On Friday, Red Wing opens its football season at New Prague. Nate Freier will make his debut as head coach, looking to get the program headed in the right direction after an 0-9 season that featured a mid-season coaching change and dwindling numbers.
Freier, who was on the 1983 Wingers' team that played in the state tournament, knows there is much to be done to return Red Wing to where it was in high school days. But that he gets the chance means more than wins.
"The inspiration for these gets to actually come out for football, is the thing that needs to drive me. The biggest jump we've taken, is that we implemented a system in two weeks," Freier said. "I'm not going to lie and say there aren't hiccups, but by and large, they believe in what we're trying to do. They're still learning it, but they're the heroes here. (Coaches) don't have to play and endure the hardship, we just put it in there for them."
With two weeks of practice behind them, the Wingers took to the field on Saturday for some scrimmages in Pine City. It wasn't a perfect showing for Red Wing, yet how his team responded to failure was more important to Freier than popping long runs or flattening a receiver with a big hit.
"You can judge a team's desire, and coaches have to manage this, by the degree to which they're disappointed by their individual performance on each play," Freier said. "That's the thing I noticed in the scrimmage, that the kids immediately owned up to mistakes and want to get better."
Improvement will have to come quick for the Wingers, who host Austin in Week 2, and Rochester Century in Week 3. Then the schedule gets difficult. A game at Mankato East for Week 4, followed by a trip to Rochester John Marshall will be difficult tests away from home. The final three games include visits from Faribault and Mankato West sandwiched around a trip to Winona.
"By reputation, those schools are good. They were good when I played here," Freier said of the back half of the schedule. "It's always important to get out of the gate strong. It's important to get that confidence. And that's not just here, that's everywhere. And it's not just if you had a bad year last year, it's also if you had a good year."
Other than admitting a power-run game is his offensive philosophy, Freier betrays little about what and who fans will see one the field on Friday.
"I generally hold my cards, but we have a returning starting quarterback that is one year older and one year more mature...so we look to him to be a leader," Freier said. "And we have a lot of kids that are in roles they didn't have last year, or have more prominent roles than last year."
What is known is that Sam and Jack Kelly, Sam Guse and Marcus Walm were elected as team captains, and they will be the first four for Freier and his vision to lead Red Wing into a more prosperous future.
"I don't think this season is step one. In high school football, there is no such thing as rebuilding. I talk about 'building,'" Freier said. "It doesn't matter how much success you've had or haven't had. If you're not always pushing the envelope and building, you're going to have problems either right away or down the road. When will we know? We won't, because we're always going to try and get better. A good indication will be at the end of this season, the kids have pride in what they continue to achieve. Not just what they've done, but what they're going to do."
Coaches hate looking ahead, usually preferring to stick to the task at hand. But eight weeks of football is not going to define Freier or Red Wing football. Instead, the future will provide the answers and let Freier know if the Wingers have indeed poured a foundation.
"There is no greater honor than doing this. This is not about me. The fact these kids signed up and came back is a testament to their courage and their heart and their desire to compete and build something, to put in place something they can be proud of," Freier said. "I think that's terrific. It shows a lot of maturity."