Football: Willmar Cardinals adapting as season begins

·3 min read

Aug. 17—WILLMAR — The Willmar Cardinals football team opened fall practice in one of several locations that'll be used throughout the 2021 season.

While construction is underway for two synthetic turf fields to be built in the Cardinals' practice fields — between Willmar Senior High School and the Willmar Civic Center — the football team suited up Monday at the soccer fields behind Roosevelt Elementary School.

Along with the Roosevelt soccer fields, Willmar head football coach Jon Konold said the team will also have practices at Willmar Middle School before the turf fields are slated to be ready between mid-September and early October.

"It'll be a challenge," Konold said. "During fall camp, it's not so bad when you don't have school. We have a plan where we start every day at the high school with our lifting and install meetings. Then for the kids that can't drive, they'll take a bus to Roosevelt. Right now, it's not such a big deal. But when school starts, it's going to be interesting with all the schedules for the three teams, having to lift weights and watch film."

But after the 2020 season — which went from a potential spring season to an abbreviated fall season with no state tournament to an abrupt ending on Nov. 20 due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases — the Cardinals are adaptable.

"We're good at that since last year," Konold said. "It seemed like we had to adapt every day."

For two hours Monday morning, the Cardinal players got to pass, block, run and scheme with no COVID restrictions.

"Last year we had COVID rules and had to wear masks," said senior quarterback/defensive back Alex Schramm. "Now we're more free and had a couple camps this summer that we couldn't have last summer to build our team up. ... You get to go out and play and have fun with your buddies."

Konold said 100 players were out for football in grades 9-12. And the early returns were promising.

"We have a lot of experienced seniors that have played a lot of football before," Konold said. "They did a good job of getting our guys organized and having a really good tempo and enthusiasm. The two-hour practice went by like that. It's good when you have good leaders like that; they make sure practices stay upbeat and they work hard."

Schramm added, "Getting to know the younger guys and working together for the first time has been nice."

The 2021 season is scheduled to run like any normal season: an eight-game regular season, section playoffs, a state tournament. Having an end goal has helped in motivating players where that was tougher than last year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the Cardinals are keeping some perspective.

"Last year was so uncertain and with the seniors, you could tell that there was always this thought in the back of their minds that this is going to be a shortened season ... and we're not going to have that end goal," Konold said. "These guys now, their mindset is to focus only on fall camp. Hopefully, everything is normal for us. They're not focusing on the end, they're focusing on the beginning and getting started, enjoying camp and going from there."

Looking to improve on their 6-2 record last season, Willmar opens 2021 on Friday, Sept. 3 at St. Cloud Apollo Eagles.

"We have good experience coming back in key positions," Konold said. "We have places where we need younger kids to step up in those roles.

"We feel that we have the potential to be a good football team and there are things that have to go with that. Kids have to stay healthy, kids have to take care of their academics, work hard in the weight room and practice and do the little things."

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