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Strong step: Good nucleus returns as Jays hope to build off playoff run

Chris Aarhus / The Sun Jamestown’s Scott Nelson (5) takes a handoff from Ross Monson (18) while Caleb Ellingson blocks (28) on Nov. 1. Nelson and Monson return next year.

It’s safe to say the Jamestown High School football team surprised this town.

In the football world, losing 10 starters on offense from a 2-7 team doesn’t put you on the fast track to success.

But adversity was the name of the game for this group, whether it was lack of experience or playing in bad weather. It just never affected them the way it often does with high school kids. It’s a credit to everyone who was a part of the Blue Jays.

In most towns, there will be doubters as to the local team’s ability or inability to win games. Everybody’s a critic, and certainly, the winning percentage hasn’t been great in the past decade for the Blue Jays. You can’t sway everybody, and sometimes the idea that those doubters are out there can be good motivation for a program.

But you have to take the good with the bad, and before this season, there were five wins in four years. It may take a while to draw the casual fans that powerhouses draw each year. Regardless, it’s not as if the Blue Jays have much to complain about in the grandstands. During last year’s two-win season, they were nearly filled most weeks. Bad weather clearly hurt attendance this season, though.

This year’s team gives everybody a reason to be hopeful for the future. The Jays finished 6-3 in the regular season, earning the No. 4 spot in the West Region and a playoff nod. Granted, that ended in a loss at Fargo South, but it was a huge step in the right direction for a program in desperate need of rejuvenation.

And that rejuvenation has come at the hands of coach Tim Fletcher, who often tries to deflect credit to the coaches and athletes around him. There was a quiet confidence in the Blue Jays this season, yet they were very humble. It was a remarkable balance considering these are high school kids, and it’s a reflection of Fletcher’s personality.

So what should Jamestown football fans expect next year?

The defense returns just three starters in defensive end Logan Anderson, nose guard Alex Zimmerman and cornerback Scott Nelson. Those are three solid anchors worth building a defense around. Replacing one of the top linebacking groups in the state could be difficult, though.

The offense brings back four linemen with starting experience, with the team needing to fill a guard spot. Both wide receivers graduate in Tyler Ukestad and Joey Gebhardt, but look for guys like Noah Wanzek and Layne Carlson to step in next year. The backfield of tailback Taylor Orr and fullback Eathan Gumke will graduate, but tailbacks Scott Nelson and Ben Hanson are very capable and were strong reserves this year, which we saw against Fargo North. Having Ross Monson back at quarterback should put the Blue Jays ahead of the game on offense, as breaking in a new signal-caller always takes time. Logan Anderson proved to be very dynamic as backup tight end, and he’ll likely replace starter Marc Wagner.

Essentially, it’s another team that’s hit hard by graduation. But the Blue Jays surprised people this year with their best season in five years despite heavy losses, and that gives fans a reason to look forward to next year.

Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached                   at (701) 952-8462 or