Town population: 2,322. 32 boys. 13 playoff appearances. Favorite player in #11. 10 freshmen. 8 seniors, 8 juniors, and 8 wins. 6 sophomores and 6 years since last win in playoffs. 5 years since last playoffs. Only 2 loses. And 1 football team.
Going into this season, the senior boys on the team—Riley Jakubowski (5), Jarred Hulinsky (11), Thomas Cardwell (20), Cole Fousek (51), Dylan Price (55), Tyler Jonak (62), Austin Schuller (63), and Zach Derner-Hulinsky (76)—had a record of 3-23.
This season, the team was underrated and overlooked because why would you expect them to do much? The history didn’t show much hope.
But then…they won. Wood River went down 34-12 in the first game of the season. And then, St. Paul won again, against Cross County, 22-14. And suddenly, this team was headed down a better path than they have in years.
“They didn’t let just anybody in that club, took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood, to get to wear those game-day jerseys down the hall, the kings of the school, man, we’re the boys of fall,” words from Kenny Chesney’s Boys of Fall.
For the first time in years, the football player in St. Paul Public Schools were living those words.
I first watch the boys play at Cross County and you could see, the boys—all 32 of them—were putting in everything they had into that game—heart, sweat, and blood.
And for the first time since in years, those boys look like they were a team and that they really were looking out for each other on that field.
“It’s I got your number, I got your back, when you’re back’s against the wall. You mess with one man, you got us all. The boys of fall.”
The boys lost their third and sixth—against Valentine and Centennial, respectively—by a total of only 12 points.
Too soon, we—and I say we because the family and fans of this team have been along for the ride all season—suddenly were at the end of the season with only one game remaining. Central City. Rivals. Competing for the title of district champions and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs.
The last time St. Paul played in the state playoffs was in 2011, my junior year of high school. The Wildcats lost in the first round to Chadron, where I now go to college, 19-18. This year, the Wildcats ended on top of the one-point game by defeating Hershey 15-14, in the last minute of the game. The Cats were down 14-7 with under a minute in the game when Parker Klinginsmith, junior, ran for the 6 points. The team took the field without the kicker for the PAT, and Tanner Wroblewski, junior quarterback, connected with Carson Morgan, sophomore, to take the lead 15-14.
The last time the Wildcats have won a playoff game was in 2010, which was a pretty special year of football for my family. Our family friend Derek Holt, a senior that year, who wore #11, was on that team.
Derek was my brother’s best friend despite the six year difference in age, and when Jarred was finally in high school, he wore #11 to honor Derek and now that means just a little more than when Jarred first put on that jersey. Derek passed away in a car accident in the summer of 2014, which would be the summer after Jarred’s freshman year. Those two boys had a special bond and it’s a little more special that Jarred’s senior year of football is in a way mimicking Derek’s senior year.
This year’s team is a special group of kids. They are determined, full of heart, and hardworking—on and off the field, even getting up to work early Saturday mornings. They are 32 individuals, but they are 1 football team. They work together, they fight together, and they win together.
I love this football team and I think it’s ok for me to speak for their fans here and say we are all behind each and every one of you, 100 percent.
And we are proud of each of you, and not only for your football success, but for who each of you are as individuals.
It’s a great day to be a Wildcat, and it’s a great day to be a Wildcat fan.
Let’s see you leave it all on the field again tonight against Yutan.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.; if you haven’t seen this team play yet, you need to be there tonight.