WILLMAR — It was business as usual as the Willmar football team concluded its summer camp Wednesday at Willmar Middle School.
But considering the 2020 was anything but normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s camp was a welcome refresher 26 days before fall practice gets underway.
“It’s almost like you took a year off because everything you did last year was so out of the norm,” said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. “To come back to what you’re used to doing, it seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve been to that point. It’s taken a little getting used to as far as organizational things. … It’s been different but the coaches have been great to work with and it’s been a fun summer with (the players).”
With 85 players grades 9-through-12 signed up for camp according to Konold, players were able to go over schemes while practicing individual and team drills. And they’ve been able to do it without restrictions compared to last summer when players were split into pods per coronavirus protocols.
Throughout camp, the emphasis was on helping build team chemistry.
“Coaches learn a lot about how our seniors will lead and interact with the younger guys and what kind of team we’ll be,” Konold said. “That’ll help us with ideas of what kind of leadership we need to teach our seniors.
“We always say that bad teams, nobody leads. Average teams, coaches lead. And great teams, players lead. We’re working on that and developing our kids.”
Willmar went 6-2 in 2020, ending the season on a 35-0 win over Detroit Lakes in the Section 8AAAA playoffs before the fall season ended abruptly on Nov. 20 after Gov. Tim Walz put a pause on prep sports to curb a statewide spike in COVID-19 cases.
The 2020 Cardinals were heavy in experience on the offensive and defensive lines while the skill positions were a question mark. The opposite is true for 2021 as Willmar brings back plenty of experience in the skill spots while they sort out the youth in the trenches.
“This year, we have our quarterback (Alex Schramm), running back (Michael Price) and some wide receivers back and our secondary back,” Konold said. “That part of practice, working with those guys is so much smoother. I don’t have to do a lot of coaching; we set up the drills and they know what they need to work on. I’m able to coach them up on some finer points.”
Konold continued, “Our O- and D-line are inexperienced kids this year. We have four guys who have played a lot of ball but we need five on the O-line and four on D-line. There’s some younger kids that’ll have to step up. There’s some talented kids there but that’ll be a challenge.”
The Cardinals will get a first-hand look against competition on Thursday when the team travels south on Highway 23 for a scrimmage at Marshall, a new postseason opponent for Willmar after they were moved from Section 8AAAA to 2AAAA for the next two years.
“We’ll do a little 7-on-7, the O-line and D-line will do some 1-on-1s, then we’ll scrimmage for about 45 minutes,” Konold said. “They’re good competition and we get a sneak peek for sections.”
After the scrimmage, the next time the Cardinals will take the field together will be when fall practice opens on Monday, Aug. 16. The season-opener is set for Friday, Sept. 3 at. St. Cloud Apollo.
“There’s never 100 percent certainty in anything but we’re building towards that date,” Konold said. “When you get to this time of the summer, the kids get excited. They come at the end of July and they’re like, ‘Football is close.’ Their baseball is done, their vacation is done and they’re getting into football mode.”