Running backs Ewoniuk, Hecker set to lead Heart RiverImprovisation has been the key to the Heart River football team’s success in recent years.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Cougars’ upside: Heart River has arguably the best running back combo in western North Dakota with seniors Seth Ewoniuk and Cole Hecker.
Cougars’ downside: A team already lacking in size, they’re even smaller than they were in 2011.
Improvisation has been the key to the Heart River football team’s success in recent years.
Ever since they stepped on the field, most of that improvisation has been based around the talents of speedy and diminutive running backs Seth Ewoniuk and Cole Hecker.
But, plans are always changing, Cougars head coach Dave Hendrickson said.
“We talk about improvising a lot on plays and that’s what we’re going to have to do is improvise — moving kids around so it helps the team out the best we can,” Hendrickson said.
Ewoniuk and Hecker combined for 1,900 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns last season running the double-wing offense that relies on confusing fake handoffs. Ewoniuk, a Class A all-state second team pick, is 165 yards shy of breaking a school record for rushing.
But they did all of that with the help of graduated seniors Jarek Haverluk at quarterback and Jordan Strecker at fullback.
Though Haverluk and Strecker are two key players the Cougards need to replace, Hendrickson is confident the puzzle pieces are falling together — especially at quarterback, where they are turning to junior Tyson Kudrna.
“Our offense is based on misdirection and deception and he’s doing a good job of that, hiding the football, giving it to small, little backs,” Hendrickson said. “Things take place behind the line and defenses can’t see those small little guys and they just pop through the hole.”
The quarterback position is crucial to what Heart River does, even though Kudrna won’t throw many passes or have many carries. It’s a position in Hendrickson’s offense that he said is more mental than physical.
“The second day I said, ‘Tyson gets better every day,’” Hendrickson said. “One of the kids said, ‘Tyson gets better every minute.’ He does. You tell him one time and it’s locked in. You don’t have to repeat it again.”
Replacing Strecker in the backfield is a player changing positions for the third consecutive season.
Nonetheless, Cole Hlebechuk isn’t a stranger to playing fullback. He played there as a sophomore before being moved to the offensive line, where he was an all-Region 4 selection last year, to fill a gap.
Luckily for Heart River, his return to fullback this season has created the offensive line’s lone vacancy.
Ewoniuk, who led Class A, Region 4 with 1,262 yards rushing and 30 TDs in 2011, said Kudrna and Hlebechuk have fit well in the team’s confusing offensive scheme that he says isn’t as difficult as it appears.
“I could do it in my sleep. It’s basically built into my mind,” Ewoniuk said with a smile. “Linemen come in every year and they just pick it up easy. It’s pretty awesome.”
On defense, Ewoniuk and Hecker are the team’s starting defensive backs. Most of the Cougars will play on both sides of the ball. Hecker was an all-state second team selection in 2011.
Hecker said though Heart River is a favorite to reach the playoffs, the team would like to win Region 4. Doing that requires a solid defense though.
“We just have to be able to pick up our game on defense and offense,” Hecker said. “Like everybody says, defense wins championships so we definitely have to bring it more on defense.”
Heart River Cougars
Head coach: Dave Hendrickson (seventh season)
Last season: 8-2, lost to Stanley Powers-Lake in Class A playoff quarterfinals
Returners: Seth Ewoniuk, Sr., RB/CB; Cole Hecker, Sr., RB/CB; Cole Hlebechuk, Sr., FB/LB; Isaiah Marschner, Sr., TE/DE; Mitch Krebs, Sr., OL/DL; Riley Obrigewitch, Sr., OL/DL.
Newcomers: Tyson Kudrna, Jr., QB/DB; Brady Olson, Sr., WR/DB; Dylan LeBlanc, Jr., OL/LB;
Losses: Jordan Strecker, FB/LB; Jarek Haverluk, QB; J.J. Wilkinson, OL/LB; Dylan Northrop, WR/DB; Alec Lindsey, RB/LB; Tobie Polensky, OL/DE; Colton Pool, TE/DE.