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Football: Willmar Cardinals are back in action

Practice began for fall high school sports on Monday

Willmar linemen do bear crawls during the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School.
Willmar linemen do bear crawls during the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — On the first day of fall practice, the Willmar football team isn’t quite focused on its Week 1 opponent. The buildup to the opener against St. Cloud Apollo on Sept. 2 at Hodapp Field will come in due time.

The focus through the first weeks of practice is discovering what the 2022 iteration of the Cardinals will look like.

“We want to make sure we figure out here throughout the summer and fall camp is what kind of team are we going to be,” said Willmar head coach Jon Konold. “Who’s going to step up as leaders on our squad and what kind of personality does our team have? Us, as coaches, will develop our culture from there.”

Practice also got underway on Monday for volleyball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving.

Between 85-to-90 players were signed up for the football season, according to Konold.

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“The first day is always a long day as far as getting everyone here on time and getting organized,” Konold said. “But we had a good summer, so the kids know what we’re expecting and what we’re doing.

“It was a good first day.”

Willmar senior captain Sam Raitz, right, swats the ball away during defensive back drills on the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School
Willmar senior captain Sam Raitz, right, swats the ball away during defensive back drills on the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Through the summer, the players have put in the work to get ready for Day 1.

“The work ethic with this group is really high,” said senior safety/wide receiver Sam Raitz. He is one of three captains, along with Jacob Streed and Marlon Fernandez Munoz.

“A lot of work was put in the weight room this summer, getting faster and getting better.”

Coming off a 6-3 campaign in 2021, Willmar looks to replace 14 seniors. That includes starting quarterback Alex Schramm, running back Michael Price, wideout Brandt Sunder, cornerback/kicker LaBlue Moo and lineman Ethan Schwab.

“We got some battles that are happening,” Konold said. “We got a couple spots that are open on the O-line. We graduated a lot of skill position kids; we got some pretty decent depth (at wide receiver) and we got multiple kids that can fill that role.

“Defensively, we feel pretty solid about what we have in the front seven. There’s some battles in the secondary due to graduation.”

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With the secondary being a question mark, Raitz made it a goal this summer to improve on the defensive end.

“I play a lot more on defense and I want to be more comfortable on that end of the ball,” he said.

Willmar head football coach Jon Konold addresses his team during the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School.
Willmar head football coach Jon Konold addresses his team during the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 at Willmar High School.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

On the improvements he’s seen by the team over the summer, Raitz added, “I think some of the receivers have stepped up. They’re very inexperienced, but they’re showing improvements.”

Playing on the new turf fields between the high school and the Willmar Civic Center has helped, and that goes beyond the gridiron.

While the football team was practicing on one field, the Cardinals’ boys soccer team was on the adjacent field. They hope to emulate their 2021 success that included a 18-2 record, including a 12-0 mark on the way to a Central Lakes Conference title and a state tournament appearance.

The girls soccer team also got practice done in the morning on the turf. The Cards were 11-5 last season with an 8-2 mark in the CLC.

“The fields here are really nice,” Raitz said. “It makes drills easier knowing where you are on the field.”

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