West Fargo looking for a power surge
West Fargo High School head football coach Jay Gibson looks back at the 2005 season, a year when the Packers went 6-4 and made it to the state quarterfinal, with a sense of accomplishment.
His team, made up mostly of seniors who had seen little playing time and juniors on the rise, "overachieved," and squeaked into the playoffs with a win in the regular season's final game.
"We won a couple of games where we had the benefit of a really good kicker (Tom Bishoff) and he gave us a great option to get some extra points. If you look at the Century and Devils Lake games, he really made the difference," Gibson said. "So we could have just as easily been 4-6."
This season, however, the guys in green are a team to watch. Last year West Fargo coaches working with a patchwork defensive and offensive line, where some of the players last year didn't even tip 190 pounds. This West Fargo group has the look of a team that can push people around again.
That's a huge factor, considering the Packers were right there in two games where they were simply worn down in the end up front, a loss at home to Wahpeton and a road loss to eventual champion Grand Forks Central. Even in the loss at home to South, the Bruin running game didn't really start tearing off yards until the second half.
"We had a lot of guys that just played on heart," Gibson said. "Our lines were really the glaring weakness last year."
This year, Broc Bellmore will anchor both lines, playing at tackle on the offense and at the nose position on defense. Bellmore, who lined up at times as a tight end last year, is 6-feet tall and is weighing in at 230 pounds after a strong offseason.
"He looks very good. He'll play both ways and he's our nose on defense, and that a big key to what we do there, so Broc's not going to come off of the field much," Gibson said. "He's a senior, so he's OK with that."
Another senior who will anchor that defensive line is Grant Schmidt, a 5-foot, 11-inch 215-pounder who will also be a horse in the Packer offensive backfield.
At the center spot on offense will be one of the many up-and-coming juniors on this year's team. Mason Thorstad "looks like a good one," according to Gibson, who looks to his center to point out opposing defenses and move a lot on blocking assignments.
Jared Martinson is another offensive lineman that has moved from a tight end spot to offensive line. Throw in guys like Kyle Rheaume, Chris Parson, Jordan Schweitzer and others, and Gibson has some new depth on the O-line.
That's helped in many aspects. Both junior signal-caller Tanner Farkas and No. 1 quarterback Rob Gibson have been taking a lot of reps in practice, because both can work behind an offensive line. That eliminated the old process of taking turns, which slowed down development a bit last season, coach Gibson said.
At quarterback, Rob Gibson gives the Packers a solid runner as well as a decent passer. Gibson displayed his running wares in the regular season finale, scoring three memorable touchdowns with his feet against the Spartans. He also threw for a score.
"Rob has learned a lot on the offensive side through the summer, going to some camps. He ran a lot more than he passed last season and a lot of that was the protection in front of him. Our quarterbacks didn't have a lot of time to throw the ball last year. That's just the way it was," Gibson said.
Gibson, who was behind seniors Colin Gatz and Tom Bishoff at the start of last season, emerged when the Packers had to become a running team. This year, however, he'll look to air it out, and he'll have a host of targets.
Replacing Bellmore at tight end will be Seth Dye, who, at 6-foot, 4-inches, is a huge target down the middle of the field.
"South has had those guys, so has North, where you can just throw it up and the guy will go get it. Seth can be that kind of a guy for us this year. He just towers over you. And he's a good athlete. So we're looking for him to be a big part of the offense."
Outside, Cole Horsager is a guy Gibson loves to look for. Both Gibsons do, actually. Coach Gibson will look to Horsager with wide receiver screens and go-patterns. Gibson the quarterback made Horsager his No. 1 receiver last year, with most of his attempts going at No. 3.
He'll be joined by Chris Urlaub, a guy with "unbelievable quickness" and the ability to make the first guy miss, Gibson said. Other wideouts will be Steve Hay, John Reznecheck and junior Tyler Hewson.
"They're all learning both spots, the inside and outside receiver, so we'll be able to rotate quite a bit. And we'll use some four-receiver sets like we always have."
At tailback, Ty Swanson will look to pick up where he left off late last season. The sophomore standout is now a junior, and was behind Gavin Schmidt in last year's lineup. This year, he'll be the top back, and he's an athlete that Gibson likes.
"The big thing Ty did in the offseason was improve himself physically," Gibson said. "He had to do that."
But it won't be all Swanson, all the time. Grant Schmidt will be a solid power back. Kirby Keller showed signs last season in the Pack's five-game win streak that he can carry the ball well. And junior Kyler Eid will be a newcomer to the group in the backfield.
"You rotate them all, see what they can do early and you don't care because each of them brings something different to the table," Gibson said. "So we'll use them all."
Many of the same names will be big players on offense. Gibson, Horsager and Urlaub will be big in the defensive backfield. Keller will be the team's main linebacker along with Hay and Sean Spiker. And Swanson will be key at strong safety.
"We've got a lot of quality guys," Gibson said. "When you have guys that are willing to do the work in the offseason and move positions, that means you have a good group. When you have guys that quit the team just because they want to play one position only, that means you have something else. We've had guys that are willing to take off that eligible number for the ineligible one and that's going to make a big difference up front."
Gibson said his squad won't be the best in the state right out of the chute, and that's all right with him. His juniors, many of whom are on that rebuilt line, will need time and reps, and could struggle early.
That will be tough in games against teams like Bismarck Century and Dickinson, two West teams that are slated to make the playoffs, but it will be better when the team plays South, the predominant No. 1 team, at the end of the year.
"You just never know how those juniors are going to react until game time," Gibson said. "So we'll be a team that gets better as the season goes along. Which is fine. You want to play your best at the end of the year. That's when it counts. We'll play a lot of guys in those first two games because they really don't mean anything. You want to win, but you want to see what you've got. You don't want to lose by 20, but you don't mind if you win by 20."
With South ranked above everyone else in the East, the Packers are all right with being the media's preseason No. 2 in the EDC. West Fargo's schedule plays to their favor, with most of the toughest match-ups in conference, including Central and North, at home. The team will play at Wahpeton and South, however.
West Fargo opens the season at 7 p.m. this Friday at Lodoen Field against Century.
"They'll be a good team. They've got some good speed, a very good line and a quarterback who came on last year as a sophomore. And they always play good defense. So it's a tough one to start out with. But we're not terribly worried. We'll play as many guys as we can and understand where we're at," Gibson said.