Park football coach Rick Freiklund’s early reaction this year to the news that the Wolfpack is moving up to Class 6A likely reflects what many in his position would think given the potential for jumping into the class.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he thought.
Others across the state certainly welcomed the Wolfpack into the class of the biggest schools in Minnesota high school football with open arms. Park, after all, went 2-3 in Class 5A in 2020, and has not held a winning record together since the 2017 season.
“I think a lot of teams saw our record in 5A last year and they were like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to level 6A,'” Park senior linebacker Micah Runyon said.
Senior lineman Juan Orozco-Sanchez said: “When we got the news and everyone else got the news, I know a lot of teams were thinking they would kick us out of every game, we didn’t even put points on the board. ”
The park has always been in between Class 5A and Class 6A in terms of enrollment. When Wolfpack moved to Class 5A in 2015, it was felt that classes from slightly smaller schools were a better fit. So this could be seen as bad news for the park when its enrollment this season brought the program back to Class 6A.
Yet Freiklund said his superiors “didn’t scream” upon hearing the news. His response was simple: “Let’s play. let’s go to work.”
“I think these guys, in particular, said, ‘Not only do we have a year left, but what are people going to say about park football rising to 6A level? Are we going to be poor little schools? What are all the big schools got together with?’ ” he said. “No. We’re going to be the school you have to compete with.”
“I saw it as a challenge. I was excited,” said senior Treyton Bammert-Muller, who was all sub-district at the tight end last year but playing on the line this season to meet the team’s need. “With classes, everyone assumes that it goes with the competition … and the difficulty, which it does. We really had to push it this year, and I think it was a good challenge. ”
Forest parks have been found so far this season. The Wolfpack lead 2-2 in Friday’s home game against Burnsville with wins over Egan and Hopkins. One of the two defeats was a narrow defeat at the hands of Eastview. The second was a 50–14 loss to top-ranked Lakeville South, who have been beating opponents by more than 26 points per game this season.
After the opening days of the season, Lakeville South coach Ben Burke said, “I think Parks is a better team than people are going to give them credit for.”
This has proved to be true so far. Park quarterback Evan Berth said the kids at Cottage Grove grew up playing against the kids at Woodbury, so playing at the same level as district rivals East Ridge and Woodbury seemed appropriate. The Wolfpack will meet the Royals next week for their first football fight in years.
“We’re lucky that these kids go out, work really hard and believe in what we’re asking them to do, and that allows us to compete,” Freiklund said.
The Wolfpack thinks they are related, regardless of what others may have believed.
“We are happy to use that inspiration when we see it or hear it on social media. It is going to make us work even harder, because you have the opportunity to prove it every week,” Freiklund said “If you think you belong to 6A Football, prove it. Last week, that was my challenge – if you think you can close a game defensively, prove it. This week, it’s not only about proving it again, but you have to earn it. ”
You have to earn everything in class 6A. Orozco-Sanchez said that Freiklund and company — including offensive coordinator Tim Walton, the masterminds of Park’s powerful offense — look forward to putting the team back in its place if its collective heads turn too big at the first sign of success.
“There’s no bad football team in 6A,” Park senior Will Smoot said. “So you have to come out there every week and just work hard. So if we keep working hard, I think we’ll be fine.”
This has been the recipe till date. Park’s roster could be smaller than its opponents at times this season. The Wolfpack cannot have a defensive back taller than 5 foot-8. But this doesn’t seem to bother them.
“They’re just cowards. They’re not going to hold back,” Freiklund said. “So it’s funny when they say, ‘Hey, we don’t know how the end will go, but we’re set to rumble. Let’s see what we got.’ ”