Panthers open football camp
It may not seem like football season to some, but the Rugby High School team hit the practice field for the first time in 2013 on Wednesday.
In fact, head coach Scott Grochow said generally the team would be well into its practices by now.
“Usually we start almost a week earlier,” he said. “We’re almost a week later than normal this year, so that’s different. We’re used to having two-a-days for a week and a half. This year, we’re going to have two-a-days for 3-4 days.”
The Panthers, who qualified for the playoffs in Class AA last season, are moving to Class A this year.
Grochow said the competition level should be almost as high, with the Panthers in a division with perennial powers Harvey, Velva as well as Bottineau, Berthold, Williams County, Surrey and Des Lacs-Burlington.
“The competition level is going to be relatively the same,” he said. “Maybe not as deep, maybe not as many quality teams in A, but I think Class A is very competitive just like AA is.”
The new class means the Panthers won’t travel to places like Dickinson or Bismarck, like they did when they were in Class AA last year, or even trips to Fargo, where they played their first playoff game last season.
“Not as much travel for us, which is going to be very nice,” he said. “A lot of teams we play during the other seasons, during baseball and basketball and volleyball.”
The Panthers lost a number of notable players due to graduation.
“We need to find some running backs,” Grochow said. “We lost Kyle Lovcik and Mackenzie Koenig, who was our fullback last year. We lost Josh Michels, who was the leader of our receiving corps, and Kris Leier, all-state linebacker.”
The team will still return a number of players on the line and some good skilled position players, including junior quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh and his top target, wide receiver Chris Hamilton.
“We’ve got some kids coming back who were all-region players for us and did a nice job for us,” Grochow said. “Now we just have to get them to come back and be hungry and get after it and see what happens. The biggest thing is we have to develop some depth and hopefully, we stay healthy. We have to do some developing here. It’s a nice challenge and we have a great staff to work with, so we’ll see what happens.”