Last year’s Gator Football team won its final three games of the season, capped by a 30-16 road semifinal playoff victory over the previously undefeated Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke Chargers. Ever since Gator Head Football Coach John Lee started on as the program’s head coach, a goal of his had always been to get a team to the FargoDome. The win over the Chargers would have provided that opportunity during a normal season, but COVID played a role in the 2020 season’s final outcome.
“Then the season got canceled and we didn’t get to play (in the FargoDome). And so our whole motto and everything this year is get back to the FargoDome,” Coach Lee said, “because I think we have enough of a core maybe group left that we can try to get there and play for that section championship game.”
Instead, the Gators had to settle for a 4-3 season and Section 8 Nine-Man Co-Section Champion honors with the Stephen-Argyle Central Storm.
Coach Lee talked about last season, his returning players, practice this year, and his team’s strengths and goals heading into this season.
Last season, the co-section champion Gator team was led by 11 seniors, a group of players bringing experience and coming off a double overtime road playoff loss to the North Central Stars the season before— one win away from that trip to the section championship game in the FargoDome. The 2020 senior group had the drive to succeed, Coach Lee said.
“I just think those guys had a remarkable year. We did lose three games and the three teams we lost to were all the top teams,” Coach Lee said. “… My seniors really led last year, and so that’s why I’m trying to put it on these seniors this year that you guys have to take that experience you guys gained.”
This year’s Gator roster includes six seniors, including Brandon Brazier, Kobey Dallager, Aven Augustson, Ethan Waage, Caiden Duray, and Nathan Waage. Overall, Coach Lee said his senior group brings valuable experience back to the program.
“I’m going to lean heavily on those guys this year,” Coach Lee said. “They’re basically looking at being two-way athletes for all of them, but I have this large junior class. I think we have 11 in that class.”
Coach Lee thought he had one sophomore who will be playing varsity and mentioned the chance of one more hitting the varsity field later this season after getting some additional experience.
“Right now we are juniors and seniors only (on varsity),” Coach Lee said.
The program has 39 players total— 26 at the ninth to twelfth grade level and 13 at the junior high level. Besides Lee, other coaches leading these players include: Striker Hasson (Defensive Coordinator), Bryan Modahl (Offensive Coordinator), Jeremy Swenson (Special Teams Coordinator), Trevor Nichols (Volunteer Coach), Ben Evans (Junior High Coach), Martyn Novacek (Volunteer Coach), and Dylan Stender (Quarterbacks Coach).
Coach Lee had several returning players in mind to help lead this season’s group.
Senior Kobey Dallager returns for his fourth season as a Gator starter, but his first as the team’s varsity starting quarterback. He played quarterback in the younger grades, but to get both him and last year’s starting senior quarterback Kasen Swenson on the field at the same time, the Gators had Dallager play 90 to 95 percent of the time as a receiver or running back.
“Well, this year, right now we’re looking at him playing every down at quarterback,” Coach Lee said. “And so I expect him to not only throw for a bunch of yards, but he should run for a bunch of yards from that position, which will change our offense a little bit.”
Coach Lee explained how critical senior center Nathan Waage will be to the team’s success. Without him during their scrimmage action, the Gators had a tough time moving the ball.
“Our offense looks terrible without him at that center spot, kind of guiding everybody else on that line,” Coach Lee said. “… I really think (he) will have a great year also. He did a nice job for us last year as well at the center spot.”
He also believed senior running back Ethan Waage could have a strong season if he stays healthy.
“He was kind of set to be the starting fullback last year and then he got hurt in that Warren game and didn’t get to play again,” Coach Lee said. “He’s looked really good so far this season.”
Speaking of seniors who have been injured before, Coach Lee also mentioned how senior running back Brandon Brazier has looked “pretty good” this offseason as well.
Coach Lee also sees a couple returning underclassmen having strong seasons, including junior tight end Zac Blawat and junior running back Dylan VonEnde.
“He’s (Blawat’s) a big body. He’s got great hands —soft basketball hands— he runs good routes, he’s quick, and I got him and Aven (Augustson) on one on each side.”
With that said, Coach Lee believes his team will be able to throw the ball.
“I think teams are going to have to kind of pick a poison,” Coach Lee said, “and whatever they try to stop, hopefully we can hit them with something else.”
As for VonEnde, Coach Lee said this about him, “He was an undersized kid, but he’s got a huge heart and plays hard.”
On the defensive end, he pointed out how juniors Ty Christian and Karter Kostrzewski played well during the team’s jamboree action.
“(Those are) two guys that aren’t going to play a lot of offense, and so I expect them to be the fresh, fresh bodies on that defensive group,” Coach Lee said. “And we’ll try to rotate some of those other guys in and out, but I expect a lot out of those two juniors.”
As his team begins this 2021 season, Coach Lee believes the section his team plays in will be tough, but he has several goals for them. First, he would like to see his team earn a home playoff game and earn one of the section’s top two seeds— guaranteeing a team of two potential home playoff games. The final goal is to reach a place last year’s team reached but never got to follow through on.
“Our goal is to get to the FargoDome and of course the guys say, ‘That’s not good enough. We want to win (at the FargoDome). I said, ‘I just want to get there first,’” Coach Lee said. “So, you know, if that happens, that happens, but the guys think they’re good enough to play at the next level, past that FargoDome level. And we might be, but we’ll see how hard we work at it.”
To see the complete story, read the September 8 issue of The Tribune in print or online.