FAIRMONT - A variety of emotions will be evoked when Class AAA, No. 7-ranked Fairmont plays host to Dassel-Cokato in a 7 p.m. nonconference football game Friday night at Mahoney Field.
Head coach Ryan Weinandt's visiting Chargers not only enter Week 3 with two defeats on their ledger, but return to the gridiron for the first time since losing 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior linebacker Luke Nelson to a severe head injury last Friday night.
According to a Star Tribune article earlier this week, Nelson was hit in the head, possibly by the thigh of a larger Orono player he was trying to tackle. Nelson later collapsed and was unresponsive before being taken to a Litchfield hospital.
Fairmont's Tim Tow
Doctors at the Litchfield medical facility found a bleed in Nelson's brain, and he was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to remove the right half of his skull to allow the brain swelling to heal.
"Considering the circumstances, Luke is doing well and has shown signs of improvements, but his prognosis is unclear for now," Dassel-Cokato athletic director Perry Thinesen said via a phone conversation Monday afternoon. "There are powerful lessons to be learned from an experience like this."
Fairmont activities director and Cardinal head football coach Mat Mahoney, along with the Fairmont school district and the program's football association, can empathize with the Nelson family and the Dassel-Cokato school district as a whole and plan to show their support for Luke Nelson's recovery.
"Our football association raffles off an autographed ball prior to each home game as a fund-raiser for our program," said Mahoney. "Friday night, the association will have the Dassel-Cokato players and coaches sign the ball, and all of the proceeds from the raffle will go to the Nelson family."
Both Fairmont and Dassel-Cokato also will participate in a cancer awareness night at Mahoney Field in conjunction with KARE 11 television journalist Randy Shaver's "Tackle Cancer" program.
"Prior to the start of the season, we had agreed through the (Minnesota) football coaches association to work in conjunction with the Randy Shaver Foundation during Week 3, so there will be a lot of emotion in store for Friday night," said Mahoney.
While Mahoney acknowledged that all prep athletes' health is always the top priority, his players cannot become distracted from playing the actual game.
"We (coaching staff) told the boys tonight in practice that there are things in life that you can control and things you cannot. What happened last week was awful, but it was something none of us can control," said Mahoney. "We have to do what we do on Friday nights, and that's play to the best of our abilities."
And Fairmont has done that this fall, shutting out Worthington 26-0 in its season-opener at the friendly confines of Mahoney Field before holding Marshall in check, 15-2, at Mattke Field on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall last week.
In turn, the Cardinals earned the No. 7 spot in the Minnesota Associated Press' first prep football poll of the season.
"It's a great honor to be ranked, but it doesn't translate into wins," Mahoney said with a smile.
Fairmont, however, has been winning on the strength of a 4-4 defensive scheme that has not allowed a point. In fact, the Tim Tow-led unit created four turnovers in the Cardinals' Week 2 win, including an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble by Jay Ruen.
So, what will Mahoney and his coaching staff expect to encounter against Dassel-Cokato?
"They are a carbon copy of us offensively, and like to run trap," Mahoney said. "We'd like to stop them on first down, and get them in second-and-long situations, but their linemen get off the ball well and can move the pile."
Mitch Fiecke, a 6-1, 170-pound sophomore, will put a youthful Charger offense in motion by either looking for favorite target split end Zach Martin or handing off to tailback Dalton Asplin or fullback Derek Antil.
Dassel-Cokato's starting lineup features only a pair of two-way starters - Martin and Asplin, with just 11 of the starting 22 positions being filled by seniors.
"They're hungry for a win, and likely will be dedicating this game to Luke Nelson, so emotions will run high," said Mahoney. "We'll just take it one play at a time, and see what happens.
"Our defense has been pretty salty so far, not allowing any touchdowns in eight quarters this season. Our offense hasn't quite been on the same page for an entire game yet, so we're looking for even better things there this week."
Fairmont (2-0) kicks off its South Central Conference schedule next Friday by hosting Waseca.