GRAND RAPIDS — Darrin Hofstad begins his 21st season in the Grand Rapids High School boys track and field program and he is in his 10th season as head coach of the Thunderhawks.
Last season was a bad year for the program not only because the season was cancelled due to the pandemic, but Hofstad said the Thunderhawks were loaded with top athletes that weren’t able to compete their senior seasons.
“We had some blue chippers across all events and honestly, we had a senior class that wasn’t real big last year but there were some stellar track and field kids,” said Hofstad. “As a testament on how good they were, they are competing at the next level; they are running for various colleges. I know as a coach going into this year, it is a little bittersweet because you know what you would have had last year but you are excited for these kids to certainly be able to have the opportunity that last year’s seniors didn’t get.”
Hofstad said this year’s group of seniors surely would have done well last season had the season not been cancelled. He said some may suffer due to losing a year of experience.
“We lost out on the year and it is devastating in track and field because those highly-technical events like pole vault, hurdles, high jump and discus, it takes years for that to be mastered,” the coach explained. “We are starting a little bit from scratch with a lot of kids. We have athletes but it’s those technical skills that they need to really push it to that next level.”
Hofstad said the team possesses a ton of speed from athletes who played football this fall. Two athletes with state experience are Caden Hofstad and Wade Brouse, with Brouse expected to be among the top 400-meter dash runners in the section. Hofstad will lead off relays which are looking to break some school records before the season is finished. Other sprinters include John Bonner and Max Bergman.
Another football player is hurdler Dane Kennedy while Sam Stertz and Austin Hanson will lead the distance runners. Isaiah Edel competed for a state spot in the high jump as a sophomore and he returns while Nic Langlois is expected to contribute in some events.
In the throwing events, Kale Florek, Hunter Hillman and J.D. Weston should battle for state berths.
“There is a ton of unknowns,” Hofstad said. “We are a fairly experienced team but we can’t underestimate that year of experience that we lost last year. It was devastating to the kids and to us as coaches because the fun thing about track and field is the improvement. You get to see the start of the base line, you shoot for improvement. We have had some great athletes over the years and this year is no exception. We have some of the best athletes in one place at one time.”
This is the last year of the two-class system in track and field in Minnesota and Grand Rapids will once again compete with big schools in Section 7AA.
“They are moving to a three-class system next year and we will be put in middle class,” said Hofstad. “So this is our last opportunity to compete with the big boys. We purposely schedule meets with the big boys because we want to compete with the best in the state. We don’t shy away from anybody.
Some of the top teams in Section 7AA, according to the coach, include Forest Lake, Cambridge-Isanti, Elk River and Andover.
“These are some of the top teams in the state so we are losing a lot of those guys next year,” the coach said. He added that the team will compete for the first time in the Lake Superior Conference this season.
Grand Rapids was the last team to win the section True Team meet and Hofstad said a goal is to repeat as champion once again this season.
“We know we have a target on our back but we welcome that,” Hofstad explained. “I think we have the horses to compete with anybody.”
When asked what will be keys to a successful season for his squad, Hofstad said first and foremost is staying healthy.
“This season is condensed and we are trying to be really careful with how much we are pushing these kids,” he said. “We don’t want to do too much too fast and deal with a lot of lower leg injuries and some of those soft tissue types of things. We want to make sure the kids are hitting the weight room and they are doing things right in terms of strength.
“We are being cautious early on and we are aiming to peak at the end of the season. There is a lot of technique stuff that these kids missed out on that we want to perfect before we get the championship part of the season.”
Coaches on both the Grand Rapids boys and girls track and field programs coach together to give the athletes better instruction. Assistant coaches include Dan Jinks, Steve Kohorst, Rachel Edmonson, Katie Hanson, Kevin Johnson, Mitch Drotts, Matt Sandys and Ben Simula.