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East Ridge football: Raptors freshmen finish unbeaten for fourth straight season

Freshmen Grant Ryerse (left) and Zachary Bennett helped the East Ridge freshman football team go undefeated for a fourth-straight year, while also playing varsity football for the Raptors. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson) 1 / 2
East Ridge freshman team head coach Mike Tollefsbol led the Raptors to a perfect 9-0 record this year, beating Suburban East Conference foe Mounds View 52-14 in the championship game. (Submitted photo by Mike Tuckner)2 / 2

If it’s true a varsity team is only as good as its feeder programs, the East Ridge football team should be in good shape.

The East Ridge freshman football team went unbeaten this fall for a fourth year in a row. 

Behind head coach Mike Tollefsbol, the East Ridge freshman football team finished a perfect 9-0, beating Suburban East Conference foe Mounds View 52-14 in the championship game.

“It’s good players,” said Tollefsbol, who also is a freshman baseball coach at East Ridge and an assistant coach for the varsity boys hockey team at Woodbury High School. “The kids have been great. They show up every day and work hard. I don’t think any kids work harder than our kids do in practice. We also have great assistant coaches.”

Tollefsbol said the win streak was in the back of his mind this season, but his goal is always about player development first and foremost.

“We’re not going in saying it’s the end of the world if we lose,” he said. “It’s ninth-grade football, so we just want to get them ready for varsity. Our goal is to come out on Friday nights and watch them be successful.”

Tollefsbol said the freshman team used about “60-70 percent” of the varsity team’s schemes. 

“All of our blocking schemes are the same,” he said. “We run out of some different formations, though. It’s the same running-type plays, but we just run more running backs than they do.”

The East Ridge varsity football team already leaned heavily on freshmen this year on the way to a Suburban East Conference championship and an 8-2 season.

Freshmen Grant Ryerse, Zachary Bennett, Michael Remke, Will Walker and Dominik London all played varsity for the Raptors in 2013. Out of the five, only London didn’t suit up for the freshman team this year. London was the starting running back for the varsity team after senior Nick Leach went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Next to London, Ryerse and Bennett had the most playing time on the Raptors’ varsity squad. Ryerse was East Ridge’s starting kicker and Bennett was the varsity team’s long snapper.

“It’s been fun,” said Bennett, who played defensive end and left guard for the ninth-grade team. “I’m more of an impact player on the ninth-grade team, but just playing varsity as a freshman doesn’t happen very often. I’m pretty proud to be able to do that.”

Both Bennett and Ryerse said the older players on the East Ridge football team let them know about the freshman team’s win streak and made sure to tell them to keep it going. 

“There was definitely some pressure on us to win every game,” said Ryerse, who was a defensive end, tight end, kicker and punter for the freshman team. “Hopefully they can carry it on next year, too.”

During the year, East Ridge’s benchmark victory came over perennial power Cretin-Derham Hall, 20-7.

“That was probably the biggest win,” Bennett said. “Most of the other were blowouts.”

Ryerse said he had fun playing for both teams, but the dual duties of playing freshman and varsity football kept them busy. 

“It was crazy sometimes,” he said. “On Fridays we’d practice with the freshmen, get something to eat then go out to the game field. We had two practices every day, too.”

Ryerse said he wouldn’t soon forget his unique freshman season. 

“Our group of guys on the freshman team were really tight,” he said. “We’ve all played together a long time. That was probably the best part about the team. On varsity, I didn’t expect to get treated real well, because I’m a kicker and a freshman, but the guys treated me great. It was better than expected.”

 -Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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