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John’s Journal: Wabasha-Kellogg Returns To The Field

Falcons Are Playing Football For First Time In Two Years

Posted: Tuesday, September 7, 2021 - 3:36 PM


WABASHA – The night had not gone well. The boys on the Wabasha-Kellogg football team – all 19 in uniform -- had hoped to win their season opener against Cleveland High School on a lovely Friday night at their home field, nestled on a piece of ground surrounded by southeastern Minnesota bluffs, a short distance from the Mississippi River.

In the final gathering before kickoff, in an equipment shed near the field, Wabasha-Kellogg coach Tim Klingbeil reinforced how special nights like this are: “It's an exciting thing that we get to do as young men. When high school football is over, it's done, it’s over. It ain’t golf. You get to create as many memories as you can on that field right now, tonight, because it just doesn't last very long. It disappears really quickly.”

Indeed, the Falcons know all too well that the game can disappear. But the most important things are getting on the field, playing football and making memories. At the end of the night, the score was definitive; a 41-zero, running-time win for the Cleveland Clippers. But that wasn’t the most important result. The key takeaway was that the Falcons had played a football game for the first time in two seasons. The 2019 season ended with a loss at Lewiston-Altura on Oct. 16, and there was no 2020 season for Wabasha-Kellogg.

The Falcons’ first two opponents last fall couldn’t play because of Covid-19 numbers in their communities, and before the Week 3 game could be played all activities at Wabasha-Kellogg were shut down for the same reason. The Falcons were the only high school football team in Minnesota that did not play in 2020.

“When I think about my favorite thing in the whole wide world outside my wife and kids, it’s football,” said Klingbeil, in his ninth year as coach. “Last year was heartbreaking. It was my first time without a season since fifth grade.”

Wabasha has a population of 2,475 people (Kellogg has 443) and the school enrollment has been falling. A large percentage of residents are 65 or older, and Rochester and the Twin Cities are too far away for people to work there and live in Wabasha. Despite that, “It’s a wonderful place to grow up and raise a family,” Klingbeil said.

The Falcons are a Class 1A football team; if the enrollment dropped slightly they would be in Nine-Man. The 2021 football roster consists of seven seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and seven ninth-graders. Two of the boys played varsity games in 2019.

“I’ve known these kids since fifth grade and watched them grow up,” Klingbeil said. “We’re really excited. We’re just so happy and excited to have a chance to play football on Friday nights. That’s our most prevalent emotion.”

As Friday’s game began, Wabasha-Kellogg quarterback Adam Dunagan ran for 15 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Then a pick six by Jackson Meyer, Cleveland’s quarterback/linebacker, got the Clippers going. Meyer threw to Carter Dylla for touchdowns of six and 58 yards, a safety followed and another Meyer-Dylla connection made it 29-0 at halftime for Cleveland, which brought 30 players on the two-hour drive to Wabasha.

We weren’t going to go undefeated, we weren’t going to win a state championship, but there are some things we have to do better. That’s what this is all about,” Klingbeil told the team at halftime. “We got off to a bad start, we dug ourselves a hole, and all we can do is dig ourselves out of it. I expect you to play hard. You can control how hard you play. Let’s make sure we focus on that the rest of the way. We waited two years for this game, and we’re going to play hard the rest of the way.”

The Falcons never caved. They clawed and worked and gave it everything they had. Their best offensive play was a 20-yard, third-quarter burst by Terrik Miller, followed by a 30-yard Miller run … followed a couple plays later by a lost fumble.

With almost everyone seeing action on both sides of the ball, it’s impossible to do much teaching during games. At big schools, the entire offense can sit together on the sideline and listen to the coaches while the defense is on the field (and vice versa). That’s just part of the challenge the Falcons face.

“I've got about 15 kids I can use in a varsity game,” Klingbeil said. “It builds character. If you can go through a football game like this, waking up for work ain’t hard, getting out of bed ain’t hard, paying taxes in April ain't hard. We're proud of our guys.”

The game-day experience itself was special, he said.

“You’re back to normal stuff, coaching stuff. It’s a good feeling. You wake up in the morning, you think about it, you think about it all day, and when you go to sleep you dream about it.

“We’ll wake up tomorrow with a purpose. We'll evaluate off our film, we'll learn from it and we'll correct, we’ll improve it, try not to repeat our mistakes, and we'll put it to bed and move on to our next game.”

Six days earlier, the Falcons had participated in a six-team morning scrimmage a few miles up Highway 61 in Lake City. It was a good learning experience. Afterwards, senior lineman Bradey Walters called last season “quite a bit of disappointment. I wanted to be a four-year starter but it didn't happen last year. This year we're just looking to have fun and try to win, play our hardest.”

Senior fullback/linebacker Jack Rodeghier said after the scrimmage, “We have really low numbers; half our team are freshmen and half are seniors. So it's kind of tough. But we make it work. We're one tight family.”

After the Week 1 game, Klingbeil talked to the family of Falcons in an end zone. He was as positive as any winning coach.

“It is Week 1. We get to play more football games this season,” he said. “There are things we have to correct, areas we have to improve. At the end of the day we have to look in the mirror, we have to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. I can’t make you 6-5, 220. You just have to be the best version of yourself.

“It hurts to lose, it’s OK to feel bad about the loss, but we’re going to recover, we’re going to rebound, we’re going to improve, we’re going to keep moving forward. Your parents still love you, there are still pretty girls out there, there’s going to be good food at the Millers (for a postgame gathering). Take solace at what you have in life. No matter what, win, lose or draw, I love you guys.”

Rodeghier, who is as hard-nosed as any player in the state, was distraught after Friday’s game, saying, “I didn't expect this. I expected it to be a little different, but that's kind of really not how football games go. You plan for what they've done in years past, and they show something similar but we don't have the age, we’ve got a lot of young guys. But we worked as a team, we made it through.”

When the topic of appreciation was mentioned, Jack smiled. “Oh yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I’m more than blessed to be out here.”

Welcome back, Falcons.

--MSHSL media specialist 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 jmillea@mshsl.org

“I've got about 15 kids I can use in a varsity game. It builds character. If you can go through a football game like this, waking up for work ain’t hard, getting out of bed ain’t hard, paying taxes in April ain't hard. We're proud of our guys.”
Tim Klingbeil

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