by Eric Oslund
The heart of every Elk River football fan in Monticello’s new stadium Friday, Sept. 8, likely skipped one collective beat with about 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.
The Elks received the ball to start the second half, and were grinding their way down the field, taking up a majority of the third quarter in the process. They worked their way to Monticello’s 1-yard line, and decided to try and punch it in one last time on fourth-and-goal.
Senior quarterback, and captain, Mitch Stroh was the one who was given the duty of scoring, but he was stopped short, and seemingly injured on the play.
The crowd fell silent as he lay there on the ground and the school’s trainer ran onto the field to look him over, but after a couple minutes he rose to the applause of everyone in the stadium. Every Elk River fan was then able to take a sigh of relief when they saw him retake the field soon after.
“Mitch is, he’s as tough as they get,” head coach Steve Hamilton said. “He had 101 tackles for us last year at strong safety. He’s so hard nosed, and he’s so tough, and that’s somewhat to his detriment. I’ve tried to tell him, ‘This isn’t like last year now. We need you at QB. You need to avoid hits.’”
That’s just not how Stroh is wired, though. He is a three-sport athlete, and as competitive as they come. Apart from football, he also participates in hockey, and plays catcher for the baseball team. He takes a beating in every sport, at every position, but he keeps coming back.
Even after it appeared his night in Monticello might be done, he retook the field and never once shied away from a hit.
He would take the quarterback keepers to the outside, lower his shoulder, run through one defender, and stiff arm another, continuing to fight for every yard available until he would finally be drug down. It’s who he is, a competitor, a fighter, and someone who wants to give everything he’s got to help his team win.
But, at the same time, he knows his coach is right.
“It’s tough,” Stroh said of trying to avoid contact. “It’s just not how I think, it’s not my thought process. It’s never been and probably never will, so sorry. That’s something I have to work on, definitely. We have to play 13 games this year, and you have to be able to play all 13.”
The coaching staff doesn’t want him to change too much either, though. He is a great leader, and his teammates feed off his toughness, getting excited when they see their quarterback, and one of their captains, run through an opposing linebacker or safety.
Those plays can ignite a team, and the coaches know that. They just want to make sure he is around to do it for the long haul, as the team dreams of a return to the state tournament.
The respect for Stroh is there, from the players all the way up to the coaches, and a lot of it has to do with the way he approaches everything. With his head down and a drive to succeed.
“He’s a phenomenal kid,” Hamilton said. “He’s a 4.1 student, he wants to go to an academy or Ivy League, that’s the kind of kid he is. He’s a great kid. Three-sport athlete. I’ve got two daughters, that’s the type of kid you would want your daughters to bring home for sure.”