By Billy Stitz
The Flandreau Fliers football team was just five points shy of making it to the 11B State Championship game a year ago under then Head Coach Chad Stadem, now the coach at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, and a collection of experienced seniors. 2013 is hardly scripted as a sequel, with a new coach, Travis Ahrens, and an almost brand new cast of characters.
“The cupboard is not bare, but we have quite a few guys that will have the opportunity to show what they got in expanded roles,” says Ahrens about the outlook of his first team as head coach.
The Fliers are losing over 2,800 yards of rushing from last year, not only that, but a lot of practice reps and game experience. “We have to not only replace the yards, but the experience that came with them as well,” Ahrens mentioned. “The guys filling those positions don’t have the game and rep experience those guys had, so entering camp its knowing that our kids need a lot of reps running our plays,” he added.
Along with his experience as a college player, one of the best things about the hire of Ahrens is his six years as an assistant coach at FHS. That will not only help him, but it gives the players some familiarity in an otherwise time of extreme change. Part of that familiarity comes in the style of football the Fliers will play.
“We will have the same base offense that we’ve had in the past, but every year things naturally change within the offense,” which will definitely be to the benefit of the inexperienced players.
The Fliers will be leaning heavily on the few returning players they do have, especially seniors Jace Christiansen and Jake Scofield. Christiansen is the Fliers top returning rusher with 350 yard and six touchdowns on 47 carries as the team’s quarterback. He will be expected to resume that role for the second year in a row. He is also one of the team’s top returning players on the defensive side of the ball.
Scofield is the team’s top defensive returner, accumulating just fewer than 100 tackles as a junior, proving he is an elite defender in the conference, but he will be looked on to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball as well for Ahrens’ squad this year.
Ahrens understands the value of these two players not only as individual performers, but as team players and leaders. “They ‘get it’,” he said. “They know no matter how good they are or how much they personally know, their success is only going to be attained through the help of everyone else. They are both natural leaders that way.”
Fellow seniors Alex Bakkedahl and Geno Burshiem, along with juniors Tim Parsley and Ted Slattery, will also be looked on to make an impact offensively.
Bakkedahl, who averaged 15 yards per carry last year on eight carries, including two touchdowns, will look to build off his big play ability from a year ago.
Ahrens will look towards Burshiem, Slattery and Parsley to make significant impacts and expand their roles form last year’s team.
One of the toughest parts of coaching a small town football team is finding an offensive and defensive line that not only has size, but knows what they are doing – Flandreau has an impressive tradition of having those players.
After all five of the offensive linemen from a year ago, as well as all four of the defensive linemen, graduated, Ahrens will need to find a whole new set of players to battle in the trenches.
“Line is a difficult position to replace and solid line play will be key to our success this year. We’ve never been terribly big, line wise, since I’ve been here in Flandreau, but we’ve had tough, smart, and athletic guys that were able to get after it.” Ahrens and his staff will have to find a combination of guys who fill that description. “We will be young in spots and won’t have the luxury of experience that last year’s line had, but we will be looking to get as many reps as we can in practice – physically and mentally.”
As far as expectations go, Ahrens and this year’s Fliers are not going to get caught up in trying to repeat last year’s 10-1 performance, instead, they are going to focus on the little things to get better. “Our focus has been on effort, focus, and doing the little things. If we can do those things, winning and records will take care of themselves.”
Ahrens is joined this year by assistant coaches Jameson Clarke and Brent Johnson, along with volunteer coach Todd Foster.
The Fliers season gets underway this Friday in Beresford at 7:00 p.m.