Some of the top Minnesota State High School League football programs will kickoff this season in late August realistically thinking about a winning state title. And pretty much every football team in the land of 10,000 lakes aims for at least compiling a winning record.
But, for the Pine River-Backus Tigers, their first goal this fall was just to field a varsity team after the program forfeited its varsity games and competed at the junior varsity level last year because of a lack of participants in the upper grades, including having only one senior and a handful of juniors and sophomores playing football.
The goal of returning to varsity play has already been attained for this season, according to head coach Tom Demars. And now the PR-B football program can start thinking about its next goals.
“It was always our expectation and hope,” Demars said of returning to varsity play after missing last season. “I think it was the right decision. We never wanted to put our young kids into situations where they were forced to play varsity when they weren’t ready. Our kids had a chance to play a number of (junior varsity) games, and most of the year we were injury free.”
Last year, the MSHSL website showed the PR-B football roster with one senior, eight juniors, five sophomores and 10 freshmen.
“We only graduated one player, plus our big group of freshmen are now a year older,” Demars said. “We also have a good group of incoming freshmen this year. And we have more players in the upper grades since our kids have done a good job recruiting other students. We only had 20-24 players last year, but this season I’m expecting 35-40.”
Will the Tigers be hurt by missing one varsity season?
“I think we will be fine,” Demars said. “The kids will be ready for the challenge to step up and play at the varsity level. We will do okay this year and win some games. We will be competitive throughout the season.”
But Demars also knows the schedule is never easy.
“We have a couple new teams this year, like New York Mills and Mahnomen-Waubun, who is the defending (Class A) state champs,” he said. “We will continue to play at the Class A level, and our schedule has us playing all of the teams in our subdistrict (6A), plus two or three additional games within the district.”
The subdistrict teams that PR-B is required to play are Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, Cass Lake, Red Lake, Bagley and Warroad.
“I’m looking forward this year to the game planning, scouting and watching film,” Demars said of the preparation for varsity opponents. “We didn’t do as much of those things last year.”