Strategy and X's and O's are certainly great and important, but Barnesville football coach Bryan Strand knows that when it really comes down to it, the bigger, faster, stronger team is going to win most football games. So he makes training in the weight room a major priority for his program.
The Trojans train year round and lift four days a week in-season, including on game days. The coach says they get close to 50 athletes between grades 7 and 12 in the weight room every morning, and he is in there with them every day running the show.
“I figure if I’m asking them to be there and I want them to lift, then I better be in there too,” he said.
That dedication to building big, strong athletes has paid off in a big way for Barnesville. They are 110-19 since 2009 with six state tournament appearances and two state championship game appearances. The most recent title game appearance was last season — a 21-0 loss to Caledonia, which Barnesville will face again at 11:30 a.m. Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium in the Minnesota Class 2A state semifinals.
“Football isn’t so much finesse — you’ve got to be tougher than the guy across from you,” Strand said. “And what I think it does for confidence, they know they’re stronger than the team we’re going up against. Caledonia is one that is at the same level that we are.”
The Trojans win most games by blowing their opponents off the ball in the trenches and creating gigantic holes for their runners. Barnesville’s leading rusher is junior quarterback Adam Tonsfeldt, who has 1,428 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 12.6 yards per carry.
But on Friday, the Trojans meet Caledonia, one of the few teams in Class 2A that can match or even surpass them physically.
“We surprised them with our ability to hang around last year,” Strand said. “But we’re not going to surprise them again. We’re going to have to come up with some things.”
The Trojans are looking for revenge. But they’re going to have their hands full.
Caledonia owns the longest active high school football winning streak in the United States with 66 consecutive wins, with their last loss coming on Nov. 15, 2014. The Warriors have won nine state championships since 2007, including the last four in a row. And during their winning streak, they’ve won every game but one by double digits.
Last year’s state title game was one of the closest games the Warriors have played, with the Trojans trailing by just 7 until late in the fourth quarter.
“We’re coming back for a rematch,” Brady Kroll said. “We all want to beat these guys. We’ve already all played them. They ended our season last year. So we want to take this chance to end their streak.”
When asked if the Trojans have a philosophy in the weight room, Iowa State defensive end commit Hunter Zenzen replied, “Beat Caledonia.” They have been waiting all year for another shot at the Warriors. And they’ve been training hard all year so that when they meet them again, they’ll have the best possible chance to come out on top and topple the Goliath that is Caledonia football.
“Everybody’s bigger, faster, stronger,” Zenzen said. “The backfield is bigger this year. That is something we’ve gotten better at for sure.”
They have improved physically with long-term dedication to the weight room. Strand likes to get his athletes started lifting in middle school to create good habits. He starts by teaching them the fundamentals of lifting and getting them to buy in. He worries about getting them to lift heavier weights as their bodies mature.
That buy-in attitude builds strong athletes over time. When Zenzen tested his max bench press for the first time as a seventh-grader, he could lift 155 pounds. Now his max bench press is 295 pounds and he owns the Barnesville weight room record for the clean with 295 pounds. And senior running back Hunter Anderson can bench press 255 pounds, while weighing 145.
“I’ve seen kids who have been average football players in ninth grade turn out to be pretty good by the time they are seniors because they’re strong,” Strand said.
Zenzen and the other leaders on the team take it upon themselves to help teach the younger kids in the weight room and make sure they are doing everything correctly, the coach says. If Zenzen spots somebody doing something incorrectly, he’ll pause his workout to go help them and work with them.
“The kids look at him like he is amazing,” Strand said of Zenzen, who has committed to play football at Iowa State. “Because he is. He’s a great athlete. But he’s so kind to everybody. He’s the homecoming king and everything and there’s a reason. His work ethic is second to none.”
That kind of dedication is something Strand requires and expects of the captains on his football team.
“If you can’t get your leaders in there, you can’t get everybody else in there,” he said. “I’ve got a rule that says if you haven’t spent three years in the weight room, you can’t be a captain. You can’t even be on the ballot. And your chances of being all conference or all district are slim to none, unless you’re absolutely amazing. If it’s a competition and I’ve got two guys that are equal, the guy who worked his butt off is going to get the award.”