Line play, tackling targeted for Cougar improvement
The heart and soul of every football team comes from within the trenches.
Coming off of a one-win campaign, the Heart River football team and its depth on the line may be a key ingredient for success during the 2018 season.
The Cougars will enter the season with 14 offensive linemen, 11 of which will spend time on the defensive line. While it remains far from a finished product, Heart River head coach Jamie Wyant thinks his team's line play may grow into a potential force.
"I think our line will be a strength. We're a work in progress, but that's one of the positions where we do have some guys returning off of last year's team," Wyant said. "We have four of our guys that have experience off of the offensive line last year, so I think that's one of the things that will eventually be a strength. Right now, we are still trying to figure some things out, and technique-wise try to fix some things, but I think in the long run we'll be fairly decent upfront and maybe sustain some drives a little bit better this year."
Wyant also adds that a lack of communication was the key factor behind breakdowns on the line.
Of the four linemen with experience, Anton Krebs, Jacob Zastoupil and Kyle Heiser are seniors. Junior Caleb Privratsky rounds out the returners, while a fourth senior, Cole Kuylen, is a part of the depth chart.
"We just have to keep each other up. We have line calls and we have to make sure everybody has a line call or our line will do bad," Privratsky said. "It's kind of hard, but we are getting it down finally because we've been doing it during practice, so it's getting better and better."
Odds are the offensive line will begin the season blocking for sophomore quarterback Nick Fagerberg, who took snaps under center last season. While Wyant hasn't made an official decision with fellow sophomore Preston Walter and freshman Braden Obrigewitch competing for time, Fagerberg has a leg up for the nod thanks to his experience.
On the outside, sophomores Tyler Kastrow and Tanner Jarrett are joined by junior Avery Hodell and seniors Trystan Gregory and Toby Wolf, accounting for a fast and quick receiver crop. However, the team will be reliant on its running game, which features sophomore Tyler White, junior Garrett White and senior Cauy Shypkoski. Shypkoski is the lone 2017 All-Region Cougar returner as linemen Andy Hodell, Jesse Canode and linebacker and running back Ty Buckman each graduated.
"My mindset before the season was to do as much during the off-season to get stronger so the more carries I get, the less chance I have of getting hurt," Shypkoski said. "I can get more carries throughout the game and try to help us win."
On the other side of the ball, Wyant has faith that his defense will be improved from a year ago; Heart River allowed 36.7 points per game, the most in Region 4A. The head coach says that the defense has been ahead of the offense in practice leading up to the Cougars' season opener at home against Oak Grove on Friday, Aug. 24.
The team's defensive scheme will be based on the opponent from week to week, resulting in multiple looks instead of a particular base defense, but above all the X's and O's, tackling remains most essential.
"One of our things last year is that we had guys in spots, but they just didn't make tackles," Wyant said. "So since day one in practice we've been tackling the dummies and doing tackling drills. Defensively, we've hammered tackling since the first day, working on the form and trying to get our kids to improve the technique."
Heart River finished last season with a 1-7 record, including being shut out three times. Missing out on the postseason after qualifying in 2016, the players appear to be set on getting back to the playoffs.
"There's a little better attitude. The work ethic is there; they're a little more coachable than they were last year," Wyant said. "They're eager to learn, and for me and my coaching staff, it's awesome. I think they really are hungry and want to compete this year. That's what we've been preaching, that we want to compete in every game."
Heart River Cougars
Head Coach: Jamie Wyant
2017 Results; 1-7 overall, 1-6 in Region 4A
Aug. 24 — vs. Oak Grove
Aug. 31 — at Hazen
Sept. 7 — at Garrison
Sept. 14 — vs. Dickinson Trinity
Sept. 21 — at Bowman County
Sept. 28 — vs. Beulah
Oct. 5 — at Killdeer
Oct. 12 — vs. Southern McLean