Fairmont football resumes operations in 2022 | News, Sports, Jobs
FAIRMONT — Mat Mahoney’s 15th season at the helm of the Fairmont football program consisted of a number of impressive milestones — the 100th win of his coaching career on Sept. 17, 2021; the South Central White District Championship; and a fifth AAA-class status appearance.
But Mahoney and his Cardinal players felt a bit empty after a 21-6 quarter-final loss to Dassel-Cokato on Nov. 13 at Prior Lake.
“I think we all feel like we have some business to take care of this season, and the guys have been in the weight room ever since, preparing to get back on the court this fall. Now it’s here, and it’s time to keep dreaming.” said Mahoney, who enters his 16th season with a 106-48 overall record for a stellar .688 winning percentage.
Ironically, Fairmont won accolades in Mahoney’s first-ever appearance in the state in 2011 at the now-defunct Metrodome in Minneapolis before claiming second place for a second time in the 2018 Prep Bowl at US Bank Stadium. The Cardinals also clinched state berths in 2013, 2017 and last fall.
“We graduated some record players in Zach Jorgensen and Eli Anderson from last year’s squad, and you just can’t replace guys like that, but we’re not starting from scratch either,” said Mahoney. “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) back in our offensive backfield.
“Our (offensive) line is bigger and stronger, with plenty of experience in return. All five (Sawyer Tordsen, Gavin Junkermeier, David Barrientos, Jacob Singleton and Gunner Wells) have played for us last season, and they’re all very versatile.
Fairmont generated an impressive total of 3,711 yards of offense in 2021, with 2,428 through the air and 1,283 remaining on the ground.
“We’ve gotten a bit heavier on the passing side than in the past, so we’re working on balancing those numbers a bit better this season to make it harder for opposing teams to defend against,” said Mahoney.
Schmidtke, a 6-foot-1, 155-pound senior, completed 26 of 36 passes for an impressive 406 yards and eight touchdowns, while the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Geiger threw 5 of 6 for 62 yards and a score at during his second campaign.
“At the end of the day, both (Schmidtke and Geiger) did a good job under the middle for us,” said Mahoney. “We won’t experience any separation until the lights come on Friday night.”
Mahoney and offensive coordinator Brian Wille have made a crucial change to the Cardinals’ offensive backfield since 2021, and opponents will take notice.
“We decided to move Hank (Artz) back so he could block up front and help our line create more chances for us to run,” Mahoney said of his 6-1, 230-pound third-year starter, who earned playoff honors as an offensive and defensive lineman last fall. “He’s an athlete who gives us a diverse skill set.”
James Johnson returns to running back after finishing second on the Cardinals with 415 yards and a touchdown 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 returning after putting up strong numbers a year ago. Maakestad finished No. 2 with 25 catches for 414 yards and three touchdowns, while Pooley had a dozen throws for 242 yards and four scores.
“Put Nolan Schultze, Brock Lutterman, Cooper Steuber and Jace Teveldal in the mix at the end and we have six reliable receivers we can go to at any time.” said Mahoney.
The 6-foot-7, 283-pound Tordsen, who is recruited by a growing number of universities including Minnesota State University-Mankato, will return to left offensive tackle and be flanked by returning starter Barrientos at guard. Junkermeier will fulfill his role as right guard, with Singleton at tackle and Wells handling slamming duties. Junior Ethan Geerdes completes the starting line tight end, with reserves Reece Buntjer and Cole Wiemers providing blocking depth in the trenches.
Turn the field around and defensive coordinator Brad Johnson returns speed and strength to the top seven of his baseline roster 5-2, but will have to rebuild around Maakestad in the secondary this fall.
Artz, a fast-twitch rusher, and Gage Cyphers will handle end points, while Tordsen and Junkermeier return to tackle positions flanking 6-5, 295-pound senior nose guard Jamie Mueller.
Parker Mathiason, Tyson Thate and Josiah Brockenhoff will also get reps in the front-row rotation, giving Johnson more adept depth to pressure opposing offenses.
“We will have some flexibility in our defensive line this season, and that should allow us to move into different sets without having to step down,” said Mahoney.
Confident Aden Welcome is back at linebacker and will be joined by Elijah Johnson and second Caleb Chambers, while Maakestad returns to anchor the secondary.
Mahoney expects to use the speed of James Johnson and Landen Meyerdirk at safety, with Cooper Steuber and Brock Lutterman seeing time at the other cornerback position. Pooley, Connor Gronewald and Mathew Cone will add depth to the defensive backfield.
Maakestad will once again handle kickoff and punt duties, while Owen Burmeister returns as the Cardinals placekicker and extra-point specialist. Burmeister hit 38 of 45 PATs last season, while Maakestad threw nine of Fairmont’s 22 punts for an average of 34.0 yards.
Fairmont will get used to hitting the highways for the first half of the eight-game regular season schedule, which opens at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall at 7 p.m. Friday night before heading to Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter on Saturday, September 10, for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Cardinals host Jordan in Week 3 before traveling to Waseca in Week 4. Fairmont takes on New Ulm for reunion on Friday September 30, travels to Worthington in Game 6, hosts Luverne in Week 7 and closes out the regular season by hosting rival Blue Earth Area on Wednesday, October 19 at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
“It’s a tough schedule to start, but it’s not how you start the season, it’s how you end it,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney predicts Waseca to be one of the main rivals in the Section 3AAA playoffs this fall due to 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 sideline and in the pit this season.