Offseason dedication in the weight room paying off for bigger, stronger Central Cass football team
With offensive linemen Dylan Sell, Garrett Haugen, and Micah Van Hal leading the way, the Squirrels dedicated themselves to getting bigger and stronger. The players committed themselves in the weight room all offseason, showing up to train even on Saturdays and Sundays.
CASSELTON, N.D. — Central Cass had to get stronger — and it did.
The Squirrels football season ended last year at the hands of a bigger, more physical Beulah team. The Miners ran for more than 400 yards in a 35-6 romp as Central Cass had no answer for their power in the trenches.
“It didn’t matter the scheme we ran, anything we did, they just physically beat us up front,” Central Cass coach Tommy Butler said. “So we told all the guys that our big thing this offseason is we have to get bigger, we have to get stronger.”
With offensive linemen Dylan Sell, Garrett Haugen, and Micah Van Hal leading the way, the Squirrels dedicated themselves to making sure that wouldn’t happen again. The players committed themselves in the weight room all offseason, showing up to train even on Saturdays and Sundays.
Last year, Butler said, he didn’t have many players who could bench press their own body weight. Now, he’s got at least 10 guys benching more than 200 pounds and four or five that can squat more than 400.
“I hit a 600-pound deadlift this year. I’ve been really working,” Sell said. “Last year, I couldn’t even deadlift 415. I wasn’t all that strong. My bench press has probably gone up 50 pounds. This February, after wrestling season was over, I really picked it up in the weight room.”
All of that hard work is paying off as the Squirrels are off to a 4-0 start this season and are ranked No. 2 in the latest statewide media poll. Instead of getting pushed around, they’re the ones doing the pushing. They’re dominating in the trenches, opening holes for running back Owen Wiersma and giving quarterback Brendan Maasjo plenty of time to operate in the pocket.
“I could tell the difference in the first game — the first game against Hillsboro,” Van Hal said about the Squirrels’ season-opening 31-12 win over Hillsboro-Central Valley. “Last year, my first game starting was against Hillsboro and I did not have a good game. This year, we had our first game against them and we pushed them around a little bit up front. They had some all-state guys and I feel like we did a good job against them. There was a noticeable difference there as a comparison point.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sell starts at left guard, with Van Hal (6-0, 205) at center, Tyler Cruchet (5-11, 205) at right guard, and Haugen (6-1, 215) at right tackle. Starting left tackle Nate Burley is dealing with an injury and the Squirrels have had multiple players filling in for him.
The coach says that Sell, Van Hal, and Haugen — all juniors — each have their distinct strengths and roles as leaders along the line.
“Dylan has got a little bit of nastiness in him. He’s probably our most physical guy,” Butler said. “Micah is really smart — he’s probably going to score a 34 or higher on his ACT. And Garrett is the most consistent. He rarely makes mistakes.”
Sell loves to hit people. He said his favorite thing is to put his head down and drive his opponent off the line of scrimmage.
“Hitting people is my favorite thing about this sport,” he said. “If you ask anybody, they’ll probably say I have a problem with leading with my head a little bit. You can see the scuffs on the front of my helmet.”
Van Hal said his academic work is very important to him. He loves playing football for now, but he sees that the game is probably not going to be his future. His favorite subjects are math and history.
“There’s a lot of math in sports,” Van Hal said. “In baseball and football, there’s all kinds of math and statistics. It’s great to see that correlation between the two, because I like sports a lot, obviously, and I’m pretty good at math.”
Haugen said he loves the personal confrontation of playing on the line. Each play is a new opportunity to either win or lose against his opponent.
“Every play is a challenge,” Haugen said. “You’re challenging yourself, getting better, always learning from every single play.”
The undefeated Squirrels head to Kindred on Friday to take on the rival Vikings in a matchup with major implications in the Class 11B South-East division. The Vikings are 3-1 with their lone loss coming in Week 2 against Hillsboro-Central Valley 26-20. They’ve won each of their other three games by a combined score of 160-34.
Central Cass is looking for its first win over Kindred since 2015. The Vikings beat the Squirrels 22-20 last year.
“(Kindred football) coach (Matt) Crane has a phenomenal team over there, but we’re ready to go after those guys,” Butler said. “They beat us last year, but we told our guys this is just another game. It’s not ‘Kindred Week’ here. I don’t think any of our coaches have said anything about them aside from the scheme they’re running. We’re just focused on what we do and how we do it. We’re not worried about the outside stuff.”