By Mike Max

EDEN VALLEY, Minn. (WCCO) — Sometimes it takes a football team to help bring a community together. Eden Valley-Watkins will play in the Prep Bowl after a convincing win over Maple River Thursday.

The towns are still reeling from a tornado, the murder of a child and the unexpected death of a teammate.

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Jake Foehrenbacher was a three-sport athlete and starter as sophomore for the team, and now he is their motivation.

The Eden Valley-Watkins football team is the pride of the two towns right now, and for good reason. They’re talented, and they’re on a mission to win a state title and to help the communities heal.

“The Eden Valley-Watkins community has been through a lot of trials in the past year,” Eden Valley-Watkins fan Sarah Kuechle said. “They lost a classmate to a brain aneurysm in the locker room, we had a tornado in the city of Watkins and we also lost Alayna Ertl — 5-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered.”

It’s been trying times. The abduction and death of Alayna Ertl made headlines was devastating. The tornado that came through Watkins was damaging. And last spring Jake Foerhebacher — a football and baseball player — collapsed in the weight room. He died of a brain aneurysm.

Alayna Ertl (credit: CBS)

Alayna Ertl (credit: CBS)

“Going into the game, we were doing it for the community,” Eden Valley-Watkins WR Jake Schindler said. “They’ve been with us, pushing, and having us motivated. This win was truly for them.”

That includes Jake’s parents, Kelly and Don. They attend the games to be close to team and, in
some ways, to be close to their lost son.

“It’s wonderful to see the community and the school and the kids doing so great, but it’s a little bittersweet at times,” Don said. “Today, when we looked down and the team’s all lined up and you have Jake’s jersey sitting on the bench empty, it’s a little tough to look at sometimes.”

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

His jeresey sits behind the team as a reminder of who he was, and of what this would be like for him to experience.

“This is Jake’s dream,” his mother, Kelly, said. “He would be so excited to be here and to be going, ‘Come on guys, we’re going to do this! We gotta do this!’ He would be so excited.”

They have been touched by these young men, because in so many ways Jake is still their teammate, and there have been many moments memorializing him.

Jake Foehrenbacher (credit: CBS)

Jake Foehrenbacher (credit: CBS)

“The little town that we live in — the cemetery is right across from our house, and two nights ago a good portion of the football team was out there on the 14th, which was seven months since Jake had passed away,” Jake’s dad Don said. “The team was out there, and they had a bonfire right outside the cemetery.”

As the game winds down, their sophomore son, Alex, is afforded some playing time. This is his team too, after all, and the players are looking out for him.

When it’s over, he salutes his parents. Unspoken, they realize what this means. It’s part of the needed comfort from losing a teammate, a son and an older brother.

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“He was always there for me, and you know, he was great,” Alex said.

Mike Max