The Waterloo High School football team enters its third-straight season with a different coach, but with a resumé like Dave Frisell’s, it’s hard not to believe the program is about to head back in the right direction.
Frisell has a strong background, previously coaching high school football in Minnesota for 22 years. His longest tenure came as head coach at St. Francis High School from 1994-2003, while also coaching at high schools at Bloomington Kennedy, Mankato East, Robbinsdale Armstrong and Hibbing.
Frisell was hired in late July to replace Aaron Erickson, who coached the Pirates last year but went winless in nine games. Erickson, who accepted a position at Jefferson High School, succeeded Paul Scheel, who coached from 2012-2016.
“This will be the smallest school I’ve ever coached at,” said Frisell, 53, who will be a part-time physical education teacher and serve as the school’s co-athletic director. “I like it that way. You get to know the kids better, hopefully we get a community feel here and we’re going to try and build something.”
Frisell believes rebuilding a program starts at the lower level and in the weight room, two areas he has grasped immediately.
“I see that the youth numbers are low, so I think that’s got to be a big focus. I also want to figure out how to make this program a little more attractive so kids want to be a part of it,” he said. “We also have to work on the weight room and keep building on its importance; as soon as everybody realizes that, then the culture starts to become ‘why don’t you do it instead of why do you do it?’
“Right now the focus is trying to put a product on the field.”
The Pirates went winless in nine games last season. That included an 0-4 mark in the Capitol South Conference, but there is believed to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think a lot of the conference teams were senior-heavy,” said Waterloo defensive coordinator Thurston Schuster, one of several holdovers from last year’s staff. “I think there’s a lot of turnovers in all the teams, fortunately it’s not us because we only had about four contributing seniors last year; we return eight guys on offense and eight guys on defense.”
But those seniors were key, most notably Spencer Noel and Matt Mankowski. Noel was named All-Capitol South Conference at three positions (wide receiver, defensive back, specialist), while Mankowski was a two-way All-CSC lineman.
The Pirates also graduated all-conference defensive back Aaron Brey and punter Alex Sanzenbacher.
But the cupboard is far from empty. Back are four talented players that drew the league’s attention at season’s end, Jacob Filter, E.J. Jiles, Abdon Tonche-Aguero and Blake Huebner.
Huebner, a multi-purpose athlete that played quarterback, fullback, linebacker and defensive back, returns for his junior year. The 6-0, 160-pounder earned honorable mention laurels after making 28 tackles (20 solo) and three for a loss, while leading the team with four fumble recoveries.
“He is really a good looking athlete,” Frisell said.
Huebner caught four passes for 73 yards, but one thing he didn’t do was score a touchdown, something Frisell is hoping will change in 2019.
“I think we have to figure out ways of getting him the ball, he’s a really good receiver.”
Huebner showed his versatility when starting quarterback Chase Bostwick went down with a mid-season injury, completing 13-of-33 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 152 yards on 71 carries.
Filter, a 5-foot-10, 225-pound senior, was named second-team all-conference at interior lineman. Filter recorded 29 ½ tackles, which included 23 solo stops and three tackles for a loss.
Filter also played offense, rushing for 90 yards while catching seven passes for 61 yards. But his services will be needed elsewhere.
“He played fullback last year, but we are transitioning him to the offensive line,” said Schuster.
Jiles was named honorable mention tight end. The athletic 5-11, 165-pound senior was the second-leading receiver behind Noel catching eight passes for 193 yards, an average of 24.1 yards per catch, and two touchdowns.
Also named honorable mention was Tonche-Aguero. The 5-8, 170-pound senior was the Pirates’ leading tackler in 2018 making 56 ½ stops, including 43 solo tackles and three TFLs.
Tonche-Aguero also returns as the team’s leading rusher where he gained 244 yards on 83 carries and found the end zone once.
Bostwick completed 46-of-127 passes for 847 yards and seven touchdowns versus eight interceptions.
“It’s a whole new system for him,” said Frisell, who will run out of the spread. “Chase looks like he’s ready to do that. From what I hear he looks more confident.”
Waterloo had been a WIAA playoff staple, qualifying six times this decade but has not been to the postseason since 2016.
“I like the system here where you have to be decent to make the playoffs,” said Frisell, who noted that every high school team in Minnesota qualifies for the postseason. “You make the playoffs whether you’re good or no good, and if you’re no good you get slaughtered.”
This will be the final year the Capitol South will be a four-team conference. Next season the Capitol South will consist of current teams Cambridge, Marshall and Waterloo, while being joined by Clinton of the Rock Valley Conference and Trailways Conference teams from Dodgeland, Markesan, Palmyra-Eagle and Pardeeville.
Waterloo will play one of those teams out of conference this year, facing Palmyra-Eagle in Week 6.
Cambridge won the Capitol South and was within one game of playing at state, while Belleville, New Glarus/Montello and Marshall all finished 2-2 in the league.
“I’d be very surprised if Cambridge wasn’t again at that level, teams like that just reload, Marshall returns all-conference players in Kelby Petersen and Dylan Horstmeyer, and New Glarus/Monticello is usually strong,” Schuster said.
The Pirates open the season at home in Week 1 hosting Poynette in a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday, Aug. 23.
Waterloo begins Capitol South Conference play in Week 5, traveling to Belleville on Sept. 20.