In last year’s Section One, Nine-Man championship game, Spring Grove trailed Cleveland 35-28 with 4:49 to play. Spring Grove had the ball on its own 7-yard line, 93 yards away from the potential tying touchdown.
It was the biggest of big spots — which meant junior quarterback Alex Folz was right where he wanted to be.
“When big moments come and coaches ask us to make plays, I want to make those plays,” he said. “I want to be that guy. The game slows down a little bit for me in those situations, but at the end of the day, it’s just football. You just have to keep playing.”
Folz certainly kept playing against Cleveland, leading the Lions on a 93-yard TD march. He then bulled his way into the end zone for the game-winning two-point conversion.
With the Section 1 hurdle finally cleared, Spring Grove rolled to its first state title, winning its three state tournament games by a combined score of 93-13. Folz passed and ran for a total of 12 touchdowns in those three games.
Those are gaudy numbers for a guy who in the weight room looks more like a running back/linebacker than a quarterback. But once he’s under center — or better yet, back in the pocket — head coach Zach Hauser said Folz brings a unique combination of skills and qualities to the quarterback position.
“Alex does so many things on the football field that you can’t practice and you can’t coach,” Hauser said. “He’s very instinctive and very competitive, and the things he’s able to do on the field — well, he just amazes you every time he’s out there. He’s special in a lot of different ways.”
For example, Folz doesn’t run like most QBs. While not blessed with blinding speed, he consistently piles up big yards-after-contact, to the point where opponents eventually grow weary of tackling him. Last year he rushed for 1,584 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and had 26 rushing TDs “He’s compact and delivers a punch,” Hauser said. “A lot of teams going into a game are saying ‘Hey, if we get a chance to hit the quarterback, we’re going to hit him every time we can.’ But with Alex, it’s the other way around. He’s delivering the blows when he runs the ball, punishing the defense.”
Folz says that running style is due to his early years as a running back.
“When I was younger, I always played running back, and I liked running at people, taking hits and seeing if I could keep going,” he said. “I guess that carried over into high school. I just want to keep running over and through people. Defenses still want to get good shots on me, but I welcome it. I like getting hit.”
But it’s when Folz drops back to pass that he becomes truly deadly. And again, his effectiveness is due to his ability to make throws that most high school QBs can’t make.
“We always knew he had a big arm,” Hauser said. “He’s a strong kid, and he proved that by winning the national Punt, Pass & Kick contest when he was 12.”
Today, Folz can throw the ball 60 yards, and he can drop it into tight windows. “The accuracy that he’s developed over the years, and his confidence and the maturity to make those throws in big situations, are what make Alex so tough to stop,” Hauser said. “Those throws against Cleveland last year were right on the money. You couldn’t make those throws much better in that situation — especially for a 5-10 quarterback to be able to see those throws over the middle. That’s pretty rare.”
On the other end of those throws are receivers who, like Folz, have a habit of making big plays in big spots.
“Our leading receiver, Noah Elton, was a junior last year, so he’ll be back for us,” Hauser said. “He was in the slot last year. And Ethan Matzke is back, a 6-2, 220-pound tight end, so Alex will have some familiar weapons returning.”
It all adds up to an offense that is difficult to predict and has proven nearly impossible to stop. Last year, Folz threw for 2,298 yards and 28 TDs. “It’s hard for defenses to tell what we are going to do,” Folz said. “On third-and-2 we could throw it deep or run it. Our coaches do a great job of balancing out the run and the pass, and our line does a great job of run block and pass blocking. Our playbook is just really difficult for other teams to prepare for.”
Playing at next level
Nine-man football players generally don’t get a lot of recruiting attention. Folz hasn’t gotten any scholarship offers yet, but schools across Minnesota and the Dakotas are showing interest, including Moorhead, Crookston, Winona State and Minnesota-Duluth.
Football is his favorite sport, but the multi-sport athlete says he won’t be picky. “I’d love to play any college sport, to be honest,” he said. “Right now I’m wide open in terms of my destination. Just waiting for someone to make the offer.”
Folz also said that if he does play college football, he isn’t counting on playing quarterback.
“I think my goal would be to play running back in college, like my brother (Andy) did at St. Cloud State,” he said. “I’ve always kind of followed in his footsteps and want to be better than him, so if I could go to college and perform even better than he did, that would be my goal.”
But before he gets serious about choosing a college, Folz has something else atop his priority list; namely, leading Spring Grove to another Nine-Man championship.
Suffice to say that the Lions aren’t resting on their laurels.
“We’ve had guys in there Monday, Wednesday and Friday, lifting at 6 a.m., trying to get better, and we had kids going out on their own to do skills work,” he said. “Sure, it feels good knowing that we finally got over that hurdle and won our school’s first state title last year, but we’re really confident that we can perform well, play at a high level and get back there again.”