John’s Journal: Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons Aims High
After Turnaround Football Season A Year Ago, Knights Look For More Success
Posted: Saturday, August 12, 2023 - 9:37 PM
ALDEN – The football gods haven’t exactly bestowed a steady diet of feast or famine in recent years on the football team from Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons. But the results have veered closer to the latter.
From a record of 5-4 in 2018 to 0-9 in 2019, then 1-6 in the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign, followed by another 0-9 mark in 2019 and back to 5-4 one year ago, the team has seen some mild highs and some major lows.
That 5-4 finish in 2022 opened some eyes, however, because coming back from an ofer season to win more than half your games is not an easy lift in football. The Knights bring back lots of experience in the 2023 season, which will begin with a Zero Week home game against Houston on Aug. 24.
But there’s another new wrinkle to the new season: The Knights have gone from Class 1A to Nine-Player football, which is a big -- and welcome -- change.
“We needed it,” said third-year head coach Brady Neel, an alum who grew up on a farm outside of Alden and graduated from high school here in 2015.
On the morning after Alden-Conger/Glenville Emmons’ 2022 season ended with a playoff loss to United South Central, Neel was on the air with Aaron Worm of KATE radio in nearby Albert Lea. Aaron began the interview with this statement: “The future is so bright for Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons football.”
There was and is no doubt about that. Sophomores and juniors dominated the roster last year, and that kind of experience can be key in a new season.
“There’s not a ton of drop-off,” the coach told Worm that morning. “We’ve got younger guys who are ready to step up. We’re going to have a good future.”
The future is now, and the team has a weeks’ worth of practice in the books under the Zero Week format. With a pair of 2023 grads now playing college football in Iowa (Lucas Hensche at Waldorf and Caleb Songstad at Luther), the Knights are looking forward to a new season, new opponents and new challenges.
“We’re trying to play our hearts out and we’ll go into every game knowing that we can win,” said senior receiver and linebacker Tyler Erickson. “It'll be different going down to nine-man. We've haven't been here, playing smaller schools, and we should match up pretty well. So we'll see how it goes.”
Five years ago there often weren’t enough players to have a full scrimmage. This year there are 30-some kids on the roster, with 30 or so signed up for middle school football and 50 to 60 on the elementary level.
“Lot of kids here want to play football,” said Neel, who teaches third grade in Albert Lea. He played football, basketball and baseball in high school, along with being a member of the FFA and “a bunch of other little clubs and things to stay involved.”
That’s the model for small-town kids. Erickson also plays basketball and golf and fellow senior captain Tyler Linn has participated in basketball and baseball.
Another constant in small schools are cooperative agreements. That’s what the slash designates in “Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons” … two school districts that come together to have teams in football, girls basketball and softball. Alden-Conger is in another coop with United South Central in cross-country and track and field, and with Albert Lea in wrestling.
The football season with have some twists this fall, because after looking east and facing the Section 1 juggernaut of teams in the regular season, AC/GE will play in Section 3 during the postseason, with most of those teams to the west.
The regular season should be a good test for the Knights. Section 1 has produced seven state champions in the last decade (Grand Meadow in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Spring Grove in 2017 and 2018 -- and a state runner-up finish last year -- and LeRoy-Ostrander in 2021). In addition, Mabel-Canton won a state title in 2001, Kingsland did so in 2002 and Houston won it all in 2008.
The Knights’ state tournament history is a bit sparse. Alden-Conger won a Class C state title in 1978, returning to state in 1979, 1986, 1998 and 2008.
Alden-Conger/Glenville Emmons played Nine-Man football before moving to Class 1A seven years ago.
“Thankfully we came back down to where I think we belong,” said Neel, who can lean on a coaching staff with vast amounts of experience.
Neel was an assistant coach for two years before becoming head coach. On his staff are former head coaches Gary Nelson and Chad Mattson, and along with assistant Joe Brooks they have more than 40 years of football coaching experience and 80 years when other sports are factored in.
Linn and Erickson have already seen a lot as they begin their senior season. Jaden called their 0-9 sophomore campaign “a struggle.”
“Just learning to cope and learn from everything like that was pretty much what the year was,” he said. “It was just a learning year to get into all of our positions and learning how we're going to work into things, and then that helped to improve the next year. Seeing all that improvement, all that came from learning from the 0-9 season and how that kind of really brought everything together."
Erickson said their sophomore season “was a learning curve for all of us, trying to learn the plays, and the game speeds up from middle school to high school.”
Last year’s turnaround set the tone for 2023, Jaden said.
“Just based on what practices were like, we expected improvement and we liked learning from the experiences from the past,” he said. “That helped a ton. We wanted to set a goal of being .500 and we exceeded that. I think what went into that was all the hard work and effort we put into practices and everybody coming together, working as kind of a family.”
--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]