Davin Thompson has directed the Rushford-Peterson football program for the last 12 years.
This season feels different to the 42-year-old and it’s not just because his son, Carson Thompson, is a senior two-way starting lineman on the team.
Although that is part of it. By virtue of Carson, coach Thompson has been around this bunch of Trojans football players seemingly forever, on the field and off of it.
“I’ve been watching and coaching these boys, starting with basketball, since they were in second grade,” Thompson said. “I’ve known for a long time that they are good athletes and good boys. They are good, hard-working kids. The expectation to have a good football season this year has been there for a long time.”
Turns out it’s been way more than a “good” season. It has so far been an unbeaten one with nary a test. R-P is 8-0, ranked No. 3 in Class A and has outscored its overmatched foes by an average of 41-9.
“If this isn’t the best team I’ve ever had, it’s right up there,” Thompson said. “What makes it so special is how connected they are. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing (on the football field and likely otherwise). We blitz on almost every play defensively. I don’t call the blitzes. They decided who is going to go. That is how (in sync) they are with each other. They take ownership of things and do it.”
R-P didn’t end last year — which ceased after five games due to the COVID-19 pandemic — with loads of momentum. To the contrary. The Trojans finished 2-3 overall, the losses to Blooming Prairie, Randolph and Goodhue.
Randolph is the only one among those three that it’s had an opportunity to get even with this season. And the Trojans sure did that, romping 47-8.
A big year for Bunke
It was a typically glowing game for quarterback Malachi Bunke, who’s thrown for 1,205 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and also rushed for 293 yards and 10 TDs. One of nine seniors starting on offense (R-P also starts that many on defense), the athletic and strong-armed Bunke threw for 158 yards and three scores against Randolph. His top receiver that night was speedster Grady Hengel with 100 yards in receptions. Another favorite target, 6-foot-3, 210-pound Justin Ruberg, had 76 yards receiving.
Ruberg, like former cross-country runner Hengel, is a vital component on this team. He leads the team in receiving with 364 yards and seven TDs. On defense, he lines up at linebacker where he uses his size and athleticism to wreak havoc.
Ruberg is in football heaven every Friday night, encouraged by Thompson to freely do his thing on the football field, as are all of these Trojans players.
“(Thompson) tells us to go out there and just fly around,” Ruberg said. “He wants us to use the talents we’ve been given and to leave it all out there. It helps that we’ve all been playing together for so long. We know each other’s tendencies and we know that no matter what, the other person is going to be there for us. They’re going to have our back.”
Ruberg agrees that there are lots of weapons and skills on this R-P team. Like Thompson, he could see long ago that his now senior-laden team had the potential to be special.
But it’s not just all of that collective athleticism that’s made everything work. As Thompson noted, as important as anything has been these guys’ connectedness, bonds that were started all of those years ago.
“This year, all of us just being there for everyone has been great,” Ruberg said. “Every senior on this team is a leader. If the younger kids are looking up to us older kids, we’ll definitely be there for them. Everyone wants to help.”
Now what everyone on this team wants to help do is get to the state tournament.
R-P hasn’t been there since 2016, when it finished second to Minneapolis North. The Trojans believe it’s time to go again.
Whatever happens, for many of them, this will go down as the time of their lives. Playing football on a team this connected is special. That goes for the coach, too.
“These are fun kids,” Thompson said. “They don’t ever seem to have a bad day. They’re always smiling and dancing around. These kids are great boys and they love each other.”