Jul. 19—WILLMAR — Through the dog days of summer, the Willmar football team is beginning to gear up for the 2022 season.
The Cardinals are wrapping up the third and final week of summer camps as a tune-up before fall practice begins on Aug. 15. They had nine practices over the three-week span.
"We've had 86 kids signed up and about 75-to-80 have been here each day," said Willmar head coach Jon Konold. He enters his 13th season at the helm for the Cardinals. "We're happy with that number; there's always been about 85-to-95 kids at camp and we're in that range."
The football team is getting to utilize the turf fields between the high school and the Willmar Civic Center for the first time. In the 90-degree heat Monday, players ran through drills in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.
"Right now, it's probably over 100 degrees (on the field) and you can really feel it in your legs," Konold said. "The turf is fantastic and the field conditions are awesome. There's a lot of green space to use."
Senior Jacob Streed added, "You're going to have some hot games in the fall, so you get prepared for the heat. ... (The turf's) nice; it's so nice. There's a lot of room with both fields and we can occupy both of 'em. We can't be grateful enough."
The Cardinals are coming off a 6-3 season in 2021, which included a 35-28 loss to Faribault in the Section 2AAAA semifinals. Willmar graduated 16 seniors from last year's team.
Streed, along with Sam Raitz and Marlon Fernandez Munoz were named captains for the upcoming season.
Filling into that leadership role for Streed means keeping ears open and practicing patience.
"You got to pay attention to everything; every play and everything you got to know in case some of the younger kids come up and ask you questions," he said. "You have to be able to answer that and not get mad at 'em and just talk through it."
An encouraging sign for Konold and the coaches has been the team's self-motivation.
"They police each other and motivate each other," Konold said. "They're really a fun group to be around. As a coach, if you don't have to worry about those types of things and can just worry about doing the right stuff (on the field) and aligning properly, it makes it a lot easier."
Along with the morning practices over the last three weeks, the Cardinals are getting work in with other teams. Last week, Willmar had a joint practice with Buffalo. By the end of this week, they'll also have joint practices with St. Cloud Tech and Marshall.
Against Buffalo, Streed said, "Our line did an amazing job, especially with our run game. Buffalo is good competition. We learned a lot. We got to learn a lot but there's a good foundation there."
Following the Buffalo practice, Konold saw an immediate improvement after breaking up the monotony of inter-squad practices.
"It was a night-and-day difference between Wednesday and Thursday," Konold said. "Wednesday night (against Buffalo), a lot of our guys had some deer-in-the-headlight looks. The game was moving fast; they were moving around a little bit and we were struggling with that. Thursday, it seemed like it slowed down a lot. Physically, we were better on Thursday.
"That was nice to get that full-speed experience out of the way. Now, they're working on their technique and assignments and things."
Willmar opens the 2022 season on Friday, Sept. 2 at Hodapp Field against St. Cloud Apollo.
"We're not officially (getting ready for Apollo)," Streed said. "But there's some guys who got it circled on the calendar."
(Home games in BOLD)
Sept. 2 vs. St. Cloud Apollo
Sept. 9 vs. Hutchinson
Sept. 16 at Big Lake
Sept. 23 at Sartell
Sept. 30 vs. Delano
Oct. 7 vs. Rocori
Oct. 14 at Chisago Lakes
Oct. 19 at Becker