Norse believe they're in position to show growth
It’s a Wednesday evening in the middle of August, and Roland-Story’s football team is forced to practice indoors because of relentless rainstorms and lightning.
If it was three years earlier, Norsemen head coach Aaron Stensland says he would’ve been a nervous wreck at the thought of losing an hour and a half of outdoor preseason practice time, but now, Stensland calmly watches as the last few players trickle out of the locker room for the night.
The 2016 Norsemen figure to be Stensland’s deepest and most experienced team. And on nights like this one, specifically, it’s a group of 15 seniors that’s put Stensland’s mind at ease by keeping the team focused and on task.
“We’re so far ahead now from where we were three years ago,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll continue to roll into each year now that the kids understand our offense, they understand our defense. Not much has changed with that. But we can just get so much more done in a shorter amount of time now, we feel like we’re light years ahead of where we were two or three years ago.”
Having 16 starters back from a team that finished one win shy of reaching the Class 2A playoffs has a lot to do with the growth.
“There’s something different about this year,” senior quarterback Brett Staton said. “It’s a good different. Just the energy and the attitude out there, there’s not a lot of complaining. There’s just something (that feels) good about this year.”
Maybe it’s the momentum the offense started to gain last season behind Staton, who completed 58 percent of his passes for 962 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight games.
Or, maybe it’s the fact that almost everyone returns alongside Staton in the backfield, making it one of the more experienced returning units in the district.
A pair of seniors figure to receive a bulk of the carries again in Caleb Schlatter and Paul Moats. Schlatter ran for team highs of 695 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Moats added 337 yards and four scores, and they’ll get a chance to run behind a veteran offensive line headlined by seniors Calvin Bright and Dylan Rivers and experienced juniors Ethan Beck and Garek Hurd.
If there were questions on that side of the ball, it is with the receivers. But Stensland has been impressed with the potential shown by Matt Moore, Patrick Marlow, Austin Hobbs, Carter Greenfield and Gavin Erickson.
“That’s kind of turned into a spot that we can be pretty dangerous in,” Stensland said. “We weren’t planning on that. We were planning on being a ground-and-pound team behind a line that’s going to average right about 250 pounds across the board.”
Defensively, especially in the front seven or eight, Stensland thinks the Norsemen could be as good as they’ve been during his tenure. The lynchpin is the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Bright (eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss in eight games), an absolute force at defensive end last year.
Rivers is back at tackle, Moore and Staton return to the defensive backfield, and Schlatter, Ford and Landon Greiner return at linebacker. Another potential difference-maker could be sophomore Nathan Bell, a linebacker Stensland thinks is the future of the defense.
Roland-Story appears to be in a spot it isn’t been yet in Stensland’s tenure. There is depth. Contending in district is becoming the expectation in the locker room. Now, the Norse want to make the most of where they’re at.
“We’ve got some potential to be good,” Schlatter said. “Hopefully we can turn that into something instead of just leaving it as potential. I think we have a good year coming our way.”