FAIRMONT — Mat Mahoney’s 15th season at the helm of the Fairmont football program featured a number of impressive moments — his 100th career coaching win on Sept. 17, 2021; South Central White District championship; and a fifth grade AAA state appearance.
But Mahoney and his Cardinal players felt a little empty after a 21-6 state quarterfinal loss to Dassel-Cokato last Nov. 13 at Prior Lake.
“I think we all feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of this season, and guys have been in the weight room ever since, getting ready to get back on the court this fall. Now it’s here, and it’s time to continue the dream. said Mahoney, who enters his 16th season with a 106-48 overall record for a stellar .688 winning percentage.
Ironically, Fairmont earned runner-up honors during Mahoney’s first state appearance in 2011 at the now-defunct Metrodome in Minneapolis before finishing second for the second time in the 2018 Prep Bowl at US Bank Stadium. The Cardinals also earned state berths in 2013, 2017 and last fall.
“We graduated some record-setting players in Zach Jorgensen and Eli Anderson from last year’s team, and you just can’t replace guys like that, but we’re not starting over, either.” Mahoney said. “We have two strong receivers (David Maakestad and Levi Pooley), two running backs in Johnson and Johnson (James and Elijah) and two good quarterbacks (Brendan Schmidtke and Blaze Geiger) returning to our offensive backfield.
“Our (offensive) line is bigger and stronger, with a lot of experience returning. All five (Sawyer Tordsen, Gavin Junkermeier, David Barrientos, Jacob Singleton and Gunner Wells) at one time or another played significant time for us last season, and they’re all very versatile.”
Fairmont generated an impressive 3,711 total yards of offense in 2021, with 2,428 coming through the air and the remaining 1,283 on the ground.
“We got a little more pass-heavy than in the past, so we’re working on balancing those numbers a little better this season to make it harder for opposing teams to defend. Mahoney said.
Schmidtke, a 6-foot, 155-pound senior, connected on 26 of 36 passes for 406 yards and eight touchdowns, while the 6-1, 170-pound Geiger completed 5 of 6 throws for 62 yards and a score during it. the second campaign.
“At the end of the day, both (Schmidtke and Geiger) have done good jobs under center for us.” Mahoney said. “We won’t know any splits until the lights go up on Friday night.”
Mahoney and offensive coordinator Brian Wille made a fundamental change in the Cardinals’ offensive backfield starting in 2021, and opponents will take notice.
“We decided to move Hank (Artz) to linebacker so he can block and help our line create more run chances for us.” Mahoney said of his 6-1, 230-pound third-year starter, who earned postseason honors as an offensive and defensive lineman last fall. “He’s an athlete that gives us a different skill set.”
James Johnson returns to a running back spot after finishing second on the Cardinals with 415 yards and a TD on 90 carries, and will rotate with younger brother Elijah Johnson and speedy senior Landen Meyerdirk this fall.
Mahoney, however, still plans to use the passing skills of his two quarterbacks, with Maakestad and Pooley back after putting up solid stats a year ago. Maakestad finished second with 25 catches for 414 yards and three TDs, while Pooley made a dozen throws for 242 yards and four scores.
“Put Nolan Schultze, Brock Lutterman, Cooper Steuber and Jace Teveldal in the split end combination and we have six reliable receivers we can go to at any time.” Mahoney said.
The 6-7, 283-pound Tordsen, who is being recruited by a growing number of colleges including Minnesota State University-Mankato, will be back at left tackle and will be backed up by the returning Barrientos at guard. Junkermeier will fill his role at right guard, with Singleton at punt and Wells handling the punting duties. Junior Ethan Geerdes rounds out the starting line at tight end, with reserves Reece Buntjer and Cole Wiemers providing blocking depth in the trenches.
Flip the field and defensive coordinator Brad Johnson returns speed and strength to the front seven positions of his 5-2 base stretch, but will have to rebuild around Maakestad in the secondary this fall.
Artz, a quick-draw rusher, and Gage Cyphers will handle the tight ends, while Tordsen and Junkermeier return to the tackle positions in 6-5, 295-pound wing Jamie Mueller.
Parker Mathiason, Tyson Thate and Josiah Brockenhoff will also get reps in the frontline rotation, giving Johnson more depth capable of putting pressure on opposing offenses.
“We’ll have some flexibility in our defensive line this season, and that should allow us to jump into different groups without having to compromise.” Mahoney said.
Aden Welcome is back in the middle of the line, and will be joined by Elijah Johnson and sophomore Caleb Chambers, while Maakestad returns to anchor the secondary.
Mahoney expects to use the speed of James Johnson and Landen Meyerdirk at the safety positions, with Cooper Steuber and Brock Lutterman seeing time at the other cornerback position. Pooley, Connor Gronewald and Mathew Cone will add depth to the backfield.
Maakestad will once again handle kickoff and kicking duties, while Owen Burmeister returns as the Cardinals’ punt and extra point specialist. Burmeister made 38 of 45 PATs last season, while Maakestad connected on nine of Fairmont’s 22 punts for a 34.0-yard average.
Fairmont will get used to hitting the highways for the first half of the eight-game regular season schedule, opening at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall at 7:00 pm Friday night before traveling to Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. September 10, for a 1:00 p.m. start.
The Cardinals play at Jordan in Week 3 before making the trip to Waseca in Week 4. Fairmont faces New Ulm for Homecoming on Friday, Sept. 30, travels to Worthington in Game 6, plays at Luverne in Week 7 and closes regular season game hosting rival Blue Earth Area on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
“It’s a tough schedule to open, but it’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish it. Mahoney said.
Mahoney projects Waseca to be one of the top contenders during the Section 3AAA playoffs this fall because of its strong tradition and outstanding coaching staff.
Dave Shoen, Shawn Chambers, Terry Ehlert, Brent Schultze, Eli Redenius and Jesse Walters will round out Mahoney’s coaching staff along the sidelines and in the booth this season.