The Gunslinger: Fritz throwing early and often for WolfpackAt Park, there’s a lot riding on the left arm of Kyle Fritz.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
At Park, there’s a lot riding on the left arm of Kyle Fritz.
In 2011, Fritz, a senior quarterback for the Wolfpack football team and starting pitcher for Park’s baseball team, has blossomed into a multi-sport standout.
Fritz began playing quarterback in third grade. However, from seventh through ninth grade, Fritz switched to wide receiver and backed up starter Brandon Johnson — East Ridge’s quarterback the past three years.
This fall, though, Fritz is casting his own shadow.
Two games into the season, Fritz, a 6’3”, 185-pound southpaw, leads the Suburban East Conference with 565 passing yards and is tied for first in passing touchdowns with six. Roseville’s Jacques Perra is second in passing with 284 yards and also has six touchdowns.
“I just feel like all the work that I’ve put in is finally paying off,” Fritz said. “I’m finally getting my chance to prove what I can do.”
This fall, under new head coach Darin Glazier, Park revamped its offense in an attempt to take advantage of its speed. Glazier, who spent 13 years with Tartan, went with a spread offense last season with the Titans. He said the new system at Park is a “multiple-formation offense” that is adaptable to the talent on the team. Fritz is the first quarterback who gets to man Park’s new offense.
Park’s offensive coordinator Tim Walton said he’s liked what he’s seen from Fritz thus far.
“Kyle has displayed a very good grasp of the offense in a short amount of time,” Walton said. “At times I feel he’s even ahead of me, which is good. The other quarterbacks have done a good job, too. But, Kyle’s our guy and has just done an outstanding job.”
Fritz’s journey to the top of the Wolfpack’s depth chart, however, may have began on the baseball diamond.
Last spring, Fritz made his first varsity start for the Park baseball team. By the end of summer Fritz gained confidence and became the top pitcher for the St. Paul Park Legion team, going 7-1 with eight complete games and a 1.65 ERA.
“I’ve been very impressed with him ever since I’ve come in,” Glazier said. “From taking the job on Feb. 1 until now, I’ve seen a lot of growth with him. I think he’s put in his time in the weight room and put in his time playing other sports and getting better. He’s a gifted baseball player, but he hasn’t shrugged off his responsibilities as a quarterback. He’s put in the time and effort that it takes to be a starting quarterback in the Suburban East. I hope we can see him have a healthy season and reach the goals that he has.”
At the start of summer, Fritz said he learned the team was going to be throwing the ball a lot more. But, even he didn’t think it would be this often. With 75 passing attempts, Fritz has thrown nearly twice as many passes as anyone else in the SEC. Perra has the second most attempts with 48.
“How much we threw that first game was definitely a shock,” Fritz said. “The second game we toned it down a little bit, but we didn’t have the ball as much. It’s a lot of fun just getting the ball to those guys in space and letting them run.”
Last year, under longtime coach Doug Ekmark, Park made its first attempt to shed its classic veer offense and instill a double-wing attack. But, it didn’t boost production. Park scored only 88 points in its nine games for an average of just over nine points a game and was shut out three times. In the regular season, quarterback Kirby Quebodeaux had 385 yards passing and two touchdowns and Antonio Dominguez was Park’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown.
In the first game of the Glazier era, Fritz and senior wide receiver D’Monte Farley nearly matched last season’s totals. Fritz threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in his varsity debut and Farley, playing receiver for the first time, had seven catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition to Fritz and Farley, Park has a number of offensive weapons, including speedy junior running back Dylan Smallidge, who has ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries so far this season.
“Dylan definitely opens up the whole field and makes my job a lot easier when we’re throwing the ball,” Fritz said. “I know if I do hand it off to him, we’re in a pretty good spot, too, because he’s a weapon in himself.”
Smallidge said the feeling was mutual.
“Kyle definitely has a lot of poise,” Smallidge said. “He’s a big leader on offense and knows where he’s going with the ball. He’s really confident and has made a lot of good throws.”
In the first game of the year, Park scored almost half as many points as it did all of last season in a 53-36 loss to Forest Lake and opened some eyes by racking up 502 yards of total offense. Last week, in a loss to Roseville, Park scored 23 points. Against the Raiders, Fritz was 13-for-31 for 190 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown.
“I think we’re really excited that we’re putting some points up on the board,” Fritz said. “We’re starting to move the ball a little bit and starting to get to know the offense more and more. It’s only going to get better and better.”
Through two games, Park leads the SEC in total yards with 749 — ahead of Stillwater’s 690 total yards — and has scored 59 points. However, the Wolfpack has also allowed 833 yards and 101 points.
Fritz believes the defense will come around.
“It’s definitely a team sport and it’s been tough to watch them struggle, but we know that they’ll turn it up and once we’re going well on both sides of the football, we’ll win some football games,” Fritz said.