Brainerd Warriors football coach Ron Stolski talked with players on the first day of practice Monday August 13, 2007 at Adamson Field. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
1 keeping talent at home
Jerry Kill has talked at length about putting a fence around Minnesota and keeping its best players at home. He accomplished that partly when Owatonna defensive lineman Andrew Stelter, a three-star national recruit, gave a verbal commitment to the Gophers in July. The 6-4, 255-pound Stelter has the speed and strength combination that coaches crave. It’s no coincidence that the Huskies made only their second Prep Bowl appearance last year with Stelter’s dominating presence on both sides of the ball.
2 shot at a four-peat
Quiz: What team has been the most successful high school football program over the last half-dozen years? Eden Prairie? Nope. Totino-Grace? Getting warmer, but still no. Try Caledonia, down in Minnesota’s southeastern corner. The Warriors have won the past three Class 2A state titles, compiling a 40-1 record over that span. Since 2007, Caledonia is 77-4 with five state championships. Should it win the Class 2A crown again this season, it would become only the third team in state history to win four consecutive years. Stephen-Argyle won five consecutive Nine-Man championships from 2003 through 2007. Mahnomen won four consecutive Class C titles (1990 to ’93).
4 Fertile football fields
Draw a line from Wisconsin across the southern metro, then roughly follow Hwy. 169 south to the Iowa border. The land south and east of that is not only some of the most fertile soil in the state, it’s also a hotbed for football. Teams from southeastern Minnesota have become a fixture in the Prep Bowl. In 2012, all seven championship games included at least one team from that area of the state. Blue Earth’s victory over Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A final was an all-southern-Minnesota affair. Grand Meadow won the Nine-Man championship and aforementioned Caledonia the 2A crown. Going back four years, 19 of the 50 Prep Bowl combatants — nearly 40 percent — have come from southeastern Minnesota.
4 Ageless coach
The last time a school year began with no Ron Stolski (below) coaching a team, John Kennedy was in his second year as U.S. president. Stolski, 74, is beginning his 52nd season as a head coach, the last 40 of them at Brainerd. Stolski, a Minneapolis Henry graduate who began his coaching career in 1962 at Kensington High School, has won 343 games, more than any coach in state history.
5 Move over, Paul Bunyan
In the past four years, Bemidji has established itself as a prep football powerhouse. The Lumberjacks have advanced to the state tournament for four consecutive seasons, getting as far as the Class 4A championship game in 2011 and the Class 5A semifinals in 2012. Bemidji has a fine chance to extend its streak this year. Coach Troy Hendricks has stressed speed and athleticism, which the Lumberjacks have to excess. And they have an experienced leader in junior QB James Hendricks, who displayed poise and a strong arm despite a 23-0 loss to eventual champion Totino-Grace a year ago in the Class 5A semifinals.