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Hettinger-Scranton remains highly optimistic: Night Hawks return a wealth of starters from last year including quarterback and running backs

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Hettinger-Scranton junior running back Tanner Sanford, middle, carries the ball against Beach during a 9-man, Region 4 game on Aug. 31 in Beach.1 / 2
Press Photo by Royal McGregor Hettinger-Scranton junior quarterback Braxon Yates, left, looks to throw the ball against Beach during a 9-man, Region 4 game on Aug. 31 in Beach.2 / 2

Though the Hettinger-Scranton football team is only through one week of practice, head coach Randy Burwick is already brimming with excitement.

For a good reason too.

The Night Hawks are returning a handful of starters on offense and defense — including their quarterback junior Braxon Yates and junior running backs Tanner Sanford and Brandon Pierce.

“We look good,” said Burwick, who is in his 12th season as head coach. “We are very optimistic of what kind of football team we are going to be. The kids have gotten faster. The kids have gotten stronger. We have 26 kids playing high school football. I’m happy with their effort every single day in practice. They’ve done a good job to this point. Obviously it is early, but they are all there and everybody has a good attitude.”

Hettinger-Scranton finished with a 3-6 record last season and picked up wins against Trenton-Trinity Christian, Mott-Regent and Bowman County. The Night Hawks averaged 22.9 points per game and allowed 27.3.

Though Burwick wished the 2013 season ended in more wins, he can’t complain about the amount of experience many of the underclassmen received. The Night Hawks’ roster might be a year older, but a majority of the team is still non seniors.

“We played well,” Burwick said about the 2013 season. “You’d obviously like to win more games, but we knew with these guys coming back this year and they definitely got the experience they needed. They are hungry. They’re bigger, stronger and faster. It was definitely a benefit to get those kids a lot of playing time last year.”

Hettinger-Scranton might have returned many skilled positions, but it lost a few important starters on the offensive and defensive lines. The Nights Hawks had to replace Denby Lueck — a four-year starter — Daniel Pretzer and Ben Pearson due to graduation.

However, the Night Hawks return senior Jordan Finck, junior Colbey Steeke and sophomore Nevan Weaver as linemen. Burwick said the most surprising emergence has been from senior Zayn Johns, who will likely take over the starting center position.

“This is (Johns’) first year starting,” Burwick said. “He’s doing a wonderful job right now. We were pretty nervous going into camp and he’s really performed well.

“(Finck) is kind of the utility guy where he can work at center or guard. He’s going to have a nice senior season.”

Though Sanford is entering his junior season, the running back was a full-time starter last season and played as a freshman. He also holds the school record for most rushing yards in a single game (253), which he set in 2013.

Yates was forced into the starting quarterback position after Kye Erickson — who is a freshman on the Dickinson State football team — suffered an injury early in the season.

“Braxon is throwing the ball well, but it’s early,” Burwick said with a laugh. “It was important for him to start those games last year.

“Tanner is kind of the old man of the crew, but he’s a helluva player. He’s going to give you everything he has every down. If he rips an arm off, he’ll tell you to duct tape it on and he’d be ready to go. He’s a good player.”

Burwick believes Region 4 is the most competition conference in all of 9-man football.

The Night Hawks aren’t getting any breaks to begin the season and host Grant County-Flasher and Beach — both reached the 9-man playoffs last season — on Aug. 26 and Aug. 30, respectively.

“It’s a playoff game every week,” Burwick said. “You are going to have to be on top of your game every Friday night. Our conference is really good. We just have to be ready week in and week out, because it’s going to be all about our preparation. We can’t skimp on things. We have to make sure we’re fully focused and our mindsets are correct going into each game.”

Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks

Head coach: Randy Burwick (12th season)

Last season: 3-6

Returning starters: Braxon Yates, Jr., QB/DB; Tanner Sanford, Jr., RB/DB; Brandon Pierce, Jr., RB/LB; Colby Steeke, Jr., OL/DL; Jordan Finck, Sr., OL/DL; Nevan Weaver, So., OL/DL.

Returning letterwinners: Zayn Johns, Sr., OL/DL; Samuel Kludt, Jr., TE/DL; Isiah Kludt, Fr., RB/DB; Devin Faller, RB/LB; Logan Lachowitzer, RB/LB.

Losses: Kye Erickson, QB/RB/WR/DB; Denby Lueck, OL/DL; Daniel Pretzer, OL/DL; Ben Pearson, OL/DL; Logan Robinson, WR/DB.