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FOOTBALL: Bemidji travels to Grand Rapids for today's season opener

BEMIDJI — Another year of Lumberjacks football begins at 7 p.m. today when Bemidji heads east to tangle with long-time rival Grand Rapids.

Most Bemidji-Grand Rapids games are spirited and hard hitting, but the outcome of tonight’s contest will hold more significance now that the Lumberjacks and Thunderhawks have both joined the Central Lakes Conference North Division.

After 30 years as an independent in football, BHS now belongs to a conference, and the team and players are finally eligible for conference championships and awards.

“Being in a conference also gives us the opportunity to resume natural rivalries, such as our rivalry with Grand Rapids, and have those results become very important,” Bemidji coach Troy Hendricks said.

“We haven’t talked this week about being in a conference because we haven’t been in one for so many years but with our old rival Grand Rapids being only 70 miles way, it’s exciting facing them in our first conference game.”

The CLC North Division includes Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Moorhead, Brainerd, Alexandria and Fergus Falls. The South Division teams are St. Cloud Tech, St. Cloud Apollo, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, Willmar and Rocori.

Bemidji remains in Section 7-5A along with Cambridge, Chisago Lakes, Duluth East, St. Francis and newcomer Brainerd. A year ago Brainerd was a member of 8-6A and was the lone non-Twin Cities program in that division. Now, however, the Warriors will be a force in 7-5A.

The Lumberjacks have made it to the state tournament in each of the past four years, the first three in the Class 4A ranks and last season in Class 5A. In 2011 the Jacks advanced to the state final and last fall they fell at the Metrodome in the state semifinals.

And this year’s squad hopes that tonight’s game will represent the first step in a return trip to the Metrodome.

“The kids want to make it to the Metrodome,” Hendricks said. “That is a lofty goal but it is one that is attainable. I absolutely love it when the kids set lofty goals and the coaches will do everything we can to help the goals become a reality.”

Bemidji returns many of its offensive impact players, but the coaching staff will have to rebuild the line.

“Up front we have nobody back,” Hendricks said.

Once the line is constructed, the offense should be potent. Directing the attack will be junior quarterback James Hendricks, while seniors Tanner Boes and Wakinyan Moore return to the backfield.

Also back are senior receivers Jaylen Ingalls and Ryan Hirt.

Defense should be an asset as a handful of seasoned starters, including linebackers Sam Bruestle, Aaron Bofferding and Andrew Steffes, plus end Lucas Goins, return.

“Speed is one of our strengths and that should make our secondary strong,” Hendricks said. “But my biggest concern in our depth. We need to stay healthy and we have some key spots where we cannot afford injuries.”

Grand Rapids has developed into one of the better programs in Section 7, but was down a bit last fall. The Thunderhawks return seven starters on offense and seven on defense and Hendricks is expecting a stern test.

“I think it will be an explosive game,” Hendricks said. “Both teams want to create big-play opportunities and both teams will try to begin the season with positive starts. We’re excited to begin the season. The kids are ready to hit somebody different and we’re looking forward to a great game.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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