SPORTS SUNDAY: As 8th-graders, sons of former NDSU football players have Oak Grove track excited for future
8th-graders Kai Zabel and Will Ness have qualified for the state track meet, thanks in part to their athletic genes
FARGO — Oak Grove track and field is a program on the rise. The Grovers have qualified double digit athletes for this week's state tournament and the team has grown by almost 40 since last season. Two of those qualifiers are only eighth graders, but they come from athletic backgrounds. Both of their dads played football at NDSU.
Kai Zabel is an eighth-grade sensation, qualifying for state in seven different events. His dad, Todd Zabel, was a track standout at West Fargo and played cornerback for the great Bison teams of the Late 1980’s.
"He encourages me every day and keeps me on track, making sure I'm not eating too unhealthy at home," Zabel said. "(He's) always in my ear."
Qualifying for seven events at state before your freshman year is nothing to sneeze at.
"It's crazy, but I'm just trying to stay focused, getting ready, getting locked in," Zabel said. "Honestly, I used track at the start to stay in shape for other sports, then I just fell in love with it."
Zabel is not the only youngster. His state-bound 4x400-meter relay team features another 8th-grader: Will Ness, son of another former Bison defensive back Matt Ness.
"He's a good mentor to me. He helps me out with every aspect of each sport. It's helped me improve in all areas," Ness said.
His athletic relatives don’t stop there. Will is cousins with Bison track star Jacob Levin, who won the Summit League championship MVP last Saturday with cousin Will watching from the stands.
"He definitely has helped me have a good idea of where I want to go," Ness said. "To place first in three different events in a Summit League college meet, that's really insane."
With four years of high school left for both Will and Kai, the Grovers are in good hands.
"The coaching staff, we've been talking about how great these guys are now, but how awesome they're going to be in the future," said Oak Grove coach Tim McLagan.