Class D-2 Football Playoffs: Growing up as a Flyer
There’s a certain expectation of success for football players at Humphrey St. Francis.
With eight appearances in the title game, four state championships, 35 total playoff appearances and a streak of playoff berths that stretches back to 1995, the Flyers are one of the most accomplished programs anywhere in Nebraska.
That’s why when Braden Freudenburg was a little boy, he was out in the yard with his friends tossing around the football, imagining wearing the royal blue and white.
He can’t remember exactly which player he pretended to be but knows that while some little boys across the state see themselves as Huskers in the backyard, many around Humphrey find their heroes a little closer to home.
“It’s been really special to be a part of this program. Keeping that tradition going has been key always putting in the hard work,” Freudenburg said Friday after practice. “Seeing it as a kid growing up, you’re always working to be the best you can be.
“I think everyone knows you put your best work in for each other. You always work as hard as you can.”
Freudenburg has at least one more opportunity to represent that tradition when he and his teammates take the field Monday night at home against No. 2-seed Johnson-Brock.
The Eagles have put together an 11-0 season matching the Flyers’ record as the two square off for a berth into the Class D-2 state title match a week later in Lincoln at Memorial Stadium.
St. Francis last won a title in 2015 when Freudenburg was a freshman. He didn’t play, but he’s been working toward getting back to that moment ever since.
“It was just a cool experience to be a part of that,” Freudenburg. “It definitely gets the motor running and gets you excited to keep on going.”
Commitment, he says, has never been an issue. Though every team is close, this one has been especially so.
It started over the summer in the weight room pushing one another for one more set, one more rep. It continues off the field where there’s a true brotherhood between the fewer than 30 players who make up the roster.
Granted, in small towns like Humphrey, players and classmates are forced into relationships due to the small size of the community. But, Freudenburg says 2018 has been completely organic.
His teammates have his back, and he’s got theirs.
“Everyone’s working together, everyone’s close and we’re just taking it one play at a time,” he said. “This is the closest team I’ve been a part of. We all know what each other is doing. There’s nothing we don’t know about one another.
“I’d have to say we don’t have anybody that’s “I”. We are a group of, ‘There’s no ‘i’ in team.′ Everyone’s we, a group, together.”
Freudenburg’s role in that group is on the offensive and defensive lines, clearing holes on one side of the ball and plugging them up on the other.
Though St. Francis has been an offensive juggernaut this season, Freudenburg says he enjoys playing defense a little more and scheming against a team and a system to get stops.
“Playing line is a lot of fun. It’s where all the pounding happens,” he said. “It’s all about who’s the strongest or who fires off the ball the hardest.”
Freudenburg and the St. Francis coaching staff will have their hands full on Monday with a Johnson-Brock offense that has scored over 50 points in every game this season and scored 70 or more six times.
Through the air, quarterback Cole Fossenbarger has posted 2,244 passing yards with 47 touchdowns on a completion rate of 71 percent. Ty Hahn has caught 46 of those passes for 914 yards and 20 touchdowns.
On the ground, Dylan Rowe has led the way with 515 yards, eight yards per carry and 12 scores.
“They’re a very good team. They give a lot of looks and they’ve got some very good players,” Freudenberg said.
The Eagles aren’t nearly as accomplished with 12 total trips to the playoffs and no appearances in the title game. The last four years, however, have all ended in the postseason.
Johnson-Brock advanced to this same point last year before losing 54-42 to Howells-Dodge.
“All our teams get along really well and this group is no exception,” St. Francis coach Eric Kessler said. “They really worked hard this summer, and it’s been gratifying to see them get better as the year goes and everybody buying in.”
Freudenburg is one of just two seniors on Kessler’s roster. If the Flyers’ coach has it his way, he’ll get to see both play at least one more game.
″(Fellow senior Jarret Weidner) and Braden have done a great job of leading us. It’s the smallest class of seniors I’ve had ever. There aren’t many teams where you only have two seniors and have a successful year, so it’s a credit to both of them,” he said.
“Braden is a returning starter who’s done a nice job for us on the field, and his leadership...he’s a good student, he’s a good player and he just does what he’s supposed to do. He’s worked hard and it’s great to see him having a good year. He deserves that.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com