HOLDINGFORD – Live in a small town long enough and you are bound to end up in its annual parade.
Seniors Alex Knapp and Wyatt Johnson had both been in the Holdingford Daze Grand Parade when they were younger. But when they were on a float in July with other members of the Holdingford High School football and track and field teams that won state titles in 2015-16, it was different.
“It was a lot of fun and there was a lot of support from our fans,” Johnson said. “I was young (the first time) and I only remember a little bit, not much.”
“The bank donated some mini footballs and candy to throw out (to the crowd),” Knapp said. “It was a lot of fun. People got into it and were screaming when we went by.”
The Huskers won the Class 2A football title and went 11-3 last season. It was the school’s first football title since winning the Class B state title in 1981.
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Holdingford has six starters on offense and five on defense returning this fall.
“We have more returners than I think people expect,” said Luke Mitchell, who is 32-6 going into his fourth season as Holdingford’s coach. “It’s now those guys going from a secondary role to stepping up and taking a bigger role as the main guys who are going to have to carry the load.”
“It was just a great life experience for the kids, kind of becoming celebrities in town,” Mitchell said of winning the state title. “In a town this small, people want to give you a handshake or a high five.”
Junior tackle Walker Nienaber, senior guard Keaton Knutson, junior tight end Brandon Skroch, junior wide receiver Blake Patrick, senior fullback Devin Motschke and Johnson (fullback) are the returning starters on offense.
“Our run game is always a strong point for us and we have some playmakers out wide that we can get the ball to,” said Knapp, who will take over as the team’s starting quarterback. “We should be solid on defense with some good linebackers coming back.”
Skroch (26 tackles, 21/2 sacks), Johnson (46 tackles, 5 sacks) and junior Nolan Prokott (31 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries) return at linebackers, Patrick (5 interceptions, 4 pass breakups) returns at safety and Knapp (40 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 3 interceptions) returns at cornerback.
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“We have a lot of speed, more than the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “I think we should be pretty solid throughout the whole defense.
“I think we should be able to get back in the playoffs with a big run in there again if everyone starts clicking together.”
Since Mitchell took over in 2012, Holdingford has made the state playoffs all three seasons and won two Central Minnesota Conference titles. With the move to district play this fall, Mitchell sounds like he has confidence in what his team can accomplish.
“Kids are really buying into our weight room and really working hard in there (during the summer) and coaches who are really dedicated to opening it up and being there,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who can run and we’ve got to get them out in (open) space and get them moving a little bit.
“We’ve got more depth this year. That’s just a byproduct of our kids getting a lot of extra reps in the playoffs the last couple years and they come in knowing their jobs and their roles.”
Follow Mick Hatten on Twitter @MickHatten, Instagram @mickhatten and at Facebook.com/sctimesmick. Reach him by phone at 259-3621.