Slew of Dodgers named to the all-district team
Six FDSH football players make Class 4A-2 first squad
Fort Dodge finished the regular season among the Top-10 squads in Class 4A and ranked right alongside the most productive offenses in program history.
The Class 4A, District 2 runner-up Dodgers had a dozen players land on either the first or second team for their successful year, which included a 7-3 mark and a playoff berth for the first time since their record-setting 2015 campaign.
Senior Drake Miller was joined by four juniors and a sophomore — Tysen Kershaw, Bryson Opande, Austin Lee, Asle Thorson and Dayson Clayton — on District 2’s elite squad. Senior co-captains Dalton Schmidt and Logan Finowski were flanked by classmate Bryer Nelson and juniors Levi Egli, Brycen Bell and Russell Potratz on the second team.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. “Not just for what they accomplished on the field, but the way they worked together away from it and what they stood for as representatives of our program in the community.
“We’ve really been fortunate here, not just to experience a certain level of success over the last decade or so, especially but to have young men who are doing things for the right reason in and around our school. Everyone wants the harvest in life, but very few are willing to plow the fields. Our guys have done so in a very honorable way for each other.”
Drake Miller, now a three-time all-district selection, shattered every passing record on file at FDSH in a season which left him among the top two statistical quarterbacks in 4A history. Miller threw for 2,972 yards and 28 touchdowns, pushing his career totals to 7,100 yards and 74 scores.
The 2017 second team all-stater captained an offense that finished just a single yard behind the Dodger unit of three years ago on the program’s all-time charts for total offense. The 200-pound left-hander completed 211 passes at a 61-percent clip, topping the 200-yard mark eight times and the 300-yard plateau on five different occasions.
Miller will graduate behind only Marshalltown’s Blake Gimbel on the 4A career list for both completions and yards passing by a quarterback.
“I think Drake ranks right up there among the best to play his position (in the state’s largest class) — not just because the numbers support it, but because of how hard he worked behind the scenes to get there,” said Matt Miller, Drake’s father. “He brought a maturity and a selflessness to the game that I think his teammates appreciated. He set the tone that way.
“I always tried my best to wear my ‘coach’ hat with him and never play favorites. And fortunately, Drake accepted that without any expectations of me doing so. All he wanted to was to be treated like everyone else in terms of having a fair shot, and work his way up to earn everything he got. I think he’s done that, and I think that will be what he’s remembered for when all is said and done.”
The 6-foot-3 Kershaw graduated from a talented sophomore deep threat to one of the best overall receivers in the state. He shattered a school record — by nearly 300 yards — and ranked at the top of 4A with 1,206 yards, catching 71 passes for 12 TDs.
“Ty took the step forward we were all hoping for,” Miller said. “He put in the time during the summer months and just grew up a ton, both physically and mentally. The skills were always there, but he found a level of consistency and had one of the best overall seasons we’ve ever seen here from a receiver.
“If there are five speeds to this game, I think Tysen’s in about fourth gear. We’re very lucky he’ll be back for his senior year (where Kershaw will be only 455 yards away from breaking Trey Mosley’s career mark at Fort Dodge). He’s still just scratching the surface.”
The 220-pound Opande was the Dodgers’ only full-time two-way starter, lining up for nearly all 1,183 plays from scrimmage along both the offensive and defensive lines. Opande tied Lee for the team sack lead with four.
“Bryson graded out as both our top offensive and defensive lineman, which is not easy to do in this day and age on both sides of the ball,” Miller said. “He’s just the epitome of Fort Dodge tough. He may not be the biggest kid out there, but he’ll be relentless and work his butt off.
“Bryson is also very talented. We want to see him put in the work during the spring and summer months to help lead this team (in 2019). He could go from being a very, very good player to a great one.”
Lee became a defensive ringleader from his linebacker position, leading the squad in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. He recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass as well.
“Like Bryson, Austin is Fort Dodge personified,” Miller said. “He’s such a competitor, and I think he really gained both confidence and an attitude from the wrestling season (Lee was the Dodgers’ 182-pounder on their state championship squad last February).
“The most encouraging part is that Austin’s best years are still ahead of him.”
