You could say Bismarck Century led the Class AAA race from wire-to-wire last season. The Patriots finished their first perfect season in program history by taking down Sheyenne 10-0 in the Dakota Bowl. Despite losing a strong class of seniors, I think Century still has the inside track on winning the title.
The talent level in Class AAA should be high again with several players already committed to play division one football. There will be a noticeable change at the start of the 2020 season. The non-conference games for weeks one and two were called off to help limit travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, the WDA and EDC juggled their schedules and scattered a couple “off” weeks throughout the season. Many coaches have told me in the past that they treat those first couple games like preseason contests to prepare for the much more impactful conference tilts. So, it’ll be interesting to see which teams are prepared for those critical conference showdowns being played on opening night.
Century took everyone’s best shot last year and made it out alive hoisting the hardware with a 12-0 record in 2019. Ron Wingenbach was named coach of the year, QB/DB Cade Feeney earned outstanding athlete honors and a total of nine Patriots were named all-state last season. However, 2020 is a new season with a new-look roster. Coach Wingenbach will look to new leaders at the QB and receiver positions along with trying to fill spots on a defense that graduated ten starters. A huge strength for Century will be up front, where they return a lot of starting experience from a group that bullied the rest of the WDA a season ago.
It’s not too often that I tab a lineman as my preseason player of the year, but that’s how good Century senior Andrew Leingang is. In fact, he’s quickly becoming the highest recruited football player in North Dakota history. The 6’5” 275 lb senior has more than 10 scholarship offers including multiple from Power 5 schools like Stanford, Arizona State, Minnesota and Kansas State. NDSU and UND have also offered the big man from Bismarck. He told me that he hopes to have his college choice nailed down by the season opener on August 28. On the field, Leingang has great mechanics, exceptional footwork and a very competitive drive. 6’0” 270 lb junior Lucas Schweigert is another lineman that will be “fun” to deal with for opposing teams. Schweigert was the lone sophomore in the state last year to earn first-team, all-state honors at the AAA level. The 1,000-yard rusher Cade Garcia returns for his senior season and should be poised for another big year behind that massive offensive line. Garcia scored 19 touchdowns last season in his first year in a starting role. Noah Schaffner takes over for the graduated Cade Feeney at quarterback. The junior passer is a taller QB than Feeney standing at 6’5” 190 lbs. He describes himself as more of a pocket passer than Feeney who would often make plays with his scrambling ability. Schaffner says he’s confident in his rushing ability, too.
The Mustangs are coming off their best season in program history after finishing as Class AAA state runner-up with a 10-2 record. Now, the task for Head Coach Jeremy Newton is to keep that momentum rolling. Sheyenne returns five starters on each side of the ball, which includes the QB and RB spot on offense. Their run-heavy offense should be a force again and that can only help a defense that should be able to stay somewhat rested during games. Don’t underestimate the experience gained by the underclassmen last year with those extra practices in the postseason. I think that extra time is very beneficial for those younger guys that will be expected to contribute more this season.
Senior Barika Kpeenu returns to spearhead the Mustangs elite ground game. The NDSU commit ran away with the EDC rushing title, racking up over 12-hundred yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s only gotten faster and stronger since and that’s bad news for the players that’ll be trying to wrap him up this fall. Grant Warkenthien showed great progress throughout his sophomore year as the team’s quarterback. He ended up passing for nearly 1,000 yards while completing around 64% of his passes. I expect him to take another big step in production and leadership in his junior season. The team will undoubtedly miss the reliability of current NDSU freshman Tyler Terhark at the receiver position. We’ll see who emerges as the primary pass catcher. On defense, Kole Menz and Abe Hestdalen will anchor the line with Lance Oster and Alex Urlaub providing stability and experience in the secondary.
I know last year’s 5-5 record didn’t sit well with the Bismarck High program, but you have to tip your cap to the group because after an 0-2 start they still had a chance to win the WDA title in the final game of the regular season against rival Century. It’s a consolation prize this year’s team – which doesn’t really want to hear about after failing to reach the state semifinal round for the first time since 2015.
