'A special group': Frank training up Blue Jay defensive backs
The Jamestown High School football team is slated to host Grand Forks Central in the Class A quarterfinals on Friday.
JAMESTOWN — Life changes proved serendipitous for Jamestown High School assistant football coach Shawn Frank.
Coach Frank has been coaching football since his fifth year at the University of Mary. Right out of college Frank coached football at the junior high level then moved on to become the head coach at Hettinger High School. After his time in Hettinger, Frank accepted a coaching position at the University of Jamestown where he oversaw the Jimmies until the mid-2010s.
Two years after leaving the college world, Jamestown High School head football coach Nelson got in contact with the defensive aficionado.
"Coach Nelson reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in coaching for him," Frank said. "I told him, it had been so long since I'd coached high school football that I didn't know if I was his guy but he said 'Well, can I at least interview you?'"
The interview must have gone pretty well.
"I guess the timing was right," Frank said. "I'm glad (Coach Nelson) approached me. I am in a good spot. I enjoy it."
Frank has been tasked with overseeing the Blue Jay defense for the last five seasons. The longtime coach has helped mold the Blue Jays into one of the toughest defensive teams in the Class A standings.
"I played corner in college and the coaches I had and the people I learned from were all defensive coaches. I was around them a lot," Frank said. "The way football is played today, the offenses we see are so dynamic and while the rules are tilted toward the offense, us defensive guys still think we can do some things to combat what is happening on offense. There's a challenge in that. That's the part I enjoy about it. You have to have an edge to play defense and that's just how I am wired."
Frank began building the 2022 defense three years ago when he saw Aden Braun working out.
"I was lifting in the summer coming into my sophomore year and he came up to me and he said, 'Brauny you are going to be playing safety,'" Braun, a senior safety and cornerback said. "That's kind of how I got started with it."
Braun was the only returning starter in the back row this season.
"This fall, I knew it was going to be a little bit more of a challenge for us in the back row because we were replacing two kids who played a lot of snaps so I was going down the list and picking out sophomores," Frank said. "I knew we were going to take our lumps but it's get tough or die in football. I ask our guys to do a lot and this group takes ownership of it. They want to do well and that's half of the battle."
Noah Meissner, Nate Walz, Tyson Jorissen, Payton Hochhalter and Tuyikeze Faustin were the other five Frank picked out to take on opponents' wideouts and running backs.
"I like working together as a team," Braun said. "As DBs, we work together to do our jobs. I also like how we're all over the field — we're in run support and we're also in coverage so we kind of get to do everything. We realized last year that if we just do our jobs, we can get pretty far so the more we practice with our coaches and the more reps we get, we will continue to grow and get better."
Through nine games, Walz has recorded 16 solo tackles — four from behind the line of scrimmage — and a team-high of four interceptions. Walz was also responsible for one of the team's two defensive touchdowns.
"The first few games I was kind of nervous because I didn't really know if I was doing the right thing," Walz said. "After the first five weeks, I think I got into the groove a little bit."
Jorissen has 20 tackles — 17 of which have been solo. In Braun's eight games played, he has tallied 19 tackles. Tuyikeze has only played seven out of the nine games but he has still managed eight solo and 15 total tackles and an interception. Meissner has been responsible for nabbing a pair of interceptions while also recording 13 solo tackles.
Most of the time, Hochhalter's name appears on the passing and punting stat line but the senior has proven he can be a physical defensive player as well. Hochhalter has taken on the free safety position where he has recorded two tackles and a pair of interceptions.
"From my point of view — being a quarterback — it's kind of easier for me to read the opposing team's quarterback because I know what he is thinking," Hochhalter said. "It's kind of fun for me to be back there."
Being a mind-reader is not a prerequisite for being a part of the D-back group, but you do to be smart if you are playing for Coach Frank.
"I come from a college background and we're playing a college defense — I haven't eliminated much out of it," Frank said. "It's a credit to our kids, they are so smart and they've picked it up.
"Our kids want to be coached. They want to be coached hard, they want to be held accountable. I am going to coach them hard — it's the only way I know. That's the way I was coached, that's the way I was raised, that's the way I played. I am going to coach them hard but I am the first one to give them a hug when they do something right too."
All six of the Jays' defensive backs have roles to play on offense as well which according to them, only makes them better on defense.
"Playing both ways, you have a lot of shots to bounce back from your mistakes," Jorissen said. "You aren't sitting on the sidelines thinking about a bad play, you can make up for it right away with a good play."
The Blue Jay offense is averaging 348 yards per game. With the exception of Valley City and Fargo North, the Blue Jay defense has held all of its opponents to fewer than 270 yards. The defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks 20 times and the Jays have forced 25 turnovers.
2022 marks the first season that all six of the defensive backs have been playing together but they all have previous connections that fuels the chemistry out on the field. Walz and Miessner have been playing football together since seventh grade while Braun, Tuyikeze and Hochhalter have been paired up since their early middle school days.
The group also shares connections between different sports.
Walz and Jorissen strap on the skates for Matt Stockert and the Blue Jay hockey team while Hochhalter and Meissner suit up for the JHS basketball squad.
"We're like a family," Jorissen said.
The band of brothers will have to use their connections and skill to get a win this week.
The second-seeded Blue Jays are set to take on Grand Forks Central in the Class A quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. at Charlotte and Gordon Hansen Stadium.
When the Jays and Knights faced off in week No. 3 of the regular season, the Jays held Central to 231 offensive yards while they themselves notched 396 yards of offense. Dylan Lamont threw three interceptions in the two teams' last meeting.
In the Knights' regular-season finale, Dylan Lamont was 23-for-38 for 272 yards passing and five touchdowns. Jayden Haake picked up 60 yards on nine carries and one score while Jack Simmers hauled in seven receptions for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Simmers and Haake aren't going to get much of a chance to score if the Blue Jay DBs have anything to say about it.
"Our kids are special," Frank said. "They are an accountable group — we don't have to motivate them much. We're here to get stuff done — not worried about the fluff in between."