Spitza: Dawn of new prep football season is upon us and brings with it excitement, wonder and more
Week 0 action is highlighted by newcomer West Fargo Horace paying a visit to Fargo North in its inaugural varsity game
FARGO — The dawn of a new high school football season is upon us here in the Peace Garden State and as a newly adopted North Dakotan who moved here from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan nearly nine months ago, I could not be more thrilled for it to get started on Friday night.
The last high school football game I covered as a sports writer was Nov. 9, 2019. It was a small school playoff game back in Michigan under the very similar frigid winter conditions we get here in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
Little did I know in that moment, it would be the last prep football game I'd cover for almost three years. A global pandemic got in the way and I was laid off from my former sports writing gig because of it.
Simply put, I'm excited. I've been excited since covering a practice out here for the first time the other week at West Fargo Sheyenne. Autumn is in the air and there's no better way to transition from summer to fall than with some Friday night lights.
"Week 0," as we like to call it, features a slate of 17 games from across the state in all five divisions. Perhaps the most intriguing of them all will be West Fargo Horace visiting Fargo North at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Hawks are varsity newcomers to Class 11A after their beginnings as a freshman squad two years ago, meaning their all-time record is a respectable 0-0.
Horace was left unranked, but received votes in the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association's 11A preseason media poll released earlier this week.
That was probably expected by most with so much unknown surrounding the program right off the bat. But Hawks junior Gavin Olson told me at practice they're being overlooked solely due to the fact that the program still has that new car smell to it.
“The EDC (Eastern Dakota Conference) ranked us as if we’re not going to win a single game, so we’re hoping to prove them wrong and win over five games," Olson said. "That’s a lot of motivation. A lot of people underestimate us because of our size and that we’re brand new, but we’re out here to prove people wrong.”
Your move, Spartans. The Northsiders are coming off of their first winning season since 2008 with an EDC championship to boot.
Head coach Adam Roland said his squad returns seven starters from a 2021 campaign in which North came up just one game shy of the Dakota Bowl. That includes all-state and all-EDC junior running back Peder Haugo.
Perhaps a disadvantage for the preseason No. 2 Spartans, however, is the fact that they don't have a lot to work with in studying this week's opponent.
"We obviously have no previous film because this is (Horace's) first varsity year," Roland noted. "We just have to be able to go out and play our game. We talk to the guys at practice about that. Like hey, listen, we have an idea of what they're doing, but we don't have any film on what they're doing. So we just have to make sure that we're just sound at playing offense, defense and special teams and what we do. And then we'll kind of take that game as it comes."
Well, I'll make a prediction here. Coaches, please don't hold it against me if I'm ever wrong about your team this season. Let's all remember, I'm a newbie to this state. I'm intending this to be something fun in hopes our readers can have a little fun with it along the way, as well. If I'm ever incorrect on my predictions, feel free to invite me to a practice and make me run laps or something.
Here goes nothing: Taking a shot in the dark, give me North to improve to 1-0 by two touchdowns. With a seemingly strong returning core and too many unknowns with Horace yet, it's the smart choice.
Putting all of that aside, I'll be there Friday night and, as I said at the beginning, I couldn't be more thrilled to get started on a new high school football season in my new home state after a three-year hiatus. It's one of my favorite times of year and part of the reason I love my job is that I get to tell the stories of these amazing student-athletes who are far more athletically inclined than I'll ever be. It's been easy to tell by attending practices so far that each and every one of these kids have the potential to do great things.
Minnesota, I can't wait to cover your side of the river in a couple of weeks, as well. North Dakota, let's kick things off Friday night. Here's to a fun season for coaches, student-athletes and fans alike.