Tackling The Football Season

Sam Bremer, Deputy Editor, Sports and Wellness

We can all pretend high school football was the same as ever last year. We can all act like despite coronavirus limitations, the constant threat of quarantine and no fans in the bleachers, the 2020-21 season was just another regular year for the players and coaches. But the truth is that it simply wasn’t. 

Excitement, intensity and passion are the pillars on which high school football was built, and those elements are very hard to recreate when playing in empty stadiums. On the one hand, Minnetonka varsity football players, coaches, and fans were robbed of what should have been a really fun 2020 season, but, on the other, Tonka football is attacking the 2021 season with a renewed intensity that we haven’t seen in a while due to last year’s challenges.

After beating Edina and Blaine in the first two games of the ‘21 season in front of loud and exuberant Skipper fans at Einer-Anderson Stadium, this year’s team looks promising. After the 28-3 Week 2 defeat of Blaine, a student, who asked not to be named, set the Skippers’ ceiling at a State Championship Victory. 

Varsity Head Coach Mark Esch, however, has even more ambitious plans.

“Our peak performance may not mean an undefeated, perfect season, but we’ll perform at the highest level we’re capable of,” he said.

 The ultimate goal for Esch and the Skippers’ coaching team, rather than winning any one game or achieving a certain milestone, is for the players to say “wow, [we] played pretty well [last week], but got better this week. That’s the goal every week.” 

“Success in football and life is doing the best you can with the tools you’ve been given […] do the very best you can in all aspects of your life. You’re not going to be perfect, but you can be successful,” Esch said. 

Easily the best way to get better week to week, as well as throughout the season, is to have a strong culture in place where the players, coaches and parents understand their role and will do whatever it takes to better the team and themselves. 

“Common Vision is very important. We talk about creating a culture of character, and that’s our number one goal. We feel like if we create a culture of high character, that’ll take care of the wins,” Esch said.  

The biggest aspects of a strong team culture are a balance between work and play, having off-field success and being selfless.

One of the most effective coaching tactics in all sports is being fun to play for. So-called drill sergeants who spend practice bullying and berating players are a thing of the past, and Esch is well aware of that. 

“I think humor can come at any time, whether it’s in a meeting or on the football field. For the kids and coaches, [the fun aspect] is kind of the new norm. We have a good idea of how to balance the work. When the defense makes a good play in practice, you’d better believe they will celebrate, but the very next play, they’ll be back out on the field, focused in again,” he said. “There’s just an understanding, and a framework set by the coaching staff of, ‘hey, we can have fun but we’ve got to get the work done.’ And I think everyone’s kind of on the same page with that.”

According to Esch, off-the-field success is just as important as on-the-field success for the Skippers. 

“It’s difficult to say ‘I’m a successful football player but I’m failing all my classes’. They correlate with each other. One area of your life will affect the other, no doubt. Whether it’s academics, social, mental, emotional, or physical. All these areas intersect and are intermingled […] How you treat your parents, how you do academically, how you treat your friends…It’s all gonna play out eventually on the football field and vice versa,” he said.

One of the most common phrases used around the Skipper Football program is the acronym “INAM” which stands for “It’s Not About Me”. It is what Esch and the rest of the coaching staff expect from their players. 

“We’re talking about being selfless, putting others before yourself, playing for the person next to you, and playing to serve the team. That’s when we’re gonna be able to reach peak performance,” he said. 

Whether it’s an assistant coach staying up all night drawing up passing plays when he’s already tired or a player accepting a scout-team role to get the offense ready for the next week’s game, the Skippers understand that football is much more than just a couple players. There are countless people and players behind the scenes that make the team successful, and unless everyone is on the same page—working towards the common goal of team success—it’s very hard to have a successful football team.

For those who have watched the Minnetonka football team’s performance thus far, it’s clear that they are a talented team all around. But, what’s even more clear is that they have put in the work and preparation to be the best team possible each and every week. If Breezes readers are Skipper fans, can they really ask for much more than that? 

As for what to expect from Tonka football for the rest of the ‘21 season, Coach Esch’s next quote sums it up. 

“I think you will see a team that plays extremely hard, that will never give up, that will respond to adversity and keep their cool, and that will constantly improve.” 

You couldn’t cook up a better recipe for success than that.