Alex Yanosko's athleticism was never in doubt. As he grew into his body during his first two seasons as the Minot High School starting quarterback, Yanosko was more of a threat with his feet.
He was the team's second-leading rusher in 2012 with 1,026 yards, just 37 behind classmate Brady Lampert. Following another offseason, including camps at the University of Michigan, University of Minnesota and North Dakota State, Yanosko looks as comfortable as ever with the Magicians installing the offense. The senior's passing doesn't look bad either.
"I think he's throwing the ball better than he did last year, so to me there's a nice improvement even in just his completion rate and his accuracy," MHS coach Barry Holmen said. "I think when Alex follows through properly, he throws it very well and we're hoping that we can be real explosive by letting him be a run and pass threat."
Minot High School senior quarterback Alex Yanosko runs the option during practice Thursday at Magic City Campus. Yanosko is entering his third year as the starter. Sophomore Ben Bolinske is expected to be the top backup.
Yanosko - 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds - accounted for 16 touchdowns as a junior, but tossed just four with seven interceptions. Through the first two days of practice, he has worked primarily out of the shotgun - a formation Holmen put more emphasis on last year than in any of his eight seasons at the helm.
"Our line isn't as big as it was my sophomore year, of course, but we're a fast line this year and that's what the shotgun's good for," Yanosko said. "It gives me more time. I'm already back five yards and with a three-step drop, eight yards, so I'm already away from the line and it gives me more time to make reads, so I can make the ball go where it needs to go."
Yanosko lost one of his favorite targets - graduate Brandon Van Dusen - but has an array of speedy and reliable targets, which have the coaches in Bismarck raving about the first-team all-state quarterback's potential this season. Bismarck High's Mark Gibson and Bismarck Century's Ron Wingenbach see the Yanosko-led Magicians as the preseason favorites in the West Region.
QB depth chart
1. Alex YanoskoSr.6-2212
2. Ben BolinskeSoph.5-11160
"He's a premier player," Gibson said.
Said Wingenbach: "Minot, at the skill positions, is gonna be as good as anyone in the state. If their linemen mature, they're gonna be a force to reckon with."
Yanosko hears and dismisses the doubts about his line's ability to protect him and pave running lanes. As a sophomore, Yanosko was about 25 pounds lighter and benefited greatly from an all-senior line with two 285-pounders, including University of North Dakota's Dustin Adams. In the 2011 home opener, Yanosko ran for five touchdowns. Last year's offensive line was considerably smaller, as is this year's.
"I've said this before and I'll say this again, my line is gonna do their job," Yanosko said. "People doubt us, but I mean, we're gonna get it done.
"Size has nothing to do with it. It's just knowing what you're supposed to do - technique, footwork, just football knowledge and knowing what you've gotta do as a lineman. It's not all strength, but it does help."
With ample time and his ability to move outside the pocket, Yanosko will be looking for a handful of senior receivers. Tight end Jacob Holmen - Barry Holmen's son - was one catch shy of Van Dusen's team-leading 14 receptions in 2012, but Holmen racked up a team-high 262 yards. The total was 150 more than Van Dusen, the next closest Magician in receiving yards.
Senior wideout Kimani Benjamin, the team's fastest on the outside, joined Yanosko at nearly every camp and workout the quarterback attended this summer.
"He's become just an amazing route runner and he's got hands," Yanosko said, "and I don't think I've seen him drop more than two balls in a single day. He's definitely my No. 1 receiver right now."
Senior Tre Kinchen provides another familiar option and Yanosko is eager to see what senior Kolton Stevens can do at 6-foot-5. Stevens is a transfer from Detroit. Lampert adds another target out of the backfield.
Sophomore quarterback Ben Bolinske has emerged as the clear favorite to back up Yanosko. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder starred on the freshman team in 2012.
"(Bolinske) shows a lot of innate, natural abilities," Holmen said. "Good athletes recognize things and they anticipate and react and both of these young kids are excellent at that. We'll do our best to get him ready. He's a young puppy."
Bolinske said he's focusing on improving as a passer, reading coverages and emulating Yanosko's superior footwork.
"Ben's actually doing a lot better than I did as a sophomore, as far as throwing the ball goes," Yanosko said. "I think he's got a good arm on him and he knows where to put the ball usually, and if I were to go down, I feel like he'd be able to step up to the plate."
Yanosko also needs to improve if he wants to achieve his goal of playing Division I football. His primary goal is winning a state title, something he achieved on the track as a member of the 400-meter relay team in May.
"When we won the (400) in track, the only thing I thought of was now I gotta double sport it," Yanosko said. "I gotta get a state championship in football because it's just an awesome feeling knowing that you're the best at something."
Yanosko was invited to the summer camps he attended and said he's drawn interest from UND, Nebraska and Iowa, and Division II schools, including Bemidji State.
Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.