Dynastic Caledonia coming to terms with losing season
The Caledonia football program had been the most dynastic one in the country, having strung together 71 straight wins and five straight state championships entering this season. But this has been a very different year for Caledonia, one that has seen the Warriors lose more than they've won. Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte's task has been to come to terms with all of it, for his players and himself.
The Caledonia football team entered this season on a 71-game winning streak, the longest such active streak in the nation.
No. 1-ranked Lake City quickly put that mark to rest, beating the Warriors in the teams’ season-opener, 30-13. Caledonia has followed that by also losing three of its next five games and goes into Friday’s home game against Triton at 2-4 overall.
It marks the first time that 25th-year Caledonia head coach Carl Fruechte has had a team with a losing record. Fruechte, whose Warriors have won five straight state championships and 10 overall under him, suffered a big blow just before the season started when superstar athlete and quarterback Eli King chose not to go out for football, wanting to stay healthy for basketball where he is regarded as a top-five player in the state and will play at Iowa State next year. A couple of others also unexpectedly chose to not go out for the team.
All of that has made for a more difficult 2021 season at Caledonia. Still, Fruechte says he’s incredibly pleased with this team and has appreciated its commitment and fight. He also says his focus remains the same as always, to develop not just good football players, but young men.
How are your players reacting to what has been a losing season? They’re obviously not used to this.
Fruechte: I see a group of guys who really care and want to do well. But at some point, I think they felt like they were letting me down. I had to reassure them that they were not. It is all about their attitude and effort, which has been great. But they do care deeply about this and I think they are a little bit hurt. And that’s OK. It should hurt a little bit.
How are you reacting to the losses?
Fruechte: I don’t like losing. But again, this is a "we" thing. So I internalize everything and try to look at what I can do better so that we can do better. But I have to stay calm, steady and consistent. We are trying to lead and I have to stay consistent.
Besides star Eli King and a couple of others choosing not to go out for football this season, what has held this team back?
Fruechte: I think COVID hurt us a little bit, but everyone has to deal with that. You think you do a great job in the offseason, but then you get into the season and you begin to wonder, "Did we?" But for the most part, our guys got into the weight room. It just is what it is. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the other team is better than you are. We think we’re getting better, but we have played some really good (teams). Honestly, no one has done anything wrong here. We’ve just gotten beat by some good schools.
As you look back on the incredible win streak your program was on — 71 straight wins — what are your thoughts?
Fruechte: If you’d told me in 1998 — when I first started as head coach and was trying to turn things around — that we’d win 71 straight games, I’d have thought you were crazy. But honestly, I am just really humbled by what happened.
What has been the reaction of the Caledonia community and others to this rare season you’re having?
Fruechte: The community has been very good and very supportive. I’ve not heard one negative thing and our athletic director (Scott Sorenson) has not heard negative things. Caledonia people love their kids and they recognize that these guys are trying hard. I’m just very proud of our community for that.
Have you heard from ex-Caledonia players?
Fruechte: Yes, I’ve gotten a lot of text messages from alumni, telling us to keep fighting and doing all the little things. This past weekend, I even heard from one of the Minneapolis North coaches, just wanting to make sure I was OK. That was really nice. North coach Charles (Adams III) and I are emailing friends. We keep up with each other.
Is your team getting better as the season has progressed?
Fruechte: I think we are communicating better as a team and the trust is getting better. And to me, trust is everything because that is something that you take into your life. But football comes down to trust, no matter what level you’re playing at. Trust is a big concept, but it is something that everyone works on in their marriage, in their job and in athletics. You keep striving to get that trust.
You’ve heard from some that you’re not as intense on the sidelines this season. What do you make of that?
Fruechte: I am just as intense as ever, but sometimes you just have to be there for the kids and be reassuring to these guys. They are trying very hard and working very hard. It’s easy to be tough on guys when things are going well. But when they aren’t you have to be reassuring that your players are doing good things.
What are you hoping for as this season winds down?
Fruechte: I hope we continue to get better every day and make a great run in the (post-season) tournament. I want our guys to believe in themselves and to do the best they can. Nothing is going to change our philosophy. It’s the same stuff we’d be telling them if they were unbeaten — to continue to get better as football players and human beings.