Jul. 23—The Caledonia football program under head coach Carl Fruechte went into last season as the glossiest one around, having won a nation-leading 71 straight games as well as five straight state championships.
But last year was like nothing Fruechte had ever experienced before, with his team losing more than it won. Now, one year removed from that, Fruechte is as committed to building a winner and doing it his way as ever.
POST-BULLETIN: What was the mood of the team after last season ended?
FRUECHTE: There was disappointment and I think everyone was stunned a little bit. But these are good kids. I think they just got off to a rough start and that we lost some confidence.
PB: You've mentioned before that all that is going on in our political and social worlds has been problematic in Caledonia and beyond. Elaborate on that.
FRUECHTE: I think as a society we are going through things that we never have before. I get a lot of phone calls from coaches talking a lot about it. I think that cell phones and social media have done more damage than many people think. In Caledonia, we are no exception. We have boys, more than ever, who are just sitting at home (with their phones and electronic devices). That has had a huge impact on kids. Divorce has also had a huge impact on our kids. Now, we have a lot of boys just sitting on the couch and no one knows what they are doing with their cell phones. Teenage boys are easily influenced and so are some adults. I am fearful for our country and our state. I don't like using the word "fearful," but I am scared about where we are going. Right now, I see a very thinned-skinned young man out there.
PB: How can a young man's involvement in high school football be a salve for some of society's ills?
FRUECHTE: I think the routine of it helps. I think humans need routine. We talk about when it is time to go to bed, that sleep is good for your body. We talk about eating a protein-based breakfast, that protein stimulates the brain. We want to go through our routine as a football program and do it with a smile on our faces. We want to be all one group, working toward a goal, win, lose or draw. Let's turn off that stupid social media. We want it to be us against the world. I think it is important to bleed and sweat together and to go through adversity together. Then we want to tell them, "Here is how this relates to life."
PB: As you look back on your first losing football season in 25 years of coaching Caledonia football, can you pinpoint a few things that went wrong?
FRUECHTE: I felt like I let the boys down. I just felt like I could have done a better job. We believed in our hearts that we could make a run at the end of the season; we were talking about that halfway through the year. But maybe I didn't push hard enough. Everything goes through your head. To be quite frank, I think I was too soft. A couple of days after the season, some of our juniors came up to me and asked me to go back to my demanding ways. They told me that it didn't feel right when I wasn't yelling at them at a game. I think our kids want to be pushed and encouraged. I'm not a raving lunatic. Half the time, if people listen to me, I'm hollering and screaming about all of the things I see that they are doing right, because I'm excited about it. And sometimes I'm hollering because I don't see a great effort.
PB: Are there ways you will change this upcoming season?
FRUECHTE: Besides my intensity, I'm going to be who I am. I think that last year I got overly concerned about our players' mental health. I think all of our coaches are worried about mental health and I want to make it clear that I think that is important. But maybe I got carried away with it. Maybe I got paranoid about it with all of the things going on in our country. I think we need to stick with things that we've always done as a Caledonia football program. The worst thing that I and the rest of our coaches can do is panic because we had a season that didn't go our way. We have to stick with what we believe in because I believe the way we do things has a solid foundation in winning football games.
PB: What else do you want to accomplish besides winning?
FRUECHTE: I feel like we are making a difference in boys' lives, I am very proud of our staff. I believe we are making a difference on and off the field. Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to in a young man's life. But I think we're getting through to a lot of them. I feel like the good Lord has put me here to coach football and help with other sports.
PB: As you reflect on the winning streak that you guys put together — a nation-leading 71 games — what comes to mind?
FRUECHTE: The first thing that goes through my head is all of the hard work it took to get there. We've had great kids who have put a lot of long hours in the weight room and in speed workouts. All of the kids we have had have been great, whether they've been first string, second string or third string. They've given a lot to this program.
PB: What sense do you get about what high school football continues to mean to the Caledonia community?
FRUECHTE: We just had our annual golf outing — our booster club does a great job with that. We had more sponsors than we ever have. I was scared going into that (coming off a 4-5 season). But I hope people see that we are a coaching staff that cares, win, lose or draw. I hope they recognize that we care about all of our kids. I always think back to what my dad told me. His words echo in my ears. He said that you need to coach every kid like he is your own son. And when we lose, we have to handle it. We can't throw kids under the bus. We have to let them know that we (the coaches) lost, not you guys. We need to do a better job of implementing what we want.
PB: The first fall practices are just a few weeks away. What are you expecting from this Caledonia team?
FRUECHTE: Like always, I'm optimistic. You see the kids in the weight room, you see them doing our speed stuff and doing a lot of things. At the end of the day, you hope you have enough athletes who can make enough plays to let you achieve your goals.
PB: Section One rival Chatfield finished as Class AA state champion last year. What are your thoughts on what it achieved?
FRUECHTE: They did a great job. Jeff (Johnson) and his staff do a great job. People ask me if I am surprised that Chatfield won the state title. I tell them that it just proves that Section 1AA football is the best. Chatfield represented us really well.