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For football teams, work starts early

The first official football practice of the season isn’t until Aug. 11, but preparation is already well under way for teams around Minnesota.

It’s no different for the players at Farmington and Rosemount high schools. Off-season training has become more and more emphasized in recent years, and these two successful programs have worked to keep pace with the competition by participating in off-season practices, strength and conditioning programs and various team and individual camps this summer.

“There’s been an evolution for a long time now. There’s certainly a lot more that goes into being a high school athlete than there used to be,” Farmington head coach Mark Froehling said. “I grew up in a little town with meager facilities where many kids participated in a variety of activities. Now there are more outside avenues like speed camps, AAU camps and tournaments for colleges. They’re taking more time focusing on specific skills in order to compete.… It certainly takes more work to be a great athlete.”

Froehling and Rosemount’s Jeff Erdmann both took over their respective football teams in 2000. They’ve both experienced their share of successes on the field, with the Tigers winning several Missota Conference titles and the Irish qualifying for five state tournaments in the last eight years. All along, off-season strength and conditioning programs have been laying the foundation for the growing programs.

Weight lifting, agility drills and speed training are all a part of Training Camp in Farmington and Bigger, Faster, Stronger, also known as “Irish Gym,” in Rosemount. The optional workouts are open to athletes in all sports.

“Being able to move better, be healthy and be stronger, that’s something we’re all supposed to be doing. That’s the goal of the off-season program,” Froehling said. “There’s certainly been improvement in the overall strength and speed of the team as more athletes have participated…. For us to compete against our neighbors, our athletes have to commit to that kind of work, like the athletes they’re competing against.”

The neighbors just up Highway 3 have seen the results. Erdmann said dedication to summer strength and conditioning has been a big reason for the success of the Rosemount track and football programs in recent years.

“A lot of our guys have been buying in and investing in themselves physically in high school and even junior high. The result is we’ve got better athletes not just in football but across the board for guys that lift. There’s an absolute correlation,” Erdmann said. “For the younger kids, they see the older kids do it and they can equate what they’re doing with having success. They see it and they want to duplicate it — it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Three years ago, Rosemount also began hosting 7-on-7 scrimmages as part of its summer schedule. The non-padded drills provide extra work for the team’s skill position players — quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs and linebackers.

“We started inviting teams over just to go against some different looks,” Erdmann said. “We realized a couple years ago we need to be able to throw the ball against better teams that we might not be able to run against as well. We needed more balance.”

The defending Prep Bowl runners-up participated in the 16-team Gopher 7-on-7 tournament last month at the University of Minnesota and dominated, going 5-0 and defeating DeLaSalle in the championship game.

“The kids had fun with it. Coach Kill came out and gave them a game ball and took a picture with the team, so it was a fun deal,” Erdmann said.

Seven-on-sevens have also become a part of Farmington’s summer regimen. The Tigers have been participating in a league in Eagan the last five years.

“Passing has become a bigger part of the game. Seven-on-seven gives you the chance to practice schemes against other athletes and makes it a little more exciting,” Froehling said.

The Tigers do the bulk of their on-field summer work at a team camp at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. This year, 62 athletes in grades 10 through 12 and 10 coaches participated in the three-day camp.

“That’s about as many as we’ve had go. The main thing is we were a better team when we were done than when we got there,” Froehling said. “We saw improvement over multiple scrimmages and practices.… Our youth showed — we don’t have very many returning starters from last year — so it’s a process.”

The Irish didn’t attend a team camp this year. Instead, they got in their team bonding on a weekend retreat last month at Camp St. Croix in Hudson, Wis.

“We do a lot of team building and talk about responsibility and learning how to commit to something bigger than ourselves,” Erdmann said.

The commitment to work toward improvement is something Froehling stresses to his team, as well.

“There’s no way around having to do the work that it takes to improve,” he said. “It’s not like winning the lottery — you don’t buy a ticket to be good. You have to earn the right to be good, and it takes time and effort.”