FAIRMONT - The Class 3A state runner-up. The first-ever 12-victory season. A fourth consecutive undefeated South Central Conference championship. Record-setting offensive numbers.
Mat Mahoney and the Fairmont football program produced the near-perfect season in 2011, but the sixth-year mentor realizes his Cardinals cannot rest on their laurels this fall.
"Don't get me wrong - last season was a great one, but that's history now," said Mahoney, whose red-and-white gridders kick off the 2012 campaign by hitting the road to Worthington on Friday night for a 7 p.m. nonconference clash with the Trojans. "Unfortunately, taking second at state a year ago doesn't translate into any wins this season, but we can build off of that success this year."
LOOKING TO REPEAT — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal football team seeking its fifth consecutive South Central Conference championship and second straight sectional crown in 2012 include, front row (l-r): Ryan Noll, Sean Klein, Kyle Guetter, Justin Barnes, Jordan Voss, Dan Sumey, Luke Hested, Christian Petschke and Brandon Martin. Second row: Statistician Tracy Thiesse, Bryce Holm, Levi Becker, Mark Fruechte, Colton Hines, Jacob Portz, Rider Schwieger, Scott Madsen, Levi Gustafson and statistician Emily Wegener. Third row: Assistant Jared Thompson, assistant Chris Voss, assistant Gary Andersen, assistant Clay Emler, offensive coordinator Andy Traetow, head coach Mat Mahoney, defensive coordinator Brad Johnson, assistant Todd Sukalski, assistant Seth Becker and assistant Mike Thate. Fourth row: Spencer Chirpich, Parker Monsen, Michael Hawkins, Bailey Koppen, Tadd Abel, Jeff Brickner, Joe Weber, Josh Eversman, Zach Brown, Tim Tow and Nick Roggow. Fifth row: Nate Johnson, Cole Emler, Dylan Eicholtz, Jay Ruen, Mitchell Pfingsten, Luke Peterson, Kollin Kelly, Joe Slater, Derek Mielke and Derek Edman. Back row: Matt Lytle, Luke Becker, Colton Cunning, Jon Dosedal, Zach DeWitt, Mitch Anderton, Ben Abel, Brian Wilde, Jon Soucek and Zachary Ramos. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
If the Cardinals hope to earn back-to-back state appearances for the first time since 1996-97, Mahoney and his coaching staff will have to replace the main catalyst behind the 2011 big red machine's high-octane offense - Ben Kain. The Gustavus Adolphus freshman quarterback etched his name into the Fairmont record books in nearly every passing category, including a single-season record 2,630 yards and 28 touchdowns.
"So far, both Mitch (Pfingsten) and Teddy (Luke Hested) have looked good in practice through the first two weeks," Mahoney said in reference to the Cardinals' top two quarterback candidates. "Ted's a senior and came into camp in great shape and looks hungry to take the job, while Mitch's a junior, who's athletic and continues to learn the position.
"We (coaching staff) are very pleased with both players' effort overall, and there's no clear-cut favorite at quarterback yet."
While Fairmont will feature a new starting signal-caller, all-conference senior tailback Brandon Martin and hard-blocking fullback and senior co-captain Kyle Guetter return to the backfield this fall.
The steamrolling Martin brings a team-leading 1,339 rushing yards and 22 TDs to the gridiron, while the multi-tasking Guetter represents nine catches for 91 yards and two TDs to complement 184 rushing yards and another six points. The dynamic dual-role duo also will log valuable minutes on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage this season.
"Guetter has started for us at fullback since he was a sophomore, and will be going both ways as he'll start at middle linebacker for us, too, this year," said Mahoney. "He works hard in the weight room, and does a great job for us.
"What can I say about Martin? He's a horse. He's bigger (220 pounds) than last year, and he's still got it."
Josh Eversman, a 6-foot-3, 168-pound junior, will serve as the Cardinals' backup tailback.
Senior co-captains Bryce Holm and Levi Becker return to wide receiver and tight end, respectively, after displaying their surehandedness a year ago. Holm - a Sentinel All-Area selection - topped the red-and-white with 884 yards and 12 TDs on 55 catches, while Levi Becker made 22 receptions for 307 yards and four scores.
"Levi and (junior) Jay Ruen will be rotating at tight end every other series, in addition to both being on the field when we use multiple sets," said Mahoney. "Holm and (senior Mark) Fruechte are both athletic and possess good speed at the receiver spots, while (senior co-captain) Justin Barnes also will rotate in on certain occasions."
In addition to replacing the trigger man delivering passes to the Cardinals' receivers, Mahoney and his staff have had to replace three linemen that proved the unsung heroes behind an offense that generated a staggering 5,008 total yards and 32.6 points per outing.
Sean Klein, a 6-2, 204-pound senior, returns to his tackle position, while 6-3, 205-pound junior Nick Roggow makes the transition from center to guard in 2012.
Zach Brown, a 6-3, 186-pound junior, will handle the snapping duties this season, with 6-1, 185-pound junior Jeff Brickner and 6-3, 265-pound senior Christian Petschke rounding out the line at guard and tackle, respectively.
"We've got good-sized bookend tackles and our interior guys are quick and can pull, so we're pleased with where they're at in such a short time together," said Mahoney.
On the defensive side, Barnes will return at an end position after producing three interceptions and two fumble recoveries en route to All-Area accolades a year ago.
"He's a wiry undersized defensive end, but he knows how to get the job done," Mahoney said in reference to the 6-3, 170-pound Barnes.
Martin will see time at an end spot, but also will rotate to tackle when Klein and Roggow step into the trenches.
Colton Hines, a 6-0, 270-pound senior, will top the candidates at tackle, with 6-4, 265-pound sophomore Bailey Koppen, 6-2, 235-pound senior Rider Schwieger and 6-2, 217-pound senior Levi Gustafson figuring into the mix.
"Colton has turned in two good weeks at camp for us and is another three-year starter for us on that side of the ball," said Mahoney.
Guetter will serve as the Cardinals' man in the middle, with Levi Becker and senior Ryan Noll returning to flank him in the linebacking core.
Senior Jacob Portz and junior Joe Weber also will figure into the linebacking mix.
Ruen, who topped Fairmont's surehanded secondary with seven interceptions during his varsity debut season, will return to patrol the airwaves from his All-Area safety spot.
Eversman and Ruen will rotate between free and strong safety, while Holm, senior Jordan Voss, senior Dan Sumey and junior Luke Becker will fill the cornerback positions.
Barnes will handle the punting duties for a second consecutive campaign after averaging 35.1 yards per kick, while sophomore Spencer Chirpich will handle the Cardinals' kickoff and PAT duties.
"Our goals are simple - win conference and win section," said Mahoney.
Mahoney anticipates Waseca as one of Fairmont's top SCC rivals, along with Blue Earth Area.
"Waseca returns a lot of speed, plus Brock Kolander is one of the best (running) backs in the league," said Mahoney. "Kuech (Randy Kuechenmeister) knows how to get the most out of every team he coaches each year, so Blue Earth (Area) is always tough."
Ironically, Blue Earth Area and SCC opponent St. Peter also will compete with Fairmont for the newly-aligned Section 3AAA crown, along with Belle Plaine, Tri-City United (Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center), Redwood Valley and Worthington.
"Our section's not as smashmouth as in the past, but there are a lot of quality teams to contend with this year again," said Mahoney. "I don't know if there's a true No. 1 in the section, but I still think we'll be contenders."