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Football: Bemidji opens season at home today against Grand Rapids

Troy Hendricks and the BHS Lumberjacks open the season tonight against Grand Rapids. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI -- A new season of prep football begins today and Bemidji High School head coach Troy Hendricks can't wait for the kickoff.

The Lumberjacks will take the first step in a journey that they hope will lead to a state championship at 7 p.m. today when they host Grand Rapids at BSU's Chet Anderson Stadium. Tonight's contest is the first of eight regular season games, including home appearances tonight, Sept. 12 against Fergus Falls, Sept. 19 against Sartell and Oct. 3 against Brainerd.

The Jacks also will visit Sauk Rapids on Sept. 5, Rocori on Sept. 27, Alexandria on Oct. 10 and Moorhead on Oct. 15.

"I can't believe the season is already here but we're excited to play. The kids are jacked and I'm excited for the kids and the opportunity to step onto the BSU field and see where we are at.

"When you play the first game you are excited, whether that game is on the road or at BSU. But, at the same time, we certainly love opening and playing at home."

BHS is coming off a 7-3 campaign that ended in the section semifinals. That loss snapped a streak of four consecutive appearances in the state tournament, a streak that included playing in the state championship game in 2011 and the state semifinals the next year.

The goal of this year's team is to win the state title and Hendricks wouldn't be surprised to see the Lumberjacks accomplish that objective.

The process that leads to a state title began on Aug. 11 with the start of practice and today Bemidji will have the first chance to showcase its strengths and reveal any deficiencies.

"From the coaches' standpoint, tonight we want to see the kids play fast and play with confidence," Hendricks said. "We'll keep the game plan as simple as we can. We want to play multiple kids, including 15 to 16 on defense. The coaches will put the kids in spots where they can succeed and we are anxious to watch these kids mature and grow."

The Lumberjacks will open the fall with a seasoned and talented offense and leading the charge is senior quarterback James Hendricks.

"Offensively, we have experience and everything starts with the quarterback and what he can handle," the coach said. "James has two years as a starter under his belt so he knows the offensive packages. He also knows our expectations and, hopefully, he will play within the system and will distribute the football to all of our weapons."

Working in concert with the offensive weapons is an offensive line that returns three starters and also boasts other players who are performing at a varsity level, according to Hendricks.

"We like our offensive line and what it is capable of doing," he said. "The kids on the line are big, strong, and, we hope, physical."

The returning starters include Luke Hendricks, Richard Cobble and Gabe Flaherty while Hank Bellefy, Logan Solheim and Brody Wilander bolster the personnel options.

They will block for a backfield that features Logan Hatfield, Isaac Klinke, Alex Laitala and Will Annette. The receivers include AJ Anderson, Grant Tharaldson, Alex Vollen, Clayton Dickinson and Annette.

"Defensively, we started the season a little slowly because we had some injuries that held kids out for a few days to a week but most of them are back now," Hendricks said. "And with those kids missing there were opportunities for other kids to get reps in practice. Now, we like where we are at on the defensive side of the ball."

Returning to anchor the defensive line are Lucas Goins, Wyatt Yoemans, Joseph Krotzer and Ben McDonald.

Candidates for the inside linebacking spots include Klinke, Nate Snell and Nick Peterson. The outside linebackers include Yartz, Gannon Strain, Damian Smith and Hatfield while the safeties include Jens Huseby, Anderson, Donnie Letson and Hendricks.

Expected to rotate at the corner positions are Nate Gubbels, Ben Thompson, Annette and Smith.

Laitala will be the long kicker and Annette or Laitala will handle the conversion kicks. Anderson will punt and Goins is the long snapper.

Hendricks isn't sure what to expect from Grand Rapids tonight and that's fine because he is more concerned with what his players are doing.

"Grand Rapids has a new coaching staff so we aren't sure what to expect," Hendricks said. "We'll adjust on the fly to what Grand Rapids does but our focus is not going to be on Grand Rapids. It will be on Bemidji. We want to make sure that we are playing fast and that we are having fun."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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