Original Post: “Fergus Falls Daily Journal” https://www.fergusfallsjournal.com/news/spartans-to-invaders-semi-pro-football-team-has-ties-to-m-state/article_4d73c024-c55c-11eb-bee4-ab428305fb63.html
by Heather Kantrud – Jun 4, 2021
Seven former M State Spartan football players now coach for the Fargo Invaders Football Club of the Northern Elite Football League. Four of those players turned coaches coached at M State as well.
Zach Stich played for M State for two years early in the millennium as a running back. During his college years he identified a desire to give coaching a try.
“I always felt like it was something I understood and could excel at,” said Stich.
Following college graduation Stich helped coach M State football for over a decade for two different M State head coaches. For the Invaders, Stich holds the positions of head coach and offensive coordinator. With three of the other Invaders coaches playing at M State before him, and three playing for him as a coach, they can share stories of past experiences knowing that they had a similar experience. “It really is a bond that allowed our coaches to not only get to know each other, but not have to start a professional relationship from the ground up.”
Joe Barfknecht, Fargo Invaders general manager and defensive coordinator won a championship as a player with M State in 2001. Barfknecht has 15 years of coaching experience in multiple roles, 10 of which were with the Spartans.
“I have loved the game of football my whole life,” stated Barfknecht. “It is the ultimate team sport. I have made some great relationships with former players and coaches that I still coach, and coach with to this day.”
This is Barfknecht’s second year on the Invaders coaching roster, where he began coaching due to the encouragement of friend and coach, Stich.
Chris Peterson was a Spartan wide receiver at M State when Stich and Barfknecht were coaches. He returned as a coach in 2012 and is in his first year with the Invaders after being encouraged by both Stich and Barfknecht to take on the mantle. Peterson says he enjoys the adrenaline rush that accompanies game day and the camaraderie of the coaches.
“Football has always been a part of my life,” he shared. “I’ve always had a strong passion for it. I wouldn’t know these great guys that I coach with if it wasn’t for football.”
Ryan Jacobson is in his first season with the Invaders as a running backs coach. Stich, Jacobson’s M State coach, approached him multiple times with the intention of having him involved.
“Knowing my playing days are behind me and I still have a love for the game, I thought this would be a good opportunity for myself to be involved,” Jacobson explained.
The family-type bond that exists in a team atmosphere is something Jacobson has appreciated starting during his days playing high school football, and has proven to be true as a college player and now, as a coach.
Dylan Stender played quarterback for the Spartans a decade ago, remaining with the team as a quarterback coach in 2012. True to form, he joins the Invaders in his first season as their quarterback coach.
Matt Lemen and Josh Rothstein were both part of the Spartans team that won a championship alongside Barfknecht. After meeting Lemen in a weight room, Stich asked him to join the coaching staff for the Invaders prior to the start of the season. Lemen accepted the role as defensive-line coach and suggested Stich reach out to Rothstein, his brother-in-law, who followed suit, joining the Invaders as the linebackers coach.
Explaining the special bond shared between coaches has proven to be difficult for the coaches to explain, but is akin to being an athlete on a team, facing trials, tribulations, wins, losses, and having fun while doing it. “These specific guys are lifelong friends who are bonded by more than pigskins and headsets,” shared Stich, explaining that they have been invited to each other’s weddings, supported one another in times of grief, spent time together on vacations, helped one another move, and have visited after the birth of their children. “To me, these are some of the closest friends and people, outside of my family, in my life.”