FHS aims at return to prominence

FAIRMONT – Fairmont activities director and Cardinal head football coach Mat Mahoney’s mind is jam-packed with fall sports schedules, AD and coaches meetings, and the Xs and Os contained within his playbook at this time of the year.

Add a dozen or so other duties and projects, and the first day of school only 10 days away, and it’s enough to give anyone a headache. Amid the cranial chaos, Mahoney has made mental space for one important proverbial phrase, “Patience is a virtue.”

After watching a number of his key personnel exit the gridiron due to injuries en route to his team compiling a 5-5 record last fall, the Cardinals’ mentor enters his seventh football season with a modified outlook.

“I just have to be more patient this season. I think this team has a lot of talent. We have great senior leadership, with guys like Nick Roggow and Jay Ruen leading by example, and the potential’s there with our younger guys,” said Mahoney, whose lineup kicks off the season by playing host to Worthington in a 7 p.m. nonconference clash on Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. “Our players are giving us a great effort, working hard in practice every day, but I don’t know how to define this team quite yet.

“It’s an exciting year for us as a coaching staff, too. We have all of the pieces to the puzzle – now we just need to put them together.”

Roggow and Ruen, two of Fairmont’s five co-captains this fall, will represent the cornerstones on which Mahoney, offensive coordinator Andy Traetow and defensive coordinator Brad Johnson will restructure their respective game plans around in 2013.

Both Roggow and Ruen played integral roles as skilled sophomores in helping engineer the football program’s first-ever 12-win season and first-ever appearance in the Class AAA state championship game in 2011.

Both senior co-captains have earned all-South Central Conference and Sentinel All-Area accolades during their esteemed prep careers, and will look to restore the Cardinals to prominence in both the conference and Section 3AAA playoffs after an “off” year.

But that task won’t be easy as long-time rival and defending undefeated Class AAA state champion Blue Earth Area will present the biggest challenge to Fairmont’s return to the top of the SCC and sectional standings.

“We really want to win conference – that’s a priority this year,” said Mahoney, whose program’s four-year grasp on the SCC championship ended at the hands of Randy Kuechenmeister’s Bucs last fall. “Obviously, we’d like to win the section, too, but we’ll have to go through a very tough and talented Blue Earth Area team if we’re to accomplish both of those goals.”

Ruen, who battled back from a broken ankle during his junior football campaign, and Roggow each will return to two-way starting duty this fall.

The 6-foot-1, 189-pound Ruen will put his sure hands to good use at tight end on offense, while making the transition from safety to strong-side linebacker on defense.

Meanwhile, the 6-3, 205-pound Roggow will utilize his strength and lateral quickness in the trenches, unleashing blocks from his offensive guard spot and dragging down ball carriers from his defensive end position.

Senior linemen Tadd Abel and Zach Brown, along with senior receiver/cornerback Josh Eversman, will join Ruen and Roggow as the red-and-white’s field generals in 2013.

The 6-foot-5, 242-pound Abel will provide pass protection and running room from an offensive tackle position, while filtering into the defensive frontline mix. Meanwhile, Zach Brown will return to his starting spot at offensive guard, while also working into the defensive line’s rotation.

Oddly enough, Eversman also will be a reverse image of one of his fellow co-captains – Jay Ruen – in that Eversman will switch positions on offense, while returning to his familiar role on defense. Eversman will make the transition from the backfield to a split end spot, while continuing to patrol the airwaves from the defensive secondary.

Junior Spencer Chirpich, who completed an incredible 9 of 10 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 3 varsity quarterback last fall, will put the Cardinals’ offense in motion on a full-time basis this season.

“He’s a gunslinger – he has a great arm on him,” Mahoney said in reference to the 6-1, 157-pound Chirpich. “Now, our big guys up front have to give him some time to set up the plays.”

Luis Figueroa, a 5-10, 205-pound sophomore, will join Tadd Abel, Roggow and Zach Brown in providing pass protection for Chirpich, while handling the snapping duties. Junior Bailey Koppen, who started at defensive tackle a year ago, will use his 6-4, 278-pound frame at right offensive tackle to round out the Cardinals’ projected starters.

Kory Brown, a hard-working 5-11, 205-pound senior, and 5-10, 283-pound junior Michael Hawkins will rotate into the offensive line mix, while 6-3, 183-pound senior Luke Peterson will back up Ruen at tight end.

Senior Luke Becker, a 6-1, 175-pound speedster, returns to his starting wideout position and will be one of the opposing secondary’s focal points after establishing the program’s single-game receiving yardage record – 233 – against Blue Earth Area during the Little Brown Jug game.

The all-SCC split end, who grabbed the second-most passes – 36 – en route to 534 receiving yards and five TDs last fall, also will return to double duty by making the transition from cornerback to safety on defense.

Junior Cole Emler will rotate plays into the huddle from a receiver spot, while Chirpich will be handing off to what Mahoney refers to as “a backfield by committee until one stands out as the starter.”

Colton Cunning, a 5-8, 200-pound junior, appears to have the early inside track at fullback, with 5-11, 171-pound sophomore Brady Jensen serving as the backup.

Senior Joe Weber, junior Ben Abel, senior Derek Edman and sophomore Peter Erickson will be the leading candidates at the tailback position.

Weber also will return to the linebacking core for a second straight season, only moving to an inside spot next to senior Tim Tow in the Cardinals’ 4-4 base defense.

Ruen and Ben Abel will handle the outside linebacking duties, with junior Nic Vanasse and sophomore Nathan Gillis rotating into the overall mix.

Roggow, Koppen, Kory Brown and Peterson will get the starting nods in the defensive front wall, with Zach Brown, senior John Soucek, Hawkins and Tadd Abel figuring into the rotation.

Junior Matt Lytle and Eversman will handle the cornerback positions, with Becker making the reads from his safety spot. Junior Parker Monsen and junior Nate Johnson also will see playing time in the secondary.

Chirpich and Becker will battle it out in handling the Cardinals’ punting duties, while senior Kolin Kelly will take aim at converting PAT kicks.

“We’ve got great numbers (95) out this season – ninth grade through 12th, so our depth will be one of our strengths,” said Mahoney. “So far, every one of these guys has given everything they have during two-a-days.

“That’s great to see this early on, but we’ll have to prove ourselves every day of each week in order to get some respect back. Nobody’s going to give you a win – you have to go out and earn it every Friday night.”

Todd Sukalski, Clay Emler, Gary Andersen, Chris Voss and Jared Thompson will rejoin Mahoney, Traetow and Brad Johnson in rounding out the Cardinals’ coaching staff this fall.