Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find all the previous FAM columns right here. — Chip
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The Wayzata Trojans had an extra-point attempt blocked in their game last week, which frustrated coach Lambert Brown. Seconds later, he discovered what happened on the play and how to correct it in the modern football way.
Lambert turned his focus away from the field and asked an assistant coach to cue up the play on an iPad. In a flash, he was reviewing the sequence with his players on a large sideline TV screen.
"I went over it with them because I was mad," Brown said, laughing.
Whiteboards that coaches long used as teaching tools on high school football sidelines are being replaced by higher technology. If you've attended a game this season, you might have noticed how both teams jog off the field and go directly to monitors on their respective sidelines to watch video of that possession, play by play.
Brown and Lakeville South coach Ben Burk said they began using software that provides instant access to video about four or five years ago. Both coaches say it has become far more prevalent in the past few seasons. Now they are surprised when opposing teams don't have it.
Burk, coach of the defending Class 6A state champions, said the technology "has been a huge winning edge for us" because coaches and players are able to make corrections using video in real time.
Wayzata's Brown agrees.
"Using the actual video is phenomenal," he said. "It helps the learning process so much. You can see the difference as the game goes on."
Here's how it works: Software companies that specialize in this field offer services that provide instant replay during games. Most teams have access to video angles from both the end zone and press box. Costs range depending on upgrades, but coaches say schools can find packages for $1,200 to $2,000 annually.
Teams connect iPads that receive the signal to TV monitors on the sideline so that players can gather in position groups to watch clips.
Lakeville South keeps one monitor on the sideline, along with a projection screen in the locker room to watch video during halftime. Burk still likes to use old-school whiteboards as well in the locker room.
Wayzata has a detailed system for watching video during games, using two large monitors on the sideline.
When the offense comes to the sideline after each series, linemen and tight ends sit together and watch the end zone angle on their monitor. Running backs sit in the middle of the bench. The quarterback and receivers sit together and watch the sideline wide-angle view on their monitor.
Position coaches bring up the video and either dissect certain plays or the entire possession, depending on how long they have until the next series.
Wayzata's defense uses a similar seating arrangement.
Asked to describe video's impact on performance, Brown said, "I can tell you how upset I am when it doesn't work."
Oh, that has happened.
The Trojans arrived at a neutral-site playoff game last season and discovered that they didn't have power on their sideline. The home sideline did.
"We're finding power somewhere," Brown told his assistants.
Thankfully, he brought extra-long extension cords in case of problems. They snaked the cords down the sideline, past the end zone and to the concession stand.
"It's such a vital tool that if you don't have it, you feel the difference and our kids feel the difference," Brown said.
Not everyone is a convert. Andy Rostberg coaches one of the most successful programs in the state at Hutchinson. He said his staff prefers to talk to players on the sidelines when making adjustments without video.
"Our joke is that kids spend too much time watching TV anyway, so we're not going to do it on Friday night," said Rostberg, who has won three Class 4A state titles with one runner-up finish.
His team has video capability during games and coaches will occasionally check an iPad to determine what happened on a certain play. But otherwise, Rostberg doesn't see the need to deviate from a system that has been successful for generations.
"I know there are benefits [to new technology]. I get it," he said. "Our kids like what we do. They like how we practice and play and our philosophy. It's almost bred into them here."
Traditionally, many teams watch video of their games on Saturday mornings. The sideline replay technology allows them to have a film session during the game.
"You can confirm everything that we think we're seeing," Brown said.
Burk's concern is that it creates a competitive disadvantage for schools that don't or can't use it. But more schools are making the investment.
"It's so nice to be able to show kids rather than talking through it or drawing it up on a whiteboard," Brown said. "They can actually see. There is no escaping that this is what you did or what happened."
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MORE THAN A GAME
One of Minnesota's biggest wins
Dave Nelson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. When KARE 11 anchor Randy Shaver heard the news, he invited the Minnetonka High football coach to his annual gala that raises money for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund.
Nelson went home that night determined to do something to help the cause. His team earned $5,000 through a work project that summer, which Nelson and his players decided to give to Shaver's fund.
That spurred another idea: Nelson asked the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA) to join him in raising money to support Shaver's initiative. Shaver's wife, Roseann, came up with a name for the fundraising partnership: Tackle Cancer.
Shaver, a cancer survivor, was stunned by the gesture and told Nelson that he would be ecstatic and grateful if the MFCA raised $5,000 that first year, 2012.
Shaver and Nelson laugh about that estimate today.
