ANOKA, Minn. (WCCO) — From a 2-6 record last season to a state tournament berth this year.READ MORE: Primary In Minnesota's 5th Congressional District Will Be Closely Watched
The Anoka football team has had an improbable turnaround. But if you ask the players, there was a lot more to the team’s success than just hard work. The team believes they got a little help from above.
Dylan Witschen would have been a senior this year, and there’s no doubt among his teammates that he would have been a captain and an all-conference player. But after a 22-month battle with brain cancer, Dylan died in June of last year.
“Amazing football player. He was just an animal on the football field,” said Anoka co-captain Chase Baumgartner.
The loss of their friend and teammate was felt on the field and off it.
“It was really difficult, it took a lot of time to heal. Now we use him as motivation and it has helped us through this whole year. He’s a big part of it,” said Baumgartner.READ MORE: Urshela, Twins Overcome 6-Run Deficit, Rally Past Royals 7-6
Dylan’s No. 7 is on every Tornadoes helmet. Before every game this year, Dylan’s teammates ran out his No. 7 jersey to make sure it was the first one on the field. It was displayed on a bench during the section final game against archrival Blaine.
It was a game that Anoka won 27-22 to advance to the Class 5A State Tournament.
“We played for him all year long. This season was for him. And it was a great way to end it. We are going to keep it going,” said senior running back Ryan Rand.
The next obstacle is a big one as the Tornadoes face top-ranked Wayzata in the first round of state. But on a team of believers, motivation doesn’t come from the opponent. it comes from the heart.
“God, he was an amazing guy. Just a strong leader, compassionate, willing to put his heart on the line. He gave it all he had all the time,” said Baumgartner.MORE NEWS: Minnesota Legislature Races To Complete Its Work, But Time Running Out
Dylan’s family created the Dylan Witcschen Foundation after his death. Its goal is to support his dreams and maintain his legacy by providing scholarships for college-bound students.