Football: Detroit Lakes looks to lean on familiar faces to get over the hump
The Detroit Lakes football team is coming off of another trip to the Section 8-4A title game last fall. This time around, the Lakers are looking to lean on experience and toughness to get over the hump and get back to state.
DETROIT LAKES – The Detroit Lakes football team has made it to the Section 8-4A title game in three of its last four seasons. However, with no state tournament appearances during that span, the 2022 season is another chance for the Lakers to get over the hump.
Detroit Lakes hasn't made it out of the section playoffs since 2013. For senior Ethan Carrier, it's a reality that's left a sour taste in his mouth.
"We have high expectations for this year," Carrier said. "We have to keep working, but it just feels so good to play football again. The last couple of years, we haven't sealed the deal. We've gotten there, but we haven't pulled it off yet. We have to keep working, and we have to change our best. Our best hasn't been enough the past three years, so we have to come with more."
The Lakers have nearly 100 kids out for football this fall, yet the questions of who will replace some of the stars of a year ago still linger.
"It's a next-man-up mentality," head coach Reed Hefta said. "You lose a lot of good senior leaders every year. Obviously, you never forget those guys, but it's cool to see that path established for the next wave. It's fun to see kids come out here and be hungry. You tell them you don't want them to be afraid of failing, and if they fail, to do it at 100%. It's been really cool to see kids take advantage of that."
One set of shoes to fill belongs to Bradly Sweirs, who helped lead the Lakers to a Section 8-4A title game appearance at the quarterback and defensive back positions.
"We have four guys we've been talking about all summer that are coming in here to try to be the general," Hefta said. "You have a senior in Cade Jackson, who's a great leader. You have Mason Carrier, who's been a sensational athlete for this school. It's been fun to see him push through. Reece Borgmann is another junior who's so intellectually smart and does things the right way. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. We also have a sophomore in Caden Strand, who's done a good job of growing throughout the summer."
Opposing teams got a taste of what Detroit Lakes' run-heavy offense could look like with Mason Carrier under center at times last fall. Despite losing one of his senior leaders in Swiers, Hefta likes the potential of having versatility at quarterback.
"Just because one guy is in there, it doesn't mean you're off the field," Hefta said. "We use a lot of guys because we see so many different formations. Each kid brings so many different things to the table. You put yourself in a box if you try and fit all of them into that one piece. You can do different things with different guys, and you can push that comfortability level in practice."
Detroit Lakes' most significant source of depth is on the offensive line–a unit that didn't lose any seniors to graduation from a year ago. Even with multiple changes in the backfield, the Lakers can lean on an experienced group in the trenches.
"We had a couple of kids graduate on the defensive line, but on the offensive line, it was fun to bring a lot of them back and have them put a summer together," Hefta said. "It was really cool to see how that group bonded together. It's not just five. It's a family of 15, and they're all goofy in their own way."
If the Lakers want to see their season last past the section playoffs, they will need to be better in the passing game defensively.
Last year, many teams found success through the air against Detroit Lakes' inexperienced secondary. Hefta has seen his players take on the challenge of defending the pass all summer.
"It's fun seeing the kids become such nerds when it comes to defensive film," Hefta said. "Getting that extra year under their belt should really help. They have a better idea of what it takes to be successful in those spots and recognize what it'll take. It's one of the hardest spots to play in high school football. They're going up against some of the best athletes that like to go deep."
"The biggest thing to know is you're not going to be perfect on the year. You look at the best pitchers in baseball; everybody loses a batter or a game or two. Your position is about a matchup, and you'll lose some of them as a defensive back. It's about getting over it and making sure that the most important rep is always the next one."
Keeping the momentum
It's safe to say Detroit Lakes had an up-and-down season before catching fire down the stretch of the regular season last fall.
After a 49-14 loss at Barnesville in week six and a near upset in a 20-14 win at Park Rapids seven days later, the Lakers handed Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton its only loss of the regular season. A 42-29 win over the eventual 8-3A champions gave Detroit Lakes the boost it needed before the section playoffs.
"If we played DGF again, it could've been a different outcome," Hefta said. "They're a fantastic team with a fantastic coach. It's one of those things where we found our confidence in that game. You can stand in the ring, and you know you can swing with these guys. As you go, you keep that confidence going. That carries on past the football season into winter sports in basketball, wrestling and hockey. Spring and summer went really well too, and we saw that confidence keep rolling."
After taking down DGF, Detroit Lakes waltzed into Rocori and knocked off the Spartans 21-20 in the first round of the section playoffs. The Lakers did not give up a point in the second half of either game against DGF or Rocori.
"You want your team to be able to throw a shutout up there," Hefta said. "Against good teams, we were fortunate to have that happen in those second halves. You want your guys to be good at making adjustments and take away what they're trying to do. When the kids start picking up on that stuff, like the concepts of what they're doing, that just means they're raising their ability. You need to be able to talk adjustments with the kids."
The next step is just that: Taking the next step. Carrier hopes to get another chance at bringing home a section championship in his senior season.
"When we play the big games, we have to make the big plays," Carrier said. "The first game of the season can't be our best game. It has to keep getting better, and that only happens with hard work. The teams that win the section championship don't play their best game in week one. We've been in the big games, and we've faced the kids who have gone on to state and won games at state. We have to be better football players."
For Carrier, his senior season became one of something to prove. He and his brother, Mason, committed to play football at the University of Minnesota in June. While Mason has two more years of high school ball left, the reality of final firsts began to set in for Ethan this August.
"I'm going to keep working hard and prove why I belong there," Carrier said of his commitment to play Big Ten football. "Kids are going to see me and say, 'He's going to the Big Ten.' Now I need to show them why I'm going there next year. I absolutely have something to prove. This is it for me, and I want to go out in style. You have a different mentality coming into the season when you're a senior. Most kids across the state won't be playing college ball next year, and that changes how you view things. I think a lot of kids have that chip on their shoulder to give it one last hoorah and finish it out strong."
Amid some positional uncertainty on the field, Hefta is confident in his leadership. It's embedded into the fabric of Laker football.
"What's fun is when you have these kids who have been in this program for years now, and they know what they're doing. You have the kids you can lean on, and it's fun to be able to say that," Hefta said. "They help with every bit of the little things. Whether it's helping a kid put on their pads or getting out to practice and leading by example. In everything we do, there's a chance for leadership. The goal every year is to compete for a section championship. We've done a good job of getting to that game, but the goal is to compete and do everything possible to win."