Expectations are high for Tiger football
Expectations are the highest they've been in the last four years for the Farmington football team.
The Tigers' run of dominance in the Missota Conference came to an end in the fall of 2008 when they went undefeated at 8-0 in the league. Since then the program has won just seven games while losing 20, but seven returning starters in each side of the ball have the team setting bigger goals for itself in 2012.
"Certainly there's greater potential to be more competitive, even early on in the season with more kids that have been out there under the lights on Friday nights," 13th-year head coach Mark Froehling said. "They know the routine and we're able to implement offenses and defenses a little faster. That should give us a better opportunity than we've had the last few years."
The early-season schedule also appears to favor the Tigers. They don't play their two toughest opponents from a year ago -- Shakopee and Holy Angels -- until the final two weeks of the regular season. The Sabers and the Stars combined to win 16 games last year and defeat Farmington by a combined score of 77-17.
Those two games will loom on the schedule all season long, but in the meantime the Tigers will face six straight opponents they played competitively against last fall. The season opens with a home game next Friday against a Rochester Mayo team that overcame a three-touchdown deficit to win last year's non-conference opener, 35-28.
The Tigers will try to retain the rights to the Tractor Trophy on the road at rival Northfield in Week 2 before returning home to take on a Red Wing team they lost to by a touchdown last season.
Week 4 has the Tigers on the road against a New Prague team they lost to in a tightly-contested 30-17 game a year ago. In Week 5, the team returns home to take on a one-win Chaska team it defeated 14-3 and in Week 6 the Tigers hit the road to take on a Chanhassen team they edged by a field goal.
The addition of a sixth class to Minnesota high school football has also created what appears to be an easier road through Class 5A for Farmington. The realignment has moved Owatonna, the Lakeville schools and the Rochester schools elsewhere, leaving the Tigers in Section 3 along with Apple Valley, Bloomington Jefferson, Bloomington Kennedy, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis Southwest, five teams that went a combined 14-32 last season. Coach Froehling said a lot can change from year to year in high school football, but admitted it will be nice to face a more evenly matched field of teams in the playoffs.
"In high school one season doesn't dictate the next. You don't know the difficulty of your opponent until you get into the middle of the season, but certainly having the Lakeville schools and the Rochester schools in our section was a tall task," he said. "I think a goal of the sectioning was to create a little better, more even competition and I think that's going to be a benefit."
All-conference quarterback Darren Beenken enters his third season under center for the Tigers. He passed for 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 272 yards and a pair of scores last season and has done enough off-season work to be in position to improve upon those numbers, according to Froehling.
"I think we're going to see improvement out of him with all the work he's done, his experience and his maturity," Froehling said. "He's getting to be bigger and stronger and has some great skills. He'll be a great leader throughout the season."
Beenken will have a big group of targets to look for in the Tigers' spread offense. Johnny Dittman is back after catching 17 balls for 223 yards a year ago, as are 6-foot-3 wideout Mac Bassett, who snagged 13 for 142 and 6-4 tight end CJ Wynings. Backup quarterback Tyler VanWinkle and Jordan DeCrook will also see time at the receiver positions.
Experience is also an asset in the backfield where senior Athen Ashton returns to the mix. Ashton rushed 170 times for 765 yards and seven touchdowns while being named all-conference last season. Others who could get some carries include Noah Kary, Jack Erickson and Derek Klotter.
Opening up holes for those running backs will be returning starters Josh Boatwright, Ryan Gowen and David Silber, as well as newcomers Josh Patterson, Nate Retterath and Alex Witkowski.
The Tigers also return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball. There's not much size among the group, but Froehling hopes to disguise that weakness with a 3-4 defense that causes some confusion for opposing offenses.
"We don't want them to know where the different blitzes and different rushes are coming from, where the pressure is and what the coverages are," he said. "Hopefully our speed and movement will overcome our lack of size. It's a fun defense to play and our communication on the field has been good."
A trio of speedy defensive backs -- Erickson, Alex Chadwick and Kevin Clifton -- provides experience in the secondary. Mason Auge, the team's leading returning tackler with 48, and Godfrey Mpetey return at linebacker and Denver Robinson and Tom Sell are back on the defensive line.
Linebackers Reid Taubenheim and Nick Raurk, lineman John LeBlond and defensive back Mason Gaylord are also expected to see lots of time.
Taubenheim is back as the team's kickoff and field goal specialist after making 14 extra points and three field goals last year. He's also battling with Beenken and Gaylord for punting duties.
DeCrook, Dittman, Erickson and Ashton are all in the running for kick and punt returns.
Varsity assistant coaches Gary Burr, Pat Hudak, Glenn Mogensen, Shane Wyandt and Jon Lund are all back with the program this season. Lew Miskowicz, Jon Malin and Mike Winters will coach the B-squad, and Brian Helmstetter, Brent Grengs, Chad Olson and Tharen Johnson will coach the ninth-grade team.