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An epic season is brewing in Barnum

Bombers football team is on a run

When Jim Charboneau decided to chronicle the Barnum football season for the Moose Lake Star-Gazette, the proud grandfather to the team's quarterback figured somebody needed to pick up the bullhorn, so it might as well be him.

"Barnum usually hasn't gotten much ink locally," Jim said. "I decided I would write articles for the football team."

The grandson, Hayden Charboneau, plays quarterback and is one of 10 seniors on the team.

"There's all kinds of things to brag about with him," Jim said.

Entering Friday's game at Onamia, Hayden Charboneau has the team pointed like an arrow at a bullseye of a season. The Bombers are 5-0 after a 53-6 home win over Pine County's East Central on Sept. 29 in front of a growing fanbase of a couple hundred fans.

"The kids are putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort," head coach Bob Minkkinen said. "The wins are a result of the dedication the kids have given the program."

To learn more about the team, the Pine Knot was witness to the team's most recent win and later met with Charboneau, senior Caden Sheff and coach Minkkinen inside a school studio, where the two players film a weekly sports report.

"We've been together forever," Sheff said. "The group as a whole, we've known each other and been friends with each other forever, and that's a big part of our success."

Sheff proved to be the bubblier yin to Charboneau's down-to-earth yang. They both arrived as varsity players as freshmen, in Minkkinen's first season as head football coach. Charboneau showed the promise of the record-breaking quarterback he'd become.

"My dad got me into football," Charboneau said of his father, Jessie Charboneau. "He was a big Packers fan, so ever since I was a little kid, I've been watching NFL games with my dad. That's what got me into it. I've been playing since elementary school."

Sheff started as a scrawny linebacker who looked like he was swimming in his first varsity jersey.

"But he could tackle," said Minkkinen, who first coached the boys in third-grade basketball.

"Personally, it's a special group of kids to me in a lot of ways," the coach said. "We've been working together for a long time."

The team's chemistry has been on frequent display. In the season opener Sept. 1, the Bombers won their first brown jug rivalry game against Moose Lake/Willow River in 25 years, a 28-22 overtime victory.

"That was the most people I'd ever seen in Barnum at one time," Sheff said, adding that the crowds have grown in size as the team has matured across the past four seasons.

Three weeks later, on Sept. 22, the team came back from 13 points down at halftime to beat Braham, 27-26, scoring the game's final two touchdowns, including a 15-yard TD run from Sheff.

"It's all in our senior group," Sheff said. "None of us hang our heads and we try to keep everybody up. Those devastating plays can destroy your spirits and we try not to let that happen."

"We always know that good things can happen, too," Charboneau added.

Charboneau's 3,502 career passing yards and 47 passing touchdowns are both school records, according to program statistics Minkkinen assembled that go back to 1998. The quarterback is working on his third straight season passing for more than 1,000 yards, and Minkkinen says the team definitely passes more than it generally would because of the quarterback and talent around him.

"Hayden is pretty even keel, which pays dividends," Minkkinen said. "The moment is never too big or too small. He keeps a level head, and that's important for a quarterback."

He's also an unselfish player. Against East Central last week, Charboneau threw for two touchdowns, a laser up the seam and a floater to a running back who did the rest.

He also was the lead blocker on several running plays that found the quarterback pitching the ball to a back before pulling to create the hole.

"Coach has a joke, and he calls him our backup left tackle," Sheff said about Charboneau's blocking ways.

Also in the game last week, Sheff opened the scoring with a 55-yard burst. Before the first quarter was over, it was 25-0. Charboneau gave way to the backup quarterback after halftime, with the Bombers leading 38-0.

The Barnum defense proved suffocating. The team employs form-tackling drills every practice and every player is versed at flowing to the football, sticking, and wrapping up.

On offense, coordinator Brady Youngberg has a wealth of riches, smaller scat backs and downhill runners that plow over defenders. Receivers, like Sheff, whose 48 catches and 11 receiving TDs are school records, give the team its potency. The team has outscored opponents 190-78.

"None of the kids probably gets as many touches as they probably deserve," Minkkinen said. "But it's a good thing, too. You keep everybody fresh ... everybody involved."

On the sidelines the seniors are an overwhelmingly supportive bunch. When teammates do well, Charboneau and Sheff are there dispensing pats on the shoulder pads.

Every Saturday morning the team gathers to watch film and, afterward, attends youth flag football to help coach the next generation of Bombers.

The coach says it's a fun team because its "character level is really high."

Both Sheff and Charboneau harbor hopes of playing in college. They attended summer camps to get their name out there, and use social media to share video with coaches at the next level.

But before then, the Bombers have their sights set on their remaining three regular-season games, and a jump up into a double-A section with Aitkin, Crosby-Ironton, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, Hinckley, International Falls, Mesabi East, and Moose Lake/Willow River.

"It's definitely a good start, but we don't want to take these last few games lightly, so we're treating them the same," Sheff said. "But we're preparing for those playoff games to be the main goal."

For team chronicler and proud grandparent Jim Charboneau, the season has proven to create an even stronger family bond. Before Hayden won it as a senior, both Jim and Jessie had won the brown jug game against Moose Lake in their careers, too.

"I was fortunate when I was a senior, 50 years ago, we won it, and Jessie won as a sophomore," Jim said. "Now, Hayden's won it, too."

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