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Football: New-look Yellowjackets embrace big shoes to fill in 2022

The Perham football team is full of fresh faces ready to make an impact on the gridiron this fall. Head coach Aron Velde preached camaraderie and energy when talking about the practices leading up to a week-one game against Park Rapids

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Perham’s Blaiz Schmidt catches a snap on Aug. 22, 2022 during the second week of football practice.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus
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PERHAM – The shelf life of a high school athlete is finite. Graduation comes for every group of seniors.

For Perham, the players lost from 2021 were impactful, to say the least. Led by Division I quarterback Colton Hackel, along with other leaders like Levi Richter, Brain Ramos, Chas Melvin, Josh Peterson and many more, the shoes to fill this fall feel even more significant.

Head coach Aron Velde, who's headed into his second season at the helm, is not only hopeful the next wave of formidable Yellowjackets will be on the field this fall—He's confident.

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The Perham football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 22, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"I've been doing this a long time, and everybody is always worried about when people graduate," Velde said. "That's the nature of the beast. It's high school sports. Kids always step up and fill holes, and they know they have the opportunity to earn time on the field. We have stars. People just don't know who they are yet."

One of them could be junior quarterback Blaiz Schmidt. He operated behind Hackel last fall. According to Velde, he is more than ready for his shot.

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"Blaiz was our backup last year," Velde said. "He was our guy with the clipboard on the sidelines. He's ready, and he'll take that step. He's going to do a really good job, and I have full confidence in him."

Perham lost its top three wide receivers from a year ago as well.

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Perham head coach Aron Velde gives a post-practice speech on Aug. 22, 2022 during the second week of football practice.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"The guys that we have in those spots are guys that could've been our starters last year," Velde said. "We would've looked very similar. They just had that stacked group above them. They're hungry, and they've been behind that group their whole lives. It's their time to make something happen."

"There's a lot of energy at practice," wide receiver Evan Kovash said. "Everyone is having fun and working hard for the most part. We're all working hard to achieve that goal of getting to a section championship and going to state."

In 2021, Perham posted a 6-4 record, averaging 17.6 points per game offensively. Two of those losses came against Fergus Falls, including a 35-14 loss in the second round of the Section 8-3A playoffs.

Defensively, the Yellowjackets were hit and miss. After holding its first two opponents to 13 combined points, Perham surrendered 116 points over the next four games against Dilworth-Glyndon Felton, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls and Osakis.

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The Perham football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 22, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"We had these kids learn completely new systems last year," Velde said. "Those kids jumped in, and they were athletes as all get out. They did a great job of learning the systems, but mistakes happen when you don't get the reps. I think those mistakes happen when you're not as confident in what you're doing too. This is a whole crop of kids who are in their second year in that offense and defense. That consistency is going to come over time."

One of the kids Velde hopes can help establish consistency on the defense is Ben Shumansky. He's been a mainstay up the middle of the Yellowjackets' defensive unit for two seasons.

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"Ben Shumansky is back, and he's been that solid middle linebacker the last couple of years on that defense," Velde said. "Yeah, we lose a little bit, but kids will step up. We're going to have a really good, tight team defense. Their ability to hone in on their assignments will be one of our strengths."

"It's great to be back out here (at practice)," Shumansky said. "Everyone is working hard and flying around. It's a good time. I think everyone was ready to get started with football this fall. We got a lot of guys stepping up, which is nice because you don't want to put it all on one guy. We have a good senior class that's ready to step up and be leaders."

Through two weeks of fall camp, Velde has liked what he's seen out of the new-look Yellowjackets. But what stood out was the camaraderie within the team.

"Energy-wise, there's a lot to be positive about," Velde said. "All of the guys are here for each other, from the seniors down to the freshmen. We have a lot of learning to do. Everyone knows we graduated a lot of players who played a lot of snaps last year for us. We're filling holes, working on depth charts and getting through that developmental phase of this year, and it's going really well."

Perham hits the road in week one for Park Rapids, a team it beat twice a year ago. However, Velde believes many district opponents took a step forward from a year ago.

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Perham’s Blaiz Schmidt pitches the ball to a running back on Aug. 22, 2022 during the second week of football practice.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

"We go one week at a time," Velde said. "Right now, we're thinking about Park Rapids. Then we'll start thinking about (Thief River Falls). We're not going to allow ourselves to have those big momentum swings. Whether it's bad or good, we're still going to come back to work next Monday. Our whole district is better from top to bottom. There's not a date on our calendar where we think we can take a rest, and that's how teams should view us."

2022 PERHAM FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 2 at Park Rapids, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 vs. TRF, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. DGF, 6 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Detroit Lakes, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 at Fergus Falls, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Osakis, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 vs. EGF, 6 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Pequot Lakes, 7 p.m.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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