Football: Lakers navigate key injuries as they head down the home stretch of the regular season
The Detroit Lakes football team has been bitten by the injury bug a few too many times. Sophomore quarterback Caden Strand talked about his season-ending ankle injury before last Friday's game against Barnesville. Head coach Reed Hefta and junior Mason Carrier talked about the challenges they will face in the coming weeks with personnel changes.
DETROIT LAKES – Murphy’s Law states anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s a pretty adequate way to describe the last few weeks for the Detroit Lakes football team.
On the surface, it appears the Lakers have hit a mid-season speed bump. Just days after landing in the top 10 for Class 4A teams in the state, they dropped a road game 35-21 against Pequot Lakes. A week later, they suffered a 28-13 homecoming loss against Barnesville.
A glance at Detroit Lakes’ Minnesota-Scores page doesn’t do these last two weeks any justice.
The Lakers’ spiral started in the third quarter against Pequot Lakes. Sophomore quarterback Caden Strand rolled out of the pocket to his left, tucked the ball and ran for a first down. It’s almost guaranteed to be the last play of his season.
“I don’t even remember the play,” Strand said. “I saw Breck (Winter) wide open, but I didn’t throw it. I don’t know why I didn’t throw it. I took a little hop step and got tackled. I knew right away it was bad. It hurt. I tried to get up and play. I wanted to tape it, but I couldn’t put pressure on one spot.”
What hurt was the fibula in his left leg. Strand suffered a break that kept him on the sidelines in a cast and on a scooter for homecoming.
“I had no idea I snapped it in the moment. I thought it was just a stinger,” Strand said. “I thought I was going to be able to walk it off and play the next play. Our trainer, who’s amazing, by the way, told me on the sideline that it was broken. It was broken, and it was swollen about the size of a softball. I came back to DL, and we went to the ER. Two hours later, we found out that it was a clean break, and I was done for the season.”
Strand didn’t start the year under center, but was part of the big-picture plan from the jump. Once the coaching staff felt comfortable with making the switch from junior Mason Carrier, the position belonged to Strand and likely will for the next two seasons.
This move wasn’t about finding the best quarterback on the roster but instead about spreading out the talent. Carrier is one of the Lakers’ top defensive players and a future scholarship athlete at the University of Minnesota. However, his offensive snaps limited how much he could play on the other side of the ball. Not to mention, what Carrier adds as a run blocker for his brother Ethan, who also will play for the Gophers, looked to create a fortified offense into a tough Section 8-4A playoff.
“This isn’t the end of our season. We are going to grow from this,” Carrier said. “We’re going to find new guys to fill these roles and play Laker football. Caden is bummed out. Nobody wants to break their ankle when you’re the starting quarterback as a sophomore.”
Now, the Lakers are forced to pivot. In their first game without Strand, Nick Buboltz got the start at quarterback. He and both Carrier brothers lined up under center throughout the game.
Detroit Lakes was able to win games without Strand, and there’s no reason they can’t find a way to make another run in the coming weeks. The real problem lies in how many people are standing next to him on the sideline.
Seniors Brock Okeson, Hunter Korth, Jake Pavek and Kyler Johnston all sat out last Friday with injuries. After the game, senior tackle Connor Zamzo left the field in a sling. None of these players have publicly been ruled out for the season.
“It hurts a little extra when it’s your senior guys,” Detroit Lakes head coach Reed Hefta said. “This is their time, and it’s tough when they go through stuff like this. Nobody wants to get hurt out there, but it stings a little more when you’re in your last go of this. To see them be part of the team when that adversity hits is what their character is really about.”
Even though Strand’s best days are ahead, he was emotional about his injury.
“I was angry,” Strand said. ‘Right when I got this opportunity and my team started looking to me, I ruined it, just like that. I really felt like I was getting going. The nerves came to me less and less each game.”
“As a coach, it hurts to see kids hurting,” Hefta said. “I spend 365 days with a lot of these kids, and you get to know them. You feel for them. It’s tough to have something they’ve cared about so much get taken away from them. It’s the beautiful tragedy of football. When you have something you care about so much, and you give anything and everything for, just to see it taken away–it hurts.”
Hefta sees these injuries as a chance for his players to grow in roles off the field.
“What I love to see from all of our injured guys is how they stay involved with the team,” Hefta said. “You can tell that when these kids get hurt, they’re so hungry to get back out there. For as hard as they worked to get back to the starting spot, they have to work twice as hard to get healthy.”
Strand said he wasn’t sure what was in store for the recovery, but he hopes to be back better than ever when he steps on the field again.
“I get this cast off in two weeks before I get another one on,” Strand said. “They told me it was 6-8 weeks, but you never know. I’ll be back for basketball, hopefully. But I don’t care about that right now. I just want to play football.”