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By Staff | Aug 21, 2015

The Rugby Panther football team practices for the upcoming season.

This year’s Panther football team is a spirited group with no quit in them. By their swagger, you would never think that they have any doubt about the upcoming season.

But not only will this year’s team have to contend with being in the shadow of last year’s 9-1 season, they will be dealing with the loss of key leadership and playmakers to graduation. In addition, they will be playing in a new region.

The Panthers will be playing in a six-team region consisting of their rival, the Harvey-Wells County Hornets; playoff teams, the Larimore Polar Bears and the Park River-Fordville-Lankin Aggies, who were state finalists. Rounding out the six-team region will be Lakota-Edmore-Dakota Prairie and the Langdon Area-Munich Cardinals.

The offense will have junior Anders Johnson under center. He will have large shoes to fill, replacing three-year starter Brad Heidlebaugh, who was named the Region 3 Senior Athlete of the Year and first team All-State. Other key losses on offense are first team all-state offensive lineman Bennie Mygland and first team all-state wide receiver Zach Miller.

Johnson will have plenty of help on offense though, with senior Victor Gronvold returning as a dual-threat running back and return man. Gronvold rushed for an average 13 plus yards per carry last year to lead the team and finished with 585 yards. He was the only non-senior from the team to be voted first team all-region.

Also helping out on offense is returning senior wide receiver Ryan Michels, who was named second team all-region last year and has shown his moxie as a receiver.

The defense also had key losses, with second team all-state defensive lineman Devon Berg, and leading tackler and first team all-region on defense and first team all-state as an offense lineman Bennie Mygland graduating. Mygland ended his stellar career with 62 solo tackles. Other losses on defense are Tanner Bernhardt and Eric Hooker.

The void will be admirably filled with returning senior linebacker Hunter Hager, who was named second team all-region and had 49 tackles last year along, with fellow defensive standout classmate Blackhawk Jones, who was also second team all-region and had 45 tackles. Also adding to this year’s defense will be ironman lineman Spencer Koehmstedt, who not only plays defensive tackle but is the starting center as well.

In speaking with the Panthers’ Hall of Fame Coach Scott Grochow, he is excited about this coming year. He said, “It’s going to be interesting. We have a lot of holes to fill from last year, but I know we have some guys that can step up and do the job.” Grochow continued, “I am looking forward to see what happens this year, we have a scrimmage coming up this Friday and we will see if they step up like I know they can.”

When asked if he felt his team’s strength would lie on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, Grochow said, ” I don’t know. We have the same amount of guys coming back on each, I would like to think our strength will lie on the offensive but we will have to wait and see.” He continued, “Filling in for Brad Heidlebaugh will be interesting but Anders Johnson was doing a good job last year before he got hurt so it will be interesting to see.”

In talking with seniors Gronvold, Koehmstedt and Michels, they are looking forward to the challenges of the upcoming season, and as seniors they feel it is their responsibility to bring the underclassmen along to make sure that all on the team are ready to give it their all when the season begins. Their only bone of contention is whether the team’s strengths lie on more on offense or defense. Koehmstedt believes that the defense may have the edge, where Gronvold and Michels feel that the offense will pick up where it left off last year and continue to be dominant.

With Gronvold, Koehmstedt, Michels, Jones and Hager as some of this year’s leaders, the future of the Panther football program continues to look bright. The first step starts Friday, Aug 28, with their season opener against the Bishop Ryan Lions.

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