The Northfield High School football team will begin its second season of play under the leadership of head coach Brent Yule in 2022. The Raiders are in the midst of their preseason practice schedule, as they prep for the season opener at home Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. against Austin High School.
The Raiders will be looking to repeat their success they had against Austin during the 2021 season, which included a 21-20 season opening win at Austin and a 48-14 victory over the Packers in the first round of the MSHSL playoffs.
Overall, Northfield posted a 4-6, 3-4 Big Southeast Red Conference record in 2021 — a positive direction for the Raiders who had one win seasons in 2019 and 2020.
“It’s good to be back on the field with these guys, especially being able to play off some of the success we had last year,” Yule said after Monday morning’s practice session. “They’re doing a great job and playing with a lot of energy. There’s a lot of excitement on the team for the upcoming season, which is alway positive.”
The Raiders will be looking to replace a large senior class from 2021 that included 21 players and several key components along both the offensive and defensive lines. The 2022 roster lists 57 players.
“We lost a lot of our starters up front on the o (offensive) and d (defensive) line but we have a lot of our skill position players returning…and even if they weren’t starters we were able to get some of those underclassmen some good playing time last year and I look forward to seeing how they can build off of that this year.”
Two of the veterans returning in 2022 include senior tight end/defensive lineman Dom DiMaggio and senior wing back/middle linebacker Gabe Sawyer. Other notable returners include Austin Koep, Charlie Monaghan, Cameron Mellgren, Kamden Kaiser, Brayden Brakke, Jacob Geiger, and Jackson Jerdee.
“Offensively, (offensive coach Bob) Pagel has brought a good playbook,” DiMaggio said. “We have a good run game and our pass game is looking really good. We have a lot of energy and we are ready to play.”
Yule added, “I think we are pretty balanced. Offensively, I think we’ll be able to move the ball. Coach Pagel did a real good job of revamping our offense a little bit. No huge changes but just understanding our personnel and knowing who we need to get the ball to and have them do what they do well.”
On defense, Sawyer had praise for the work he has seen so far in practice.
“Defensively, up front we are really focusing on stopping the run and on our pass coverage, we are also pretty sound,” Sawyer said.
As the Raiders look ahead to the 2022 season, DiMaggio hopes to continue building on the growth of the program and the team’s four wins in 2021.
“A goal this year is just to give 100 percent on every play,” DiMaggio said. “Obviously we want to win a lot of games and give our best effort. One of our goals is to beat our rival Owatonna and get the cannon (Cannon Trophy) back from Faribault.”
Northfield will once again face a challenging schedule in 2022, which will feature a full slate of games in the always rugged Big 9 Southeast Football Red Division — including an Oct. 14 game at defending state champion Mankato West.
“We definitely have our hands full. Our schedule is pretty tough in the Big Southeast but I look forward to seeing what we can do,” Yule said.
Yule looks to his senior leaders to help Northfield find success this fall and also help build the program.
“We talk all the time about leadership, and do different training to try to develop leaders. The group of kids we have, especially with our senior class, are real good leaders,” Yule said. “I’ve noticed in our program the positivity that some of our younger kids have and how our numbers go up, especially at the younger levels, and I think it is in part to having seniors like this who are good people, vocal, energetic and they talk positively about our program.”
Sawyer added, “I like to be very vocal and be a positive reinforcement for my teammates, and also hold them accountable. Even outside of the game, I want to be everyone’s friend and make sure they can come to me too.”
Leadership is also a driving force for DiMaggio as he begins his final year with the Raiders.
“The one thing I like to do is bring a lot of energy and pick up my guys if they make a wrong play or fumble the ball. ‘Pound the Stone’ is our motto and we just need to keep pounding that stone and keep moving forward and play through adversity.”