Mark Gibson likes his team’s attitude coming into this fall. They might not have the size of crosstown rival Century, but Gibson is hoping his team can make up for that with its work ethic. The ground game should be strong with four starting offensive linemen returning and a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield. Defensively, the Demons will need to take a big step forward and I think they have a senior class that can help accomplish that.
I remember Gibson telling me before last year’s season opener that sophomore running back Isaiah Huus had a bright future ahead. He was right. Huus ended up earning all-state honors after rushing for more than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. After putting in the work during the summer, I expect him to have another big season behind a lot of the same big guys that were blocking for him last season. Senior linemen Caleb Dockter and Brady Bauman should be among the best at their position in the state, while Jack Steckler is a standout at tight end and defensive end.
The Deacons made their return to Class AAA and barely missed out on a playoff spot in 2019. Shanley learned firsthand how competitive things can be at the highest level. The Deacons' three losses were by a combined nine points. Maybe that’ll be the motivation that pushes the 2020 team over the top? The Deacons return eight starters on an offense that led the EDC in passing yards. Their defense steadily improved throughout 2019 but took a huge hit with the graduation of current NDSU freshman Joe Kava. I think Shanley will get over the hump this year and be in the playoff mix.
Cooper Mattern returns to lead the passing game after leading the EDC with 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. Mattern has put in the work in the offseason to try to get his offense as sharp as it can be. He has great options to utilize in tall target Braden DeKeyser and speedsters Carter Kochmann, Aidan DeVine and Henry Collins. That’s the toughest thing about defending the Deacons. They have a lot of weapons that can hurt you on that offense. Defensively, look for senior Braeden Bloch to be a force on the line. Dylan Carlquist, Carson Dean and Hunter Hannesson are also among the leaders on that side of the ball. Shanley has one of the best special team advantages in the country with Emmet Kenney kicking for them. The highly recruited Kenney made 8 of 12 field-goal attempts last year while registering 20 touchbacks on kickoffs. Kenney currently holds offers from NDSU and USD.
The Eagles soar into a new season with a new head coach as Wayne Werremeyer replaces Jason Thielges. Werremeyer slides into the role from his defensive coordinator spot. Davies put together a strong 2019 campaign earning the #2 seed in the east. But the year ended with a bitter taste following a first-round playoff loss to Mandan. The schedule is an intriguing one for the Eagles. Their matchup with Fargo South on September 11 is their only game against a team that made the playoffs last year until we reach October. Closing the season with West Fargo, Sheyenne and Shanley will be tough. The Eagles return five starters on offense and four on defense. Coach Werremeyer says he has been impressed with the leadership of his senior class so far and is hopeful that’ll translate into success on the field.
All-state quarterback Reid Hartness returns under center after an impressive junior season. Hartness put the team on his back at times rushing for 600 yards, seven TD – and passing for more than 800 yards and 10 scores. Several colleges around the region have expressed interest in the dual-threat QB. Hartness will have to find a new #1 target in the passing game after the departure of Ty Satter who’s now a member of the NDSU Bison. Ethan Entze, Colten Alme and Truman Werremeyer will be the primary rushers for the Eagles offense. The 5’8” 155 lb Entze rushed for 500 yards and 7 scores as a junior last season. Werremeyer and Colten Alme return as two of the top linebackers in the state. Werremeyer earned all-state honors as a junior. Entze and Hartness bolster the secondary and are capable of making some game-changing plays for the defense.
The Bubble Teams
West Fargo, Legacy, Fargo South, Mandan
Class AAA Preseason Player of the Year
Andrew Leingang, Century
10 Players to Watch in Class AAA
- Jaxon Duttenhefer, Mandan
- Cade Garcia, Century
- Reid Hartness, Davies
- Carson Hegerle, West Fargo
- Isaiah Huus, Bismarck
- Emmet Kenney, Shanley
- Barika Kpeenu, Sheyenne
- Cooper Mattern, Shanley
- Lucas Schweigert, Century
- Enock Sibomana, Fargo South