Rodd's Ramblings... Cloquet Football Resurgence
The resurgence this season in the Cloquet football program has been a six year building process by coach Tom Lenarz. The season culminated with a run in the playoffs that brought the Jacks all the way to the Section 7AAAA championship game where ...
The resurgence this season in the Cloquet football program has been a six year building process by coach Tom Lenarz. The season culminated with a run in the playoffs that brought the Jacks all the way to the Section 7AAAA championship game where they lost to Duluth East, now the process of maintaining and building on that success begins.
"I think the most important thing we accomplished this year is the kids finally saw some reward in terms of wins for their hard work," commented coach Lenarz. "We talk all the time about doing things the right way and staying together as a group and this year confirmed for them that we can do that and win games."
Key to the Cloquet success was a group of seniors that was unselfish and willing to lead by example.
"Any coach will tell you that the seniors on your team will determine how much success you have and that is especially true in football," explained Lenarz. "These guys had high expectations of themselves and they were not afraid of failing. Each senior group I've had in the last 6 years has taken the off season preparation to a new level and these guys were no exception."
Another element in the equation is the building of a youth tackle football program and that should start reaping rewards soon.
"It is critical! Football is a numbers game more than any other sport and the more kids you have out the better you are as a program," stated Lenarz. "Having the kids play football early on not only teaches them the game, but makes football a part of their schedule and a part of the family schedule."
The youth program has a residual effect with the high school program as numbers in the Cloquet football system are continuing to grow.
"Our numbers have gone up every year for the past 5 years, but they can only go so high given our school size," Lenarz commented. "We have a pretty big junior class this year, so if everyone who came out who was involved in grades 9-11 this year we should have about 55 kids, plus whatever current number of eighth graders come out next season."
Right now the big issue is can the Cloquet program sustain it's success from this season and Lenarz has addressed that issue head on with his returning players.
"My message was simple and that is that Cloquet can not sneak up on anyone now," Lenarz remarked. "People know about us and it is up to our returning players whether they want to be a middle of the pack team, or if they want to be in the mix for a conference and section championship next year."
As to the recipe for achieving that success, Lenarz says they simply have to be willing to put in the time.
"I encouraged them to all go out for a winter sport because I think it is the best way to become a better athlete," said Lenarz. "If they don't go out for a winter sport they all need to be in the weight room. My philosophy is the same for the spring. In the summer we have to work harder than everyone else to make sure we are able to compete at the level we want to compete at and that isn't easy, plus it takes sacrifice on the part of the kids the coaches and up to now they have been willing to do that."
Lenarz has been fortunate enough to surround himself with coaches that have stayed with him, so there has been very little turnover in that area.
"Guys like Paul Riess and Jeff Ojanen have been with me from the very start," Lenarz stated. "Jamie Fast and Andy Elias came on board shortly after we started, so that group has been with me for a long time. Steve Battaglia was a great addition this year and I am excited to have him around. One guy that we missed was Steve Brandt who is a class guy and knows a lot about football and even more about kids and he really helped me through those first couple of years and I can't thank him enough."
One of the bigger questions facing the team will be whether or not they stay in Class AAAA or drop into Class AAA.
"It is hard to say right now because the classification system is redone every 2 years and this was the end of the second cycle," commented Lenarz. "All I know is that we are right on the border between AAA and AAAA, the rest depends on factors out of our control, but we will know in mid-February on how it all shakes out."
Had Cloquet been in Class AAA this year they would have faced the likes of Proctor and Hermantown this year, but instead faced the daunting task of the Duluth East Greyhounds who had their best team in recent school history.
All in all, it promises to be an exciting winter and summer of preparation for the Jacks.