Hlebechuk a nice surprise for CougarsBELFIELD — At the beginning of the season, Heart River’s Cole Hlebechuk was following in the footsteps of Jordan Strecker. Today, the senior fullback has made a name for himself.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
BELFIELD — At the beginning of the season, Heart River’s Cole Hlebechuk was following in the footsteps of Jordan Strecker.
Today, the senior fullback has made a name for himself.
“I was a pulling guard last year,” he said. “I’m used to leading up and I played fullback freshman and sophomore year, so I’m back at my original position.”
Hlebechuk had some big shoes to fill replacing Strecker — literally and figuratively. Stecker was two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Hlebechuk, but the senior running back duo of Seth Ewoniuk and Cole Hecker have been very impressed.
“He had some big shoes to fill after we had Strecker blocking for us,” Cole Hecker said. “He’s been doing a really good job. He usually gets his block. If he doesn’t, we know he’ll get it the next time.”
Hlebechuk has 34 carries for 263 yards and six touchdowns. He also has four catches for 94 yards and a one touchdown. On defense, he has 26 total tackles and three pass deflections.
“He’s an electrifying player,” Hecker said. “If gets out into the open, I don’t think anyone can catch him.”
The Cougars’ offensive line and Hlebechuk have opened up seams, creases and, at times, paths a Mack truck could drive through.
Ewoniuk and Hecker have combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns. Hendrickson said being on the offensive line helped Hlebechuk transform into a better fullback.
“Blocking is the hardest thing to do in football,” Heart River head coach Dave Hendrickson said. “Tackling and catching the ball aren’t easy, but blocking is by far the hardest thing to do.”
Hlebechuk and the No. 3-ranked Cougars embark on a 67-mile trek north of Belfield on Highway 85 for the first round of the Class 1A playoffs against Watford City at 1 p.m. today. Though Heart River has a 7-1 record, it is the No. 3 seed from Region 4. Watford City is 5-3 overall and earned the No. 2 seed from Region 3.
“We’ve got a couple films on them and they’ve really improved a lot,” Hendrickson said. “They have a lot of kids out, 62 or 64, so you can do a lot of things in practice. They’re very much improved and hopefully we’ve improved too.”
Heart River is familiar with the Wolves after defeating them 48-13 on Aug. 24, the first week of the season. Regardless, the Cougars said they aren’t taking anyone for granted in the playoffs.
“First thing, we can’t look past them,” Heart River senior offensive lineman Mitch Krebs said. “They’re a good football team. We just need to go up there and take care of business.”
Despite making the playoffs the last four years, the Cougars have yet to win a playoff game on the road.
“Every year we’ve made a little stride,” Hendrickson said. “We won a game last year and we still haven’t won a game on the road in the playoffs.”
Hlebechuk only missed one game this season. A severe ankle sprain kept him out of Heart River’s 29-27 loss to Killdeer on Sept. 28. Though Hlebechuk didn’t suit up for the game, he still wanted to make an impact.
“I definitely tried helping on the sideline,” Hlebechuk said. “It was tough to watch and we had a bunch of guys rotating around.”
Hendrickson said the team missed having Hlebechuk on the field and gladly took him back even though he’s not fully healed.
“He’s one of the faster kids on the team and then he had a severe ankle injury,” Hendrickson said. “Cole is probably right now only 90 to 95 percent. Once he gets back to 100 percent, there’s a big difference.”
Hendrickson and the rest of the coaching staff know the Cougars aren’t going to learn anything new in the couple days of practice.
They just have to be prepared mentally and be in the right position to make plays.
“Basically what you work on practice is the fundamentals, but you don’t send a whole lot of time on them,” he said. “The biggest thing for us right now is we, as coaches, have to get them in the right position and the kids have to play.”