Skippers with Swagger: Rod Tolen’s Football Defense


Photo Courtesy of @TonkaFB on Twitter

Sam Bremer, Deputy Editor of Sports and Wellness

In the past decade, the game of football has changed rapidly and that change has been pretty tough on defenses. Over the last 10 years, it has experienced rule changes, rapidly evolving offensive schemes and strategies far more nuanced than ever before. Simply put, defense is difficult. However, if new Minnetonka Football Defensive Coordinator, Rod Tolen has anything to say about it, trying to score on his defense is going to be even harder.

As Tonka’s Safeties coach for the last 4 years, Tolen is a familiar face in the program, and when former DC Tom Menke stepped down, Tolen was a clear choice to be his successor. If there is one thing that stands out about him, it’s the energetic swagger that he brings to this Minnetonka defense. He credits a lot of his success and attitude to his past as a “Southern country boy,” where football was always the top priority. As a result, Tolen’s mentality is all about domination. He said, “As a youngin, the way I learned the sport was to dominate another human being.”

Previous coordinators Greg Clough and Menke were very successful, so while Tolen does not need to reinvent the wheel, he brings a different attitude to the field. “I say it all the time. We’re hard nosed, dawg. We’re barbaric.” 

That mentality is how Tolen rolls, and his defense follows suit. Instead of shying away from the toughness needed to be a defensive player, Tolen does a remarkable job of playing into it. He coaches with a junkyard dog mentality and it has given his squad a mentality of hard work and accountability. He acknowledges, though, that his players have put in hard work all off-season, and he praises them for sticking up to the standard, saying “Playing defense at Minnetonka ain’t easy. But these guys are resilient. They are comfortable being uncomfortable”. Tolen’s mentality was put to the test during Tonka’s first game of the season at Edina. After going down 14-0 in a hostile environment, the outcome looked pretty bleak for the Skippers. But Tonka never flinched, responding with 27 unanswered points, and ultimately leaving with a 34-21 road win. Tolen again praised the team’s resilience.

“That’s a vibe that you can feel on the sideline, knowing that failure is not an option. That’s tough to beat,” he said.

Tolen believes that to achieve the desired results on Friday night, the weekly preparation has to be outstanding. 

“The standard is the standard, and the goal is the goal. It will never change. We can’t hold one kid to a different standard than someone else, because then we wouldn’t be adapting. We’d be conforming to mediocrity,” he said. And on this team, it’s clear that mediocrity is unacceptable.

Tolen noted that his defense is almost always on their A-game in practice, and some of that has to be attributed to the versatile, talented offense they face off against on the other end. “There isn’t an offense that these guys can’t prepare us for. Going against those guys every day really ups the level of intensity.” Said Tolen.

Tolen also admitted that over the off-season, there was an adjustment period that was necessary before the defense completely caught up with the stacked Skipper offense, but his squad is better as a result. He added that knowing that they can’t come out at practice “jucking and jiving” really tends to keep his players on their toes. 

With the drive this group has and the preparation that they have put in, there is no reason why Minnetonka Football can’t achieve every goal they have this season. This squad is bent on domination, and they won’t accept anything less. 

“Doesn’t matter who’s here”, said Tolen. “The standard is the standard and the goal is the State Championship. There’s no way around it.”