Since 1945 the Minnesota Football Coaches Association honored the state's top graduated high school seniors with the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game. Being played at St. Cloud State University's Husky Stadium a 1 p.m. Saturday, the 2013 all-star game features a pair of players from the Marshall area. The selection of Dawson-Boyd's Brandon Schmitt and Marshall's Alex Werner is not only an individual honor for the two, but also an affirmation of the success of the burgeoning programs they will be representing.
Following his third season as the head coach of the Marshall Tigers, Terry Bahlmann was selected as the coach for the "Outstate All-Stars" in 2007. Only one Tiger accompanied Bahlmann for the game, running back Tony Awoleye, but his selection to the all-star game ended a 13-year drought for Marshall. Not since offensive lineman Dustin Vierstraete was named to the team in 1993 had Marshall sent a player to the all-star game, but since Awoleye's selection there have been just two years without a Tiger.
After missing out in 2008, Marshall sent Tyler Gimmestad (a two-time national champion at North Dakota State University) to the all-star game in 2009. Following another vacancy in 2010, the Tigers have sent players three years in a row. Brennan Cable participated in 2011, while Beau Bofferding was selected in 2012. Werner, an offensive lineman for the South All-Stars, is the newest member of the most recent tradition for Tiger football.
"It's really just a humbling experience to be grouped with some really good players," Werner said. "I've gotten the chance to play with the past two (Marshall players) who were chosen, Brennan and Beau. It's just really humbling to be put with some really good football names and gain this experience."
For his coach, three players in a row and five out of the last seven years is a testament not only to the dedication of the individuals but a confirmation of the growth of Marshall's football program.
"I think it's great for our individuals that have gone, but I think it's also an indication of how our program's grown and the success we've had," Bahlmann said. "When you have team success, individuals get rewarded."
Bahlmann noted that although being selected to the All-Star game is not a goal that he would set for his players, but in light of the recent string of participants, those players have begun setting that goal for themselves.
"I think it's just a nice honor to cap it off. They know that the opportunity is there if that's one of their goals," Bahlmann said. "Now that we've had a lot of kids go the past couple of years, it's a very reachable, attainable goal for them."
For Dawson-Boyd, the number of recent participants in the all-star game has been even more impressive. After Josh Aakre ended a 10-year wait for the Blackjacks in 2008, Dawson-Boyd football players have competed in every all-star game since (excluding 2009). The Blackjacks have also placed five players in the last four years in the game, including two players in 2012 in Esten Weber and Zach Stelter.
The 2013 representative is Schmitt, who will be playing defensive tackle in Saturday's game for the North All-Stars. Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said Schmitt's selection further cements the Blackjacks status as one of Minnesota's top-tier programs, regardless of class.
"I think it's pretty neat. Just having one kid there is quite an honor, and to be able to coach five kids in the last four years that have obviously excelled on the field, have been shown respect by other coaches that rank them, it's pretty cool for our program," Larson said.
Schmitt, who possesses deceiving quickness in spite of his size, is hoping to make the most of his time in St. Cloud. Not only was he chosen to represent his school, but also the highly decorated Dawson-Boyd class of 2013. The group of seniors compiled a 42-7 record in their four years of high school, while also capturing the 2011 Class A state title.
"Ever since we started, my class was always a big group together," Schmitt said. "It was fun growing up with those guys because we worked hard and had goals, and we completed our goals."
After their game on Saturday, where Schmitt and Werner will likely be matched up against one another on more than one occasion, the two will begin preparing for a new tradition.
Both lineman were members of the Southwest Minnesota State University signing class for 2013 and will begin their college football careers when the Mustangs open up camp in August. Werner and Schmitt are each using their time against the rest of state's elite to measure how far they've come since high school football ended.
"It's going well. It's really different after having the winter off," Werner said. "But it's really nice to get back in the pads, bang around and run some plays with some good players.
"It's actually really helpful, it gives me a nice gauge of how I've been progressing," he added. "Over the summer I've been working out and lifting with the SMSU team all summer now, so it gives me a good gauge of where I'm at with some other college athletes. It's nice to see where I stand, so to speak."
Schmitt, who also wrestled and played baseball for the Blackjacks, got a later start to his weight training, but said that he has already noticed some improvements, though nothing drastic.
"I've been in the weight room quite a bit," he said. "As soon as baseball was done we started a lifting program. I guess I've noticed a little improvement on my speed, but other than that I haven't really noticed much."
Dawson-Boyd completed the 2012 season with an 11-2 record, falling to Bethlehem Academy in the Class A state semifinal. Marshall, meanwhile, ended its season with a 9-1 record and a loss to Glencoe-Silver Lake in the Section 2AAAA semifinals.
SMSU went 4-7 in 2012 and kicks off its 46th season on Sept. 7 against St. Cloud State.