Posted 8/19/15 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
When the Watford City Wolves take to the football field this fall, Justin Johnsrud, Wolves’ head coach, is going to be expecting a lot from some young players.
After losing 17 seniors from last year’s squad, Johnsrud is going to miss that senior leadership. And with very few returning starters, he knows that if the team hopes to make the playoffs, he is looking for some young players to step up.
“We return three full-time starters from last year’s team,” states Johnsrud. “So to say we are lacking varsity experience is an understatement. Anytime you lose 17 seniors, you will experience some growing pains.”
According to Johnsrud, he has 43 athletes out for football this season with 13 seniors and four juniors making the varsity squad, while the balance of the team will be made up of 16 sophomores and 12 freshmen.
“We will rely on a number of sophomores to fill starting roles this season and expect some of that inexperience to show in the preseason games,” states Johnsrud. “The kids have been working extremely hard through football camp at the end of July and the start of the preseason.”
But what the team lacks in experience, Johnsrud says the players make up for in effort and attitude.
“Our athletes are excited to be at practice and eager to learn,” states Johnsrud. “It’s been a great start to the season. The coaching staff has been very impressed at the work ethic displayed so far and has high hopes that it will aid us in getting ready for Region play.”
Of the players returning from last year, according to Johnsrud, there is one lineman, a tight end and a runningback on offense. Defensively, Johnsrud has a returning linebackers, plus five or six other players that have limited varsity experience.
“Our goal this season is to take one play at a time,” states Johnsrud. “Anytime you are young and inexperienced there are going to be mistakes. We need to be able to put mistakes behind us and play the next play to the best of our ability. The players will continue to work hard and those mistakes will become less and less. Get better every day and every play is our motto.”
Last season, the Wolves ended the season with a 6-4 record and qualified for the Class AA playoffs. In the State Class AA quarterfinals, Watford City was defeated by Fargo Shanley, who ended up losing in the State title game.
“We had a good off-season with 18 kids participating in our summer lifting program,” states Johnsrud. “We saw improvements in speed and strength that will aid them in their development this season. The coaching staff has been excited about what we’ve seen so far and is eager to see this young group come together throughout the season.”
According to Johnsrud, the top teams in the Class AA West Region look to be Bismarck St. Mary’s and Beulah.
“Both of those teams are returning a high number of returning starters and were the top two teams in the region last season. St. Mary’s went on to win the Class AA State title.
The Wolves will scrimmage the Williston Coyotes at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21 in Williston before opening their 2015 regular season when they host Sidney at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28.