NEW ULM — Last year, because of the uncertainty of a high school football season due to the pandemic, Minnesota Valley Lutheran’s Landen Merseth and teammate Malachi Kohls both decided to go out for cross-country.
“We wanted to stay in shape in case football did come back,” Merseth, a junior, said.
“And when we learned that there was going to be a [football] season, we came back to football.”
But Merseth said that the endurance aspect that he learned from his four weeks of cross-country and an already football-savvy body prepared him for a stellar junior season as he recorded a team-high 126 tackles along with 37 tackles for losses, four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery as a linebacker for the Chargers. After his dominating junior year, he also earned the 2021 All-Journal Football Defensive Player of the Year as voted on by The Journal’s sports staff.
Merseth, who was also named an All-District player, said that from his sophomore year to this season he learned more of the mindset of the game of football — and of himself.
“I realized that I had more in myself than I did my sophomore year — I can hit harder, be faster and give more to the game than I was,” he said.
“He was a player who definitely wanted to learn the position,” Chargers head coach Jim Buboltz said, reflecting on Merseth’s sophomore season. “We knew that he was not afraid of contact, he liked to hit and was good at tackling. But he needed to see the gap open and go through the gap to get to the ballcarrier. This year he did that.”
Buboltz said that he thought there were two aspects that led to Merseth being a dominating force on the field for the Chargers this season.
One was the hours Merseth spent in weight room.
The other echoed what Merseth thought helped him the most.
“He ran long distances in cross-country to stay in shape and take long periods of time on his feet and giving maximum effort,” Buboltz said. “And it was a confidence-booster for him, too. He did something that he did not know he could do.”
Merseth said that there were two games that stood out to him from the Chargers’ 5-5 2021 season.
The first was a 16-15 win at home over Adrian on Oct. 1. The other game was a 36-12 home playoff win over Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial on Oct. 26.
“I watched myself (on film) play in those games and use the physicality that I was playing with and how much I was pushing around blockers,” Merseth said.
Merseth and teammate Kohls have already been named captains for next year’s Chargers football team.
Landen joins his brother Myles as All-Journal Defensive Player of the Year winners. Myles was named the All-Journal Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.
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