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Rugby football leaning on young talent to continue winning culture

By Staff | Aug 22, 2020

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Rugby sophomore running back Logan Harner (left) tries to break free from sophomore defensive end Bryceton Deplazes (right) during a recent practice.

The Rugby Panthers posted winning records over their last two campaigns, but head coach Travis Risovi and the players are not satisfied. After sampling the delectable playoffs in 2018 and 2019, Risovi remains ravenous.

“Winning is contagious,” he said. “When a program starts to win and kids feel what it’s like to be in a winning program, that’s what they strive for. That’s what they work for. That’s why they’re putting the work in now.”

Last year, Rugby averaged nearly 26 points per game in a 7-3 season. The Panthers allowed just 119 points and represented Region 2 in the Class A postseason.

According to Risovi, 11 seniors graduated. Rugby’s current roster lists 21 freshmen and sophomores.

Intense summer practices allow the underclassmen to learn the ropes expeditiously.

“There’s a whole bunch of kids who will get new opportunities this year,” Risovi said. That’s exciting – to see new faces on the field and watching kids succeed in places that are new to them. It’s just like being a teacher. As you see kids learn and as you see kids grow, that’s when you take pride in what they’re doing and their little successes each and every day. That’s what makes you smile as a coach.”

Five seniors will lead the Panthers in their quest for another successful season. Tight end/defensive lineman Cole Slaubaugh, running back/linebacker Joel Matehs, running back/linebacker Timothy Mueller, center/defensive lineman Ethan Brandt and offensive/defensive lineman Cole Schneibel will anchor Rugby on both ends of the ball.

The eldest Panthers hold the younger student-athletes in high esteem. Matehs recognized sophomore offensive lineman/defensive end Dylan Bartsch and junior running back/linebacker Kory Vetsch as difference-makers.

“I know that they’re going to follow me and the seniors and respect all the coaches,” he said. “So, I’m really excited for that.”

The players have seized opportunities to learn from Risovi, who is entering his fifth year on the Rugby staff. After splitting duties with former co-head coach Beau Erickson during the past three seasons, this year will be Risovi’s first as the team’s lone head coach.

“He’s trying to implement a lot of techniques since we’re smaller,” Schneibel said. He knows a lot of stuff about football – a lot of techniques and drills we can do to get better. He’s very motivating and very helpful.”

Mutual respect serves as the foundation of Rugby’s player-coach relationships.

“I know they’re going to work hard with good attitudes,” Risovi said. “So, I don’t have to worry about that part of it.”

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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