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Laker gridders ready to improve on last season

Head coach Josh Omang sets up a play call with his top offensive unit at the annual preseason scrimmage at Mollberg Field Saturday, Aug. 25. The Lakers took on a pair of Class 5A teams in Bemidji and Moorhead. Robert Williams / Tribune

The Detroit Lakes football team returns key offensive contributors and an experienced junior class to build upon as the Lakers begin the quest to return to the top of Section 8AAAA.

The Lakers battled the injury bug early in 2017 and got off to a 1-5 start as an all-sophomore backfield tried to get up to speed.

“The hard part last year was we had those injuries right away and had to go to the young guys,” head coach Josh Omang said. “Sometimes that works itself out. Now, we have guys back there that have done it before and they know what they’re doing.”

Leading the way will be the duo of Isaiah Thompson and Gabe Hanninen. Thompson can break a game open in one carry and was a threat on special teams highlighted by a four-touchdown performance, including a kick six, in a win at Park Rapids. Hanninen was successful in short yardage and has shown signs in the preseason he is ready to get involved in the passing game also.

GABE HANNINEN

The all-junior backfield also includes Reed Mace, an explosive runner when he gets to the edge. He is also the backup quarterback this year. Jackson Fields and Jackson Rhodes will also get touches in the running game.

Six-foot-three, 190-pound junior Max Gunderson takes over at quarterback and will get his first career varsity start in week one.

“There’s going to be a little learning right away, but by the end of the year he should be where we need him to be,” Omang said. “He worked hard and he’s a really coachable kid. He asks good questions. Gundy can do everything; even at that size some people will look at him and don’t think he’s a running threat. Certainly, he had a solid year running the ball last year at JV and he can make the throws.”

The team has put work in to balance the attack on offense; last year’s passing game was not a strength.

“There is just a lot that goes into it, growing pains with the pass game,” said Omang. “Getting that system in and the mindset, it just takes more time than running the ball every time.”

MAX GUNDERSON

In Omang’s third campaign he now has players who have been in the system two seasons and familiarity throughout the program is going to benefit the Lakers.

“That makes a big difference,” said Omang. “People talk about the playbooks a lot. I think it makes more difference in the weight room, the culture, the philosophy, all that stuff is even bigger. We’re all on the same page.”

The Lakers are coming off a first losing season since 2009 after posting a 4-6 mark in 2017. After a 1-5 start, DL won three straight games culminating in a big 41-40 playoff victory on the road at Willmar before falling in the section semis at Fergus Falls.

“We’ve got to get back there and get the job done,” Omang said. “It’s a good group, they’re excited and work hard. They want to be good too. They know what it’s about, all this stuff.”

Omang gestured to the photographs of past Detroit Lakes championship teams in the weight room office.

“They want someone to look at their picture, like these in here, not be the forgotten group,” he said.

Team goals were already set prior to the season. Coach Omang and assistant Vern Schnathorst meet with the players, beginning in the winter season to discuss coming season.

“They have to come up with their goals, but they have to come up with the everyday steps to get them too,” said Omang. “We can’t just let them say, ‘here’s our goal and that’s it.’ We talk about how are we going to do that? How do we know if it’s working?”

Red zone efficiency is just one of areas the team has set numbers to hit and aiming to make the big play and protecting and taking the ball away are two other difference-making areas the Lakers want to excel at.

“We want to win explosive plays and the turnover battle,” said Omang. “I believe in that one because you can go back and see that.”

Game experience is high on the defense with a full secondary returning and both sides of the line should be improved.

“I think our depth issues are more so at linebacker,” said Omang. “We’re really solid there but we need some depth.”

Senior Charles Barnett is just one of the Laker wrestlers, including Thompson, Noah Olds, Andreas Barnett, Andrew Annette and others making an impact.

“Those kids are tough,” said Omang. “They’ve done a lot of damage themselves in the state tournament and sections. I like those guys. That’s the whole idea of multiple sports. We love that. They’re grinders; they work hard and are not afraid to get in there.”

A big addition to the DL defense will be the return of Hall of Fame coach Flint Motschenbacher, something Omang is excited about.

"I have a great relationship with Flint; Flint is awesome," Omang said. "He is the, if not, one of the best defensive coaches in the state. I'm not a big ego guy. For me, it's a no-brainer if you can get somebody with that experience and knowledge on your staff."

Illustration by Troy Becker / Forum News Service

The Lakers open the season against a familiar nemesis in the Rocori Spartans in Cold Spring Thursday, Aug. 30.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Omang said. “They’ve been on top of the section and we haven’t beaten them in five years. It’s all on us. It doesn’t matter who they have as far as their roster or coach, it’s going to be just like when people used to play us.”

Rocori is led by three-year starter and UND commit at running back Matt Koshiol and a new head coach in James Herberg, the defensive coordinator who took over for Mike Rowe, now the superintendent in Henning.

“The times that we’ve played them, since I’ve been here, we haven’t take care of the ball,” Omang said. “We’ve had really good games with them, it comes down to those one or two mistakes.”

The Spartans own the last four section titles since DL’s last championship in 2013. A road victory in week one would be a huge start to the season.

Regular Season Schedule

Thursday, Aug 30 @ Rocori (Rocori High School) 7 p.m.

Friday, Sep 7 Perham (Mollberg Field) 7 p.m.

Friday, Sep 14, .@ Fergus Falls (Fergus Falls High School) 7 p.m.

Friday, Sep 28 @ Pequot Lakes (Pequot Lakes High School) 6 p.m.

Friday, Oct 5 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (Mollberg Field) 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct 12 @ East Grand Forks (EGF High School) 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct 17 Thief River Falls (Mollberg Field) 7 p.m.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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