Cougars ready to build off of previous year: With a majority of the team returning, Heart River enters season with high expectations

Heart River's Mike Williams admitted there were nerves during his first year as head coach last season. However, many of this preseason's jitters are gone. "This year I'm a little bit more focused," Williams said. "I'm taking my time with things....

1040704+0822 Clayton.jpg
Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald Heart River senior running back Clayton Tangen, left, rushes against Killdeer during a Class 1A, Region 4 game on Sept. 6 in Belfield. Tangen is returning as the Cougars’ leading rusher from a year ago.

Heart River’s Mike Williams admitted there were nerves during his first year as head coach last season.
However, many of this preseason’s jitters are gone.
“This year I’m a little bit more focused,” Williams said. “I’m taking my time with things. I’m not trying to rush and do too much. I’m just trying to keep things simple.”
Williams and the Heart River football team enter the season with higher expectations with a roster chock-full of returners.
However, Heart River isn’t doing two-a-days like most teams. The Cougars are doing one practice for about four hours with a break in between.
“I’ve seen a lot of really good things,” Williams said. “We’ve been working really hard. What makes me feel good about the bunch that I got coming back is we played nine football games together last year. Then we had the offseason where a lot of the guys ran track and got into the weight room. Most of the guys stayed together all summer playing basketball and everything like that. It makes me feel really good as a coach knowing that my team is so close.”
The Cougars return many players at running back - seniors Clayton Tangen, Cade Shypkoski and Boyd Stroh and juniors Cole Olson and Seth Keator. Tangen and Shypkoski combined for more than 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The offensive and defensive lines include senior Dylan Ridl and juniors Eldon Privratsky and Wyatt Fulton. Privratsky is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, while Fulton is 6-4, 240 and Ridl is the returning starting center. Heart River is also returning senior tight ends Blayne Smith and Seth Privratsky.
“These guys played all of last year,” Williams said. “They know what it takes to win. Right now, we got a lot of senior leadership. I really believe that we are going to succeed this year.”
Heart River’s quarterback will be sophomore Dion Madler as former two-year starter Tyson Kudrna graduated. In the previous two years, Kudrna helped lead the Cougars to the playoffs.
Despite Madler being a sophomore, Williams said the quarterback is already showing the ability to be the signal caller.
“He’s a leader on and off the field,” Williams said. “He’s a very coachable kid. He picks up stuff the minute you tell him something. He never really questions you and he’s really easy to work. He’s also a really good athlete.”
The Cougars finished with a 5-4 record and lost in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs 50-28 to Minot Our Redeemer’s. Heart River averaged 27.1 points and allowed 29.7.
Heart River’s four losses all came against teams which reached the playoffs including the eventual two-time defending state champion Hazen from Region 4. The Cougars also lost to Region 4 opponent Killdeer and Watford City, which jumped from Class 1A to 2A.
“There’s a lot of good football,” Williams said. “Last year, we played against some of the top teams in the state. Watford City was ranked in the top 5 in Class 2A. Killdeer and Hazen were ranked in Class 1A. During the regular season, we lost to some really good teams and it helped us because we learned a lot from that.”
The Cougars open the regular season by traveling to Watford City on Aug. 30.
There’s no doubt in Williams’ mind Heart River wants to return to the playoffs and make some noise during the postseason.
“My expectation for the season is to be better than we were last year from start to finish,” Williams said. “We have been going a lot harder than we did last year. On paper from last year to this year, we are better because players are one year older.”

McGregor is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press. Call him at 701-456-1214 and tweet him @SirRoyal.
Heart River Cougars
Head coach: Mike Williams (2nd season)
Last season: 5-4 (lost in the first round of the playoffs)
Returning starters: Clayton Tangen, Sr., RB/LB; Cade Shypkoski, Sr., RB/DB; Blayne Smith, Sr., TE/DB; Dylan Ridl, Sr., OL/DL; Seth Privratsky, Sr., TE; Boyd Stroh, Sr., RB; Cole Olson, Jr., RB/DB; Seth Keator, Jr., RB; Eldon Privratsky, Jr., OL/DL; Wyatt Fulton, Jr., OL/DL; Seth Keator, Jr.
Returning letterwinners: Dion Madler, So., QB/DB.
Losses: Tyson Kudrna, QB/DB; Seth Obritsch, OL/DL; Dylan LeBlanc, OL/DL.

Cade Skypkoski
Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald Heart River senior cornerback Cade Shypkoski, middle, swats the ball away from a Killdeer receiver during a Class 1A, Region 4 game on Sept. 6 in Belfield.

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