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High school football: Growing numbers, culture contribute to St. Agnes’ consistent success

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High school football: Growing numbers, culture contribute to St. Agnes’ consistent success

St. Agnes’ football program featured 26 players when Tom Flood took over five seasons ago.

Now, the 2-0 Aggies have nearly 70 players out for the team.

The growth is largely a result of three factors: A school growing in enrollment, three consecutive section final appearances and, perhaps most important, a culture kids gravitate toward.

Senior quarterback Isaac Schmidt said kids at school see the “brotherhood” that lives within the football program, and it’s something they, too, want to be a part of.

“I honestly think it’s because of the sense of unity that we have,” said senior defensive back and athlete Caleb Flood, Tom’s son. “We started out with 26 kids, now we have 25 freshmen and five eighth graders. They just want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and I think we offer that.”

St. Agnes coach Tom Flood watches during practice in St. Paul on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, Flood has led the Aggies to section championship games in three straight seasons (Jace Frederick / Pioneer Press)

Tom Flood gave his senior class a lot of credit for the culture that exists within the program. They’ve done the things necessary to build it. Caleb Flood noted much of the team is in the weight room — run by defensive coordinator Sam Thompson — every day in the offseason. They’ve also embraced what the program is all about: winning.

But the Aggies’ definition of winning, Tom Flood noted, is different than simply going off what the scoreboard reads.

“It’s walking off the field going ‘I left everything I had on the field tonight for the guy next to me,’ ” he said. “That’s winning. That’s what it’s about.”

It’s Henry Tibesar filling in at quarterback last season after Schmidt went down with an injury, then playing left tackle this fall as a junior, because that’s what the team needed.

That mindset is what Flood got players to buy into early in his tenure. Current seniors credit leaders from the 2018 squad — Conrad Tibesar, Terrell Jones and others — for establishing a standard they could carry forward.

“Lucky for us, we came in as freshmen with a pretty strong senior class, with guys who understood what they wanted and what they wanted from Coach Flood,” Caleb Flood said. “So for us to be able to see that for four years, to be able to imitate that and be able to build off that was huge. We just install that into the young kids who come into the program every day, and it helps out a ton.”

Tom Flood said the Aggies have 30 players on their “C squad” at the moment and estimated three-quarters of them had never played football before. He loves that. Flood’s son, Caleb, played soccer in eighth grade before joining the football team as a freshman.

He encourages all kids to get out of their comfort zone in high school and try new things. If football is one of them, then awesome. The program implemented Tackle Bar football — at the urging of St. Agnes athletic director Mike Streitz — years ago, and Flood has become a big proponent of it, noting it allows kids to immerse themselves into the sport at a gradual rate and eases safety concerns parents may possess.

Any new kids, Schmidt said, quickly learn what it means to play football for the St. Paul Catholic school and embrace a more mature, goal-oriented approach.

That has indeed led to results. St. Agnes has gone 23-7 since 2018, with three of those losses coming to Minneapolis North — a perennial state title contender — in the Class 2A, Section 4 final.

“You’ve got to aspire to be that,” Tom Flood said. “If you want to beat them, you’ve got to aspire to be that, and part of that is getting more kids out, more kids playing football and being part of that.”

You can’t win a section title, he noted, with just 26 kids. Not against the likes of the Polars, anyway. But St. Agnes appears to be reaching a point where it can compete with the best. Not only do the Aggies have growing numbers, they also have talent.

They aren’t stocked with beef up front, but 295-pound senior lineman Dominic Smith is a large, agile, talented lineman. Flood and Schmidt could play at the collegiate level, as could running back John Patros.

And there are many more talented underclassmen, from sophomore linemen Daniel Koontz and Cadman Foley and the Simmons brothers — De’Vaun, Elijah and Elonzo.

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St. Agnes senior quarterback Isaac Schmidt launches a ball up to the sky during a kick return drill at practice in St. Paul on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (Jace Frederick / Pioneer Press)

Perhaps St. Agnes, which hosts St. Croix Lutheran at 7 p.m. Friday at Concordia-St. Paul — can give Minneapolis North a run for its money this season in the playoffs. But if not, so be it. Caleb Flood said the team’s goal is simply to improve every day. Schmidt noted the culture that’s been established in the football program has permeated into the school building, noting that every year he’s been at St. Agnes has been even better than the year prior.

That’s another win for the Aggies.

“The wins and losses aren’t what’s really important in this program,” Tom Flood said. “As long as these kids are growing as young men and building character, I could care less what the score is.”

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