Uncertainty creeping in for DLB football

Alex Eisen/MDN Des Lacs-Burlington quarterback Dante Gunville (10) throws a pass in a Class A football game played last season.

DES LACS — A season removed from losing in the Class A football state championship game in 2016, the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers are looking for answers.

Many of the players who helped DLB reach back-to-back postseasons have moved on. Now, a new regime needs to step forward.

“With all the kids we lost last year, it’s been a slow process,” DLB coach James Johnson said. “I think we know where we want to get to, it’s just going to take us a while to get there.”

The rather bleak outlook to start the season was best summed by Johnson after being asked what he thought his team’s strengths would be this year.

“Um… Boy, I don’t know,” Johnson responded with a chuckle. “I could tell you the weaknesses. I’m not sure about the strengths.”

Despite Johnson’s concerns, it’s hard to downplay a team that has won eight games in each of its past two seasons and is constantly a threat for the Class A Region 3 title.

The Lakers aren’t rebuilding from complete scratch either.

For starters, junior Dante Gunville returns at quarterback after a year of varsity experience.

“I think all the tools are there. (Gunville) is athletic, he can throw and he can run,” Johnson said. “But, it’s the same thing with the rest of the team, he has to be patient. He is working with some new and different receivers. And he has to lead by example.”

Some of those offensive weapons with limited varsity experience include running back Caleb Bonness and fullback Jacob Haugen. While a brand new receiving core needs to be developed.

Filling the void of last year’s graduating class won’t be easy.

“When you talk about Joshua Knutson, Jacob Ruden, Colton Miller and Colton Bartuska, No. 1 those were athletic kids and a lot of speed,” Johnson said. “But, the biggest thing we lose from them is their leadership. They were dedicated to the sport and, right now, I think we are missing that a little bit. But, we are two weeks in and we will continue to search for that.”

Johnson also recognized senior lineman Nathan Mehlhoff as a key player for the Lakers this season.

“He is just a big, strong kid,” Johnson said. “When he is highly motivated, he is one of the better players around.”

The most effective way to work around an uncertain offense is to have a stout defense. The Lakers allowed 81 points last season.

“I think our defense will lead us a little bit because we got more kids coming back on the defensive side,” Johnson said. “Offensively, we got to find something we can hang our hat on. Establish something that we are good at and build off that.”

DLB doesn’t have much time to piece things together with a handful of critical games at the start of the season.

Following a nonconference opener this Friday against Rugby, the Lakers travel to take on reigning regional champions Velva, they host nearby rivals Lewis & Clark-Berthold/ORCS and then they challenge Bishop Ryan at Herb Parker Stadium.

“Velva, Berthold and Ryan, all three are big rivalries,” Johnson said. “Velva and Ryan, you can almost pencil them into the playoffs right now with all the All-Conference and All-State players that they have back. And Berthold, they are only eight miles away, so they are going to show up and be ready to play.

“We got to get through the first four weeks and see where we are sitting, and see if we are heading in the right direction to try and make the playoffs.”

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