Vikings player helps get Panthers into shape

Boe, Benhart are part of a massive North line

Note: sixth in a series of previews of high school football teams in the Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune coverage area.

To withstand the rigors of playing a high school football season, Lakeville North turned to an NFL player for help.

Brian Curtis Jr. is one of the running backs Lakeville North will use to replace graduated workhorse Wade Sullivan. Photo by Jim Lindquist/sidekick.smugmug.com

Almost all of the Panthers have trained in a program designed by ETS Elite, a Lakeville training facility in which Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen is part owner.

“In the off-season, some of us were doing 5 a.m. workouts before school and he was in there with us quite a few times,” senior defensive lineman Pete Bercich said.

“He’s a great guy to work out with – inspiring and encouraging,” senior lineman Nate Boe added. “He’s just one of the guys.”

Lakeville North and Lakeville South remain among the smallest schools playing Class 6A football. To stay competitive, they need to be open-minded about ways to keep their athletes conditioned and healthy, North coach Brian Vossen said.

One thing that’s become clear is that while the game schedule runs from late August to November, conditioning is year-round.

“The days of getting in shape during two-a-days is so ancient. Everyone’s in shape. We use the whole summer to make sure they’re not only getting stronger, but getting conditioned,” Vossen said. “A lot of what ETS does is focus on balance, core strength, and starting and stopping as fast as they possibly can. I’ve been super-impressed with what those guys have brought and added to our training. Our kids are more athletic, running better, more able to absorb force. We don’t have a lot of the injuries, soreness or tightness that we’ve seen before at this stage.”

The Panthers, who were 9-2 last year and reached the Class 6A quarterfinals, believe they have a strong head start on the 2017 season. “I feel like we’re never going to be run off the field or out-conditioned,” defensive back Braden Walsh said.

The first question everybody asks Vossen is, who replaces Wade Sullivan? Sullivan rushed for 1,900 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and won the Mr. Football award. A workhorse running back who didn’t miss a game, Sullivan gained 3,300 yards the past two seasons.

“We have two good running backs and a great big offensive line,” Vossen said. “There’s only one senior on the line, and three guys returning who started. We were able to get two sophomores on the field last year all the time. It’ll be fun to watch that group as they get older. They still have a year left, most of those guys.”

The line’s cornerstones are two players likely to have Division I college futures. Boe, 6-feet-4 and 265 pounds, is a returning starter who has verbally committed to the University of Minnesota. Minnesota also is one of several schools that already have offered a scholarship to Bryce Benhart, a 6-8, 290-pound junior.

Also returning is Jack Hansen, a 280-pound junior who played several spots on the offensive line last season.

Ryan Dalrymple and Brian Curtis Jr. are the top running backs. Both saw some varsity time last season even though there weren’t many carries to be had as backups to Sullivan.

Senior Owen Blascziek is a returning wide receiver, as is sophomore RaJa Nelson, whom Vossen described as “a very special athlete with the ability to do a lot of things offensively.” Will Mostaert, a junior, started at tight end.

Junior Brennan Kuebler is expected to start at quarterback when the Panthers play host to Burnsville at 7 p.m. Thursday. It’ll be Kuebler’s first varsity start, but “he’s made some great passes in small windows,” Vossen said. “And he’s very fast. If he tucks it and goes, he’s giving (our defense) fits. Having that mobile quarterback really changes the game. He’s grown a lot as a leader and really commanded that position as his own.”

Vossen, who’s also the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, expects his team to be as fast as previous North squads on that side of the ball, and probably a little bigger. What won’t change is the Panthers’ commitment to pursuit.

“We plan to pursue as hard or harder than anybody and create as many takeaways as we possibly can,” the coach said. “They know if they don’t sprint to the ball, they won’t play. We’re excited about the things they can do if they play well.”

Bercich (6-2, 225), one of the Panthers’ captains along with Boe, Walsh and Nicholas Spitt, is a returning defensive line starter. Will Mostaert also is expected to play some defensive line, as is JaQuon Hunter, a 285-pound junior. Several of the offensive linemen could take turns on the defense as well.

Spitt leads the linebacking group and Will Mostaert’s twin brother Eli also is expected to play there.

Seniors Walsh, Nick Gregg and Spencer Fossey are returning defensive backs.

“You always have to tweak some things to suit the personnel, but we like to run the ball and play solid defense, and I think we’ll still be able to do that,” Walsh said.

There’s enough talent on both sides of the line that the Panthers have had some practices that were, shall we say, spirited.

“We can get on each other and be a little mean and nasty on the field,” Boe said. “That’s part of being a good, physical team, but once we leave the field we’re all brothers.”

“We’re still hanging out together. It’s not two teams within one,” Bercich added.

All the same, though, the Panthers say it’s time to take out their nastiness on somebody else.

Lakeville North football
(Games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted)
Aug. 31 (Thur.): Burnsville
Sept. 8: at Eden Prairie
Sept. 15: at Farmington
Sept. 22: Lakeville South
Sept. 28 (Thur.): at Wayzata
Oct. 6: Maple Grove
Oct. 13: Prior Lake
Oct. 18 (Wed.): at Eagan