Rugby football gearing up for a bounce back season

Alex Eisen/MDN A trio of Rugby tacklers converge to make a tackle in a scrimmage against Nedrose last week in Rugby. The Panthers open the season against Des Lacs-Burlington.

RUGBY — Four years ago, the Rugby High School football team rampaged through Class A Region 3 before its undefeated campaign was ruined by Killdeer in the state quarterfinals.

The program then moved over to Class A Region 2 the following year and has struggled ever since, winning four games over the last three seasons with one win over its last 19 games.

Getting back to previous winning ways is the Panthers’ priority.

“We are looking to have a big year,” Rugby co-head coach Beau Eriksson said. “I know that two years ago we were 0-8 and last year 1-7, but with the experience and athletes we have, we are aiming for the playoffs and I think it’s very achievable for us.”

Changing the culture of the program starts with changing the team’s mentality.

“One thing we have been preaching is we have to be better teammates and we are starting to see that with a lot more positivity among our seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshman as well,” Eriksson said. “I think our culture is better than what it has been in the past.”

The Panthers bring back experience up front on the offensive and defensive lines, headlined by a Class B state wrestling champion in DJ Schneibel and fellow senior Kyler Gingerich.

In the backfield, former quarterback Kevin Vetsch is transitioning to running back and forms a one-two punch with his younger brother Keith Vetsch.

Taking over at quarterback is junior basketball standout Jaden Hamilton.

“He is a very intellectual, smart kid on both sides of the ball,” Eriksson said about Hamilton. “He will also play safety.”

Hamilton will have junior playmakers in Devan Michels, Corey Mattern and Cody Jundt by his side to rely on, both offensively and in the secondary.

Finding and developing depth is Eriksson’s biggest concern heading into the new season. Also, breaking losing habits doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s going to take a lot of grit,” Eriksson said. “These guys have been through a lot. These guys just have to realize they can play with just about anyone this year, but it’s not going to be easy. They are going to have to grind out some wins and show off some grit.”

The Panthers get a tough road test to start the season on Friday by going to Des Lacs-Burlington. DLB blanked Rugby last season, 20-0.

“I think a lot of people are counting us out after a couple poor seasons,” Eriksson said. “But, I don’t think they realize we have experience. As long as we stay healthy, which is a tough thing to do in football, then we are going to make some noise this year, I think.”

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