In Caledonia, Minn., football really is about family.
“When I was a junior in high school, half the team was my family,” said Minnesota redshirt senior Isaac Fruechte, who won two MSHSL Class AA state championships in his middle years of high school as a member of the Caledonia Warriors.
Fruechte’s father, Carl, is the oldest of 12 siblings, while his mother, Becky, is the oldest of 10. Carl is the famed coach who has led Caledonia to state titles in football, boy’s basketball and girl’s basketball and could nearly field a football team with his nephews.
“It was always a lot of fun,” said Casey Bauer, 24, who is Isaac’s cousin and was a member of both state championships teams. “We all grew up together and got along together. The chemistry was always there. That was a big part why we played so well and were able to win state championships.”
“Everyone had confidence in one another and knew that we were going to get the job done,” said Andy Bauer, 23, who is Casey’s first cousin and is such good friends with Isaac that the Gopher wideout considers him family. “We could joke around with each other, but everyone knew when it was time to get serious. I don’t know how to explain it, there was just a lot of chemistry out there.”
That chemistry and friendship among teammates started way before anyone had aspirations of winning state titles. It was forged at family gatherings and trips to the nearby Mississippi River where Isaac and his cousins would cast a line and see if the fish were biting.
“Growing up there were always a lot of kids running around out at my grandparent’s,” said Isaac. “We would go down to the river, do some fishing and hang out.”
Isaac, who keeps his two state championship rings tucked away in a drawer in his bedroom at his parents’ house, will never admit it, but he was the best player on the team. After winning state titles as a sophomore and junior, he had his senior year – and undefeated season – ended abruptly with a gut-wrenching loss on a mid-November night to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
Isaac had received interest from some smaller schools and Minnesota had inquired late in the year about walking-on, but instead he headed to nearby Rochester Community and Technical College. There he flourished as a freshman receiver during the 2010 season, catching 30 receptions for 805 yards and nine touchdowns. But with his success, he still had lingering doubts if he would ever make it out of the junior college ranks.
“Everybody thinks they are going to get out of there but it is pretty tough,” he said. “I wanted it to happen, but I was skeptical at times. Any kid has doubts every now and then, but I always thought I could prove myself and hopefully get here.”
Isaac’s future began to take shape when Minnesota hired Jerry Kill as head coach in December 2010. Kill and his staff – most notably then-wide receivers coach Pat Poore and strength coach Eric Klein – evaluated Isaac before offering him a spot at Minnesota.
“I was pretty fortunate that Coach Kill got hired here,” said Isaac. “I don’t really know what else to say except that I was pretty fortunate.”
With high school triumph – and heartbreak – behind him and after conquering junior college, Isaac is now in his final year with the Gophers. He hasn’t had time to reflect on his journey just yet – after all, the team has big goals to accomplish this year – but he has taken the time to remember who has always been there for him.
“That is one thing I am really grateful for,” said Isaac. “Having so many family members who have supported me along the way.”
Family gatherings now take place at TCF Bank Stadium where a legion of aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends from Caledonia can be found every game. The chemistry that made the Warriors a nearly unstoppable force in high school is now weaved throughout the stadium supporting Isaac and the Gophers.
“I am very proud of him,” said Andy Bauer, who sports a customized Fruechte jersey at Gopher home games. “It isn’t very often that a kid from a small school like ours makes it to the big show. In high school he was very humble, but he worked very hard. He was always there for everyone and not just himself.”
Now, when the Gophers play, everyone is there for him.
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