If there was a sliver of a silver lining in between the painful rehab and the reality of a season cut short, it was the fact that Hayden Gibson had been through it before.

And the first time it happened, it was his throwing arm. That was his senior year at Bismarck High School.

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This time, the injury to his left arm was towards the end of a promising 2016 freshman campaign with the Blue Hawks, a torn labrum and torn ligaments that put to bed a quirky-but-effective platoon situation under center between Gibson and then-senior Kaler Ray.

The surgery happened Nov. 30, 2016, with a recuperation time stamped at four to six months before physical clearance.

The Blue Hawks began their spring schedule earlier this month; in three days it will have been four months since he went under the knife.

The whole thing has gone as smooth as one could have hoped, said head coach Pete Stanton, but that doesn't mean his presumptive starting quarterback will be scrambling outside the pocket anytime soon.

"We were concerned about it last fall because he had the injury on the other side before, but actually he's really healed quite nicely. We didn't know how much we'd be able to get for spring ball but he's been able to really go most of the most time, and has really made great progress with it," Stanton said. "We're giving him a limited numbers of reps. After that, we're just having him do a lot of drill stuff. But nobody's putting a hand on him all spring."

The winter was long and flat out boring at times for Gibson.

Obviously, not a whole lot could be done about that, at least from a football standpoint.

"It definitely wasn't fun. Watching all of my teammates working hard in the weight room, I just had to sit there and watch them," said Gibson, who threw for seven touchdowns and 847 yards in parts of eight games last year. "But other than that, I can't complain about where I'm at right now. Three and a half months out, recovery went really well."

The Blue Hawks have four quarterbacks active this spring-Gibson, junior Kooper Ray, brother of Kaler, redshirt sophomore Sam Footh and redshirt freshman Kyle Michel.

Former quarterback Seth Moerkerke will move to receiver this season. Drew Boedecker, a highly-thought of recruit out of Sheridan, Wy., will likely redshirt next season, said Stanton.

But there was another quarterback present Sunday at DSU practice-soon to be Blue Hawk graduate Kaler Ray. He was without the shoulder pads, instead, a whistle was around his neck.

"I always give him crap, call him Coach and whatever," Gibson said, laughing. "But it's really fun having him around. Especially a quarterback that's been in my position. He knows the offense, he's still a leader. He's like a coach now."

Junior Nick Kottre, one of several returning wide receivers from last season, makes a catch Sunday, Mar. 26.
Junior Nick Kottre, one of several returning wide receivers from last season, makes a catch Sunday, Mar. 26.

Headed West

Offensive coordinator Jace Schillinger and the rest of the DSU coaching staff will have to find a way to replace 11 touchdowns and 898 yards on the ground this season.

They'll be without all-Conference star Jed Fike, who transferred to Montana Tech-the team that beat the Blue Hawks in the first round of last year's NAIA Football Championship Series.

It wasn't anything strategy-wise, said Stanton, Fike's decision was about being closer to his family.

The Harrison, Mont. native grew up about an hour's drive from Butte, America.

"Obviously we're going to miss him. We had a great relationship. It wasn't an issue of him having an issue with the program. He was very happy here with the program, his role and what he did," Stanton said. "It was just for family reasons. We're sure going to miss him, but we wish him well."

With Tray Boone out of eligibility and with Fike now an Oredigger, that likely means more carries for sophomore Karsten Mack Jr., who shined in a limited role last season.

"He was a beast on the field, he'll be missed," Gibson said. "But I have confidence in the guys we have."

Sophomore Karsten Mack Jr. (right) makes a block Mar. 26 at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)
Sophomore Karsten Mack Jr. (right) makes a block Mar. 26 at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)

Gone fishing

With 14 of 21 offensive and defensive starters gone from last season's playoff-qualified team, questions abound for the Blue Hawks this spring and fall.

But there are two returners who, barring an apocalypse between now and opening night, will be patrolling passing lanes next season-returning all-American safety Cain Boschee and two-time all-Conference cornerback Jay Liggins, both juniors who also run track and field for DSU.

So rather than waste reps on a couple of sure things, Stanton told them to more or less take the spring off.

"We're really working to give our guys who redshirted or didn't play as much a lot of reps so we can evaluate those guys and give those guys a chance to step up," Stanton said. "We're kind of keeping the Cain Boschees and the Jay Ligginses out this spring."