All-star clash

Four Minot-area athletes gear up for Badlands Bowl

Alex Eisen/MDN Velva senior Justin Helseth explodes off the line and around the offensive guard in pursuit of quarterback Nicholas Effertz during a preseason practice last season.

MILES CITY, Mont. — The best of the best on the high school football gridiron across North Dakota and Montana this past season will square off this evening in the 24th annual Badlands Bowl.

Making the trip to Miles City, Montana, for this edition are four local Minot-area graduates in Minot High’s Manuel Bradford, Velva’s Justin Helseth, Bishop Ryan’s Jordan Will and Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood’s Berkley Santos.

The foursome aim to help end the dominance the Montana all-stars have had recently, winning five of the last six contests. All-time, Montana is 17-6 against North Dakota with a daunting 10-2 record in Miles City.

“We got a lot of talent on our team and I think we can do it this year,” Helseth said.

Coached by Rugby’s Scott Grochow, team North Dakota brings 34 athletes from across the state into enemy territory. Before getting to that point, however, former enemies had to forge new bonds.

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot High senior Manuel Bradford carries the ball in a West Region contest against Dickinson last year at Duane Carlson Stadium.

“It’s definitely a big change,” Helseth said about practicing with his new teammates in Dickinson over the last week. “Some of these guys were actually rivals back in high school and now they are on the same team. I guess football has a way of bring guys together.”

In the fall, Helseth played a pivotal role on the Aggies’ offensive and defensive lines. The Velva-Sawyer football team had its season end with a defeat to Des Lacs-Burlington, 18-14, in the Class A quarterfinals.

Helseth also finished runner-up at 195 pounds in the Class B state wrestling tournament.

Achievements aside, today’s all-star contest and the North Dakota Shrine Bowl next month will be the last two football games for Helseth in the foreseeable future.

“I’m going to BSC (Bismarck State College) and I’m just going to go for school – for mechanical maintenance – and I’m not going to be playing football anymore,” he said. “Hanging out with the guys more than anything is probably what I’m going to miss.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Minot State football commits, Bradford and Will, will share the field for the first time with many more encounters to come.

Bradford, a defensive back turned into a starting running back at Minot High last year, rushed for 1,097 yards on 78 carries in his lone season with the Magi. His blazing speed accounted for 14 touchdowns.

At the state track and field meet, Bradford collected a handful of second places in the 100-meter dash, 200 meters and 300-meter hurdles. Plus, Bradford anchored the Magi’s third place 4×100 relay team.

The Minot High football team won the West Region last year alongside eventual state champions Century. Minot fell short of making a third straight appearance at the Dakota Bowl, as Bismarck High upended the Magi 43-38 in the Class AAA state semifinals at Duane Carlson Stadium.

Meanwhile, Will used his brute force to anchor the Lions’ lines and later went on to capture his second consecutive state wrestling title in the winter. On the mat, Will went 58-1 on the season with his only loss coming against a Minnesota wrestler at the Rumble on the Red tournament.

Ryan lost to DLB in the Class A football state semifinals, 32-20.

“It’s been a lot different than my high school experience,” Will said. “Everybody around you is really good. It’s just a team full of all-stars and I think, in a way, it makes everything more competitive. Everyone has a little more focus and it’s a little more serious, so hopefully that has helped us in preparing for this game.”

Santos, another lineman, is the first player from a Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood team to take part in the Badlands Bowl. His 9-man Mavericks went unbeaten in conference play to claim the Region 6 title last year, but MLS lost its opening playoff game to St. John, 16-14.

“I like the feeling I have with all of my teammates right now,” Santos said. “We all feel like one great, big family. It’s pretty nice. Everyone kind of knows what to do and we just fit in like we have been playing with each other for a while.”

Going from 9-man football to a full 11-on-11 scrimmage hasn’t fazed Santos too much.

“It’s a little different because I mostly played 9-man my entire career,” he said. “But I have adapted easily and everyone has helped me when I needed it, if I was in the wrong spot or something. It’s just a few extra guys on the field and there are different holes I line up in because there are more guys to cover.”

Santos, a tri-sport athlete at MLS in football, basketball and baseball, is going to attend Valley City State University for football and study sports medicine.

Kickoff at Connors Stadium in Miles City, Montana, is scheduled for 7 p.m. (6 p.m. local time). The game will be broadcasted live by the BEK Broadcasting Network. More information about the Badlands Bowl can be found at

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.