BABBITT — Varsity football is back at Northeast Range and the players and the entire community is excited about it.
After a one-year hiatus, the Nighthawks will take to the field at Bigfork Thursday night with 20 players in grades 9-12 and a coaching staff that is dedicated to changing the mindset of the program.
A lot of these kids don’t know what it’s like to win, according to head coach Mike Summers.
Summers — in his first year as the varsity coach — acknowledges his club is “going to go through some growing pains this year’’ with a lack of size and experience.
At the same time, “we are very athletic and we are very fast,’’ which the Nighthawks will depend on in 2019.
Summers — who coached the junior varsity last season — has added Barry Wolff as an assistant coach and the pair of Northeast Range teachers are making a nice team. Wolff comes to the team as a former quarterback at Hermantown.
The Nighthawks coaches are taking their student-centered teaching approach and applying “it on the football field.’’ With smart players that understand the game and what their coaches want from them, “we’re letting the kids take ownership in the game.’’
At a recent practice, Summers didn’t call a single play and let the guys self-correct. “The kids really appreciate that.’’
Northeast Range will know a lot more after Saturday’s scrimmage against Ely. Summers is anxious to see who steps up and gets the job done.
The first-year coach, who is a 1983 Virginia graduate, anticipates looking to Bralyn Lislegard as his No. 1 running back and senior captain Brody Anderson. He added that one strong player transferred in from Atlanta and another (Max Dean) transferred from Ely.
Overall, Summers said, “the future looks bright.’’
“We took a program that was dead and buried and we’ve revived it.’’
The team’s home opener comes at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, against Lake of the Woods.
Head Coach: Mike Summers, 1st year varsity at Northeast Range; coached our JV team last season. Summers also was head coach at Cook High School for six years in the 1990s; 1 year assistant coach at Cotton; 1 year assistant coach at Virginia 1999. Assistant Coach Barry Wolff; Hermantown High School alum; QB and middle linebacker, kicker.
Last year: No varsity football, JV was 3-3.
Key players lost to graduation: None.
Key returning players: Quarterback Oskar Koivisto; running backs Bralyn Lislegard, RJ Bielejeski, Ethan Zaitz; slot receiver Caleb Berry; tight end Dillon Gorsma; center Brody Anderson.
Others with expected playing time: Ryan Milton, Jacob Hvezda, Kyle Erickson, Logan Meskill and Kolton Kari; also a transfer from Georgia will be a starter.
Outlook: “We will be very competitive and we want a deep playoff run if we stay healthy,’’ Summers said.
Team Strength: “We are very, very fast and athletic. Lots of running backs and ends.’’
Team Weakness: “We are small, only one player over 200 pounds; our lines are inexperienced and under sized.’’
Section Favorite: Should be up for grabs. I believe many teams have a chance to advance to state. Cook County, Mountain Iron-Buhl and South Ridge will be good. I see Cherry as a dark horse. Silver Bay will be competitive, as will we.