Coming along nicely: N.D. coach Oksendahl upbeat about teamAside from a few position drills, Team North Dakota put defense on the backburner during Monday afternoon’s practice for the Badlands Bowl all-star high school football game.
By: By Dustin Monke, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
DICKINSON — Aside from a few position drills, Team North Dakota put defense on the backburner during Monday afternoon’s practice for the Badlands Bowl all-star high school football game.
That’s the way it ought to be, North Dakota head coach Rod Oksendahl said.
“Offensively, I think we’re in great shape right now,” said Oksendahl, the head coach at Fargo Shanley. “Defensively, we just found out today that we don’t know quite where we’re at. We’ll see that in the next couple days.”
Oksendahl said he is only delaying the inevitable by focusing mostly on offense early in practice.
But, after being on North Dakota’s coaching staff in three previous Badlands Bowls, including as head coach in 2005, Oksendahl said his experience has taught him that the team needs to spend more time focusing on its offensive schemes.
North Dakota will face the Team Montana all-stars at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Badlands Activities Center.
Each team get six days with 15 practices to install systems for a game that typically becomes high tempo.
“The offense needs more time, they just do,” Oksendahl said. “We’ve spent these first three practices on is installing everything that we’re going to do offensively. That’s why they’re where they’re at. Defensively, we’ll catch up in a hurry. I know we will.”
Bismarck St. Mary’s all-state defensive back Preston Tescher, who expects to see plenty of time at safety, believes the defense is already coming together nicely.
“For the most part, it’s hardest getting the new calls and new alignments because we haven’t played for a while,” Tescher said. “Slowly, it’s starting to click and we’ll be all right in a couple more practices.”
It’s hard to argue that Oksendahl isn’t taking the right approach.
He’s already a member of the North Dakota Coaches Hall of Fame after leading Cavalier to four state championships and coaching Shanley to a Class 2A state runner-up finish last fall.
When he last coached North Dakota’s Badlands Bowl team in 2005, it claimed a 53-29 victory that ended an eight-year losing skid against a Montana team that featured future NFL players Shann Schillinger of Baker, now a free safety for the Atlanta Falcons, and Marc Mariani of Havre, a Pro Bowl wide receiver and return specialist for the Tennessee Titans.
On Monday, North Dakota quarterback Devin Coyle, the Class 3A player of the year from Mandan who is attending the University of North Dakota in the fall, said the biggest early week hurdle he and his teammates have faced is getting back into game shape.
“We’re a little out of shape right now to play a 60-minute game,” he said with a smile. “But through the week, I think we should be able to catch up pretty easily.”
Both Coyle and Oksendahl said the offense has made major strides early thanks to the play of the team’s offensive line.
The line is led by North Dakota State recruits Jack Plankers of Kindred and Landon Lechler of Beach, as well as University of North Dakota-bound Conrad Schwarzkopf of Bismarck Century.
Plankers (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) and Lechler (6-7, 240) earned praise at Monday afternoon’s practice while making lanes for all-state running backs Seth Weseby of Mandan and Zayne Medhaug of Wahpeton on the right side of the line.
“I’m real pleased where we’re at offensive line-wise,” Oksendahl said. “I think we’re ahead of the game, so to speak.”
Interestingly, one NCAA Division I offensive line recruit from North Dakota isn’t playing in the game.
Dustin Adams, a 6-4, 290-pound offensive tackle from Minot High who is going to Northern Illinois University, is not playing in the Badlands Bowl. Williston native Brent Qvale, an offensive tackle at Nebraska, similarly chose not to play in the game in 2010.
Before the team arrived Sunday, North Dakota lost quarterback Jake Hanson of Grafton to violations and lineman Justice Johnson of Century because of his commitment to the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association’s state finals, which are this weekend in Bowman. Johnson is the state leader in the steer wrestling.
The team didn’t pick up any alternates, which means North Dakota will play with 32 players instead of the allotted 34.
Oksendahl said it will hinder the team on the offensive line and at receiver because Josh Hansana of Milnor-North Sargent was moved back to quarterback after originally being slated to play at receiver.
North Dakota had just three receivers doing workouts Monday — Mott-Regent’s Chad Mosbrucker, Mandan’s Aaron Janz and Bismarck High’s Devin Schirado.
Still, Oksendahl doesn’t think the position will be much of an issue by Saturday.
“We have probably seven receivers we can go to,” he said. “Both our tight ends are good receivers that will split out and become wideouts for us. We’re in good shape that way.”
Monke is the sports editor at the Dickinson Press