage that brought teams such as Willmar, Hutchinson, and Delano to town to prepare for the season — and enjoy some post-game watermelon, of course.
Although the watermelon scrimmage has been jettisoned, there will still be a chance to get your watermelon fix: Litchfield will host Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City for a scrimmage tonight (July 30) at 7 p.m., followed by some watermelon.
“It’s an end of the summer kind of thing,” said Litchfield head coach Jim Jackman.
The scrimmage brings with it the end of summer and the beginning of the football season: after the scrimmage, the football players will get the following week off before practice begins on Aug. 10.
But that doesn’t mean the football team has been idle all summer.
Jackman, his staff and his players have participated in seven-on-seven passing camps and scrimmages in Sauk Rapids and Paynesville and took their annual trip to South Dakota State University’s summer football camp.
“It was a great camp for us this year and gave us a chance to install our offense,” Jackman said. “It’s always been a nice fit for us, going out to South Dakota.”
Redistricting and regrouping
The season’s early start isn’t the only change for the 2015 football campaign.
Last May, the MSHSL’s Board of directors unanimously approved a state-wide 18-district format for the 2015 season aimed at maintaining traditional inter-school rivalries while minimizing travel.
Litchfield has been placed in the East Central District, along with Albany, Annandale, Becker, Dassel-Cokato, Delano, Foley Glencoe-Silver Lake, Holy Family Catholic, Hutchinson, Little Falls, Milaca, New London-Spicer, St. Cloud Cathedral, Watertown-Mayer and Zimmerman.
Schools are allowed to play teams outside their district — if approved by the MSHSL — but the Dragons’ 2015 schedule features only East Central teams: Milaca, Watertown, Delano, D-C, Holy Family, Hutch, Annandale and G-SL.
Three of those teams — Hutch, Watertown and Milaca — weren’t on Litchfield’s schedule last year.
And when Litchfield takes the field against Milaca on Aug. 22, it will be with a much smaller senior class than last season.
The 2014 Dragon football team, which finished the season 1-8, featured 19 senors and five juniors; Jackman estimates he’ll have between five and 10 seniors out this season.
“To lose a big group of kids, that senior group, it’s going to be tough to replace those kids,” Jackman said.
Last year’s team had 35 sophomores, juniors and seniors, and the 2015 Dragons should be near that number — but the bulk of those players will likely be juniors and sophomores.
Jackman said that although the Dragons will once again be dealing with low numbers, he’s encouraged by the players who’ve persevered.
“I’m proud of the kids that stuck with it — those kids that when the numbers have been low continue to play,” he said. “Hats off to those kids that have not backed down.”
Boosters give team a boost
Jackman was quick to praise not just his players but the community members that have helped support Dragon football — specifically the Goal Line Club, a booster club that was formed in 2013 to support the football program.
“They’ve been very active for the football program and all sports programs,” Jackman said. “A big push for them is creating that strong community backing for us in the sports programs.”
Most recently, the Goal Line Club sponsored a float featuring Dragon football players in the Watercade parade, and, on the evening of Aug. 18, they will feed football players and their parents after the players compete their “blitz night.”
“Blitz night” is a culmination of the team’s annual fundraiser, the sale of Top-Ten cards, which community members can purchase for $20 a sheet — two cards per sheet — to support the program and get discounts at local businesses. The players began selling the cards Monday and have until Aug. 18 to sell their allotment.
On the morning of Aug. 18, the players and coaches will set out to “blitz” the community, spreading out around town and knocking on doors to make the final fundraising push.
Tonight’s scrimmage and the profusion of fundraising cards mean one thing: summer is fading.
Are you ready for some football?