The Tackle Cancer effort raised $120,000 in Year 1. The initiative began its 11th season with $2.4 million raised lifetime. Nelson believes there is a chance to reach $3 million by the end of this season.
Well done, Minnesota.
Special recognition goes to Nelson, who earned a legion of admirers throughout the coaching ranks during his Hall of Fame career that included 267 wins, two state championships and six Prep Bowl appearances in 36 seasons split between Blaine and Minnetonka.
"When they do something like this, it makes me very emotional because I appreciate these guys," said Shaver, who is in his 39th year of hosting the Prep Sports Extra highlight show.
Nelson, who retired in 2019, has worked tirelessly to grow Tackle Cancer. He said about 200 high schools and colleges host Tackle Cancer games every season. That list includes the Vikings and Gophers.
Nelson's goal is to raise at least $400,000 each season.
"I know that we have a lot of great high school coaches in Minnesota and that they would rally behind this," he said. "But to see these numbers is pretty hard to imagine."
Randolph High recently raised $48,000 at its Tackle Cancer event, an impressive feat considering the town has a population of roughly 500.
The football team sold 1,400 T-shirts and invited Nelson to serve as honorary coach. The school held a silent auction, bake sale and raffles among other fundraising initiatives, including one called "flocking."
A few parents placed pink flamingo ornaments in a friend's yard along with a Tackle Football sign. The homeowner had the flamingos removed by donating to Tackle Cancer and then they picked the next house where the birds flocked to.
"There are a ton of imaginative ideas," Nelson said.
Tackle Cancer's overwhelming success sprouted from one idea: A coach's desire to help a friend by raising money for cancer research and treatment.
Dave Nelson is still earning victories in retirement.
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- Broc Barwald: How about this stat line for the Kasson-Mantorville senior: 302 yards rushing and four touchdowns on only 12 carries in a 28-21 win over Owatonna.
- Gage Florence: MSU Moorhead freshman set NSIC record with 21 catches — two shy of the NCAA single-game record — for 215 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Mary.
- Metoriah Faoliu: St. John's defensive lineman returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession and added six tackles (2.5 for loss) with a sack in a win over Gustavus.
- Tyler Walden: Eden Prairie senior rushed for 122 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries as the Eagles handed Stillwater its first loss.
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He said what?!
"It's not very good. We're just not getting home with four. We've got to be better in that department. We know that. Whether that's personnel, whether that's bringing more people, whether that's our techniques and fundamentals, it all has to improve." — Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on the overall state of his defense's pass rush.
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Numbers to know
- 6: Wins in a row for St. Thomas to remain in first place in the Pioneer League.
- 9: Sacks collected by the Gophers defense in seven games, which ranks last in the Big Ten and 118th nationally.
- 9: Touchdown catches for St. John's senior Alex Larson, tops among all tight ends nationally in Division III.
- 200: Career coaching wins for Lester Prairie's Joe Scoblic.
- 18.8: Points per game for the Gophers offense in Big Ten games only, ranking 10th in the league.
- 19.7: Points per game allowed by the Vikings defense this season, compared to 25.1 points per game last season.
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We spent a lot of time praising the Gophers defense in this column through the first month of the season. But Joe Rossi's unit, which ranked among the nation's best last season, has produced back-to-back clunkers in two starkly different ways. The Gophers were unable to get off the field in allowing Illinois to run 86 offensive plays a week ago. On Saturday, Penn State took advantage of breakdowns in communication in the Gophers pass defense as quarterback Sean Clifford completed nine passes that netted at least 17 yards, including three completions of 30-plus yards. That unit needs to pull itself together after looking uncharacteristically out of sorts the past two weeks.
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Grab your popcorn
The journey to the Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in early December (one week later this year) began this week with the start of high school playoffs. Good luck to all involved.
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An important 48 hours for …
Vikings coaches and players. The bye week is over. It's back to work. The Packers lost Sunday, meaning the Vikings own a 21⁄2 game lead in the division. Kevin O'Connell's staff spent the week trying to find solutions to help the team be more consistent. The Vikings have been resourceful in winning close games to put themselves in a good spot as they resume games.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
Funny how our view of teams can change so suddenly. Only a few weeks ago, the Gophers looked like the team to beat in the Big Ten West. And the Vikings had so many unknowns coming into Kevin O'Connell's first season that expectations were tempered by the need to see evidence. The outlook for both teams has changed substantially.
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Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated the timing of this year's Prep Bowl.
Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Tuesday morning in time for your lunch-hour reading. I appreciate feedback so please reach out anytime.
Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)