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Return of talent

By Staff | Aug 30, 2013

Brad Heidlebaugh delivers a pass during a practice session with the Rugby High School football team. The Panthers lost a few key players but return a number of starters on the line and at skilled positions.

The Rugby football team will need to replace some notable players from last year’s season.

But the Panthers return a talented group, and with a move down to Class A, are considered the team to beat in Region 3 this year.

Rugby’s two top graduates were a pair of first-team all-staters, running back Kyle Lovcik and linebacker Kris Leier.

And while Rugby has question marks at those two positions, they have few questions on the line, at quarterback and at both receiver and defensive back.

The Panthers have been trying a number of different players at linebacker, and head coach Scott Grochow expects the the starters will establish themselves as the season progresses.

Victor Gronvold breaks through the line of scrimmage during a practice session for the Rugby High School football team last week. Gronvold will be one of the runners trying to replace the production of graduated all-stater Kyle Lovcik. Chris Bieri/PCT

“Kade Leier, Brady Olsen, Bennie Mygland, Blackhawk Jones, Brad Heidlebaugh, Hunter Hager, Jaedon Haman,” Grochow said. “All of those guys have been in and have played linebacker and have showed some stuff. I think it’s just a matter of getting some experience, some time, and they’re going to be OK.”

At running back, Tanner Bernhardt and Victor Gronvold have received most of the carries in the preseason in an attempt to replace the hard-nosed Lovcik.

While the running game is still uncertain, junior quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh is expected to bring both talent and leadership after starting as a sophomore.

“I expect a lot this year,” Heidlebaugh said. “Hopefully win the region and make a deep playoff run. We’ve got good linemen and some good skilled players coming back. Looking to maybe pass a little more. Put some new wrinkles in. I feel a lot better in the offense, a lot more experienced. I just feel pretty confident in what we’re going to do this year.”

Grochow said all of Heidlebaugh’s competition as a sophomore set the table for a big season.

“The year Brad had last year, he ended up being a very good sophomore quarterback for us,” Grochow said. “He goes and has a very good basketball season and we go to the state tournament. He ends up in track, where he ends up placing in state as a sophomore in a throwing event. All of that plays into it. Brad knows he has to step up. Brad knows he has to be a leader for us and has to do some things well. He does a very good job of taking that very seriously. I see him doing a good job. I hope I’m right, but we’ll see as the year goes on.”

Heidlebaugh’s favorite target, senior Chris Hamilton, is also returning and brings size to the outside of Rugby’s offense.

On defense, the Panthers should be solid on the line and in the defensive backfield.

“We just know we have to be fundamentally sound,” Grochow said. “We have to make sure we’re in the right positions, we have to make sure we know our assignments, we need to get lined up right. If we’re assignment-sharp and do what we think everything will take care of itself. We hope we get those big turnovers, but by the same token, we have to make sure it’s right.”

Many of the same players on the defensive line will see time on the offensive line, where the Panthers have both size and depth.

“We’ve got a little bit of depth there and a little bit of size there,” Grochow said. “Hopefully that’s something we can rely on.”

Rugby is picked to finish first in the region, with traditional powers Velva, Harvey and Williams County figuring to contend.

“It should be a lot of good competition,” Heidlebaugh said. “All of the teams in our region are pretty good. We’ve got a pretty stacked region. Hopefully we can win all of our games. It’ll take a lot of work but hopefully we can do it.”

The Panthers open at home on Aug. 30 against Larimore, a team picked to finish first in its region.

“We’ll get a good test right away,” Grochow said.

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