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Thorson — a grandson of the late Hall of Fame legend Sherwyn Thorson — took on a new role in the defensive secondary and, by the end of the season, flourished. The safety led FDSH in interceptions with three and ranked near the top in tackles.
“I’d say from Game 1 to Game 10, Asle was probably our most improved player,” Miller said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, but he had a lot to learn as a defensive back. And you could just see him take off; he made huge strides, and was really playing his best ball down the stretch.”
The 205-pound Clayton had a huge year with the ball in his hands, despite being just a 10th-grader. He cleared the 1,000-yard plateau on the ground (1,087 with 13 touchdowns at 6.2 yards per carry) and also became a bona fide receiving threat, with 37 catches for 400 yards and four scores.
“Dayson really took off despite not being 100 percent all season (with an injured shoulder),” Miller said. “He had another productive year running the ball, and became a go-to guy for Drake out of the backfield as well.
“Dayson knows he still has work to do, but he’s just a sophomore. As long as he keeps putting in the time and improving, the sky is the limit for him.”
Clayton already ranks seventh on the program’s career rushing charts, with 1,846 yards and 20 TDs as an underclassman. Miller, Clayton and Kershaw became the closest single-season trio to ever reach 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving in state history.
“It was a special group to have together, and fortunately, two of them will be coming back,” Miller said. “Now the leadership torch is passed to them, along with Bryson, Asle, Austin and the others.”
The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Schmidt “showed tremendous leadership on and off the field as has a bright future ahead of him,” Miller said.
“Dalton did a great job as a two-year starter on the right side of our line,” Miller added. “We’re very proud of him. Kids his size and with this kind of natural skill don’t come around every year.”
The 270-pound Finowski was a three-year regular in the trenches for the Dodgers.
“Logan played in a lot of games here, and did so with grit and passion,” Miller said. “Like Drake, Dalton and Mason (Bodholdt), he served as captain and helped build the chemistry to a very strong level on this team. For that and everything else, I truly appreciate his efforts.”
Nelson “worked his way back from an injury as a sophomore and became a two-year staple in our defense” at safety, Miller said.
“Bryer matured into a solid, complete football player,” Miller added. “He fought through an ACL tear that took a lot out of our (2016 squad) and was a three-year letterwinner. He made the all-district team twice, which was well-deserved.”
Egli “was probably the hardest choice to not make the first team,” Miller said.
“Levi, along with Austin, Mason and (junior) Shane (Halligan), comprised one of our better linebacker corps we’ve ever had here when they were all healthy and clicking together,” Miller said. “No one worked harder than Levi to get ready for this season. He got better and better with each game, and put all of his heart into being a Dodger football player.”
Egli suffered a season-ending injury at Marshalltown in the final regular-season game, which wound up being a fully torn ACL and partially torn LCL, PCL and Biceps Femoris tendon.
“It wasn’t the same without him (at five-time defending state champion West Des Moines Dowling in the first round of the playoffs),” Miller admitted. “We really missed his presence.”
Bell “is an incredibly talented kid who did things for us on both sides of the ball,” Miller said. Bell caught 18 passes for 389 yards and five scores, while also being a dependable cornerback on defense.
“He has such speed and athleticism, and could do almost anything with the ball in his hands,” Miller said. “He’ll be a huge asset for us as a senior (in 2019).”
Potratz had 33 receptions for 429 yards and four touchdowns as “one of our most reliable and dependable targets,” according to Miller.
“We saw it in the spring and summer and it carried over into the year: Russell just catches everything thrown his way,” Miller said. “We had a feeling he was going to take a big step, and he did. We called him our ‘dirty-work’ guy; if we needed 5, 6, 8 sure-fire yards, Russell was always there to get them.”
Seniors Bodholdt, Jace Peterson and Ben Nebel joined Halligan on the honorable-mention list.
“Mason was having a first team all-district year before he went down (with a shoulder injury),” Miller said. “He tried his best to come back as quickly as possible (from a broken collarbone); he was just a fighter and a true leader.
“He gave everything he had and left it all on the field.”
Peterson had “such a tremendous senior year as a reliable student-athlete,” Miller said.
“Jace was a go-to guy for us; a real leader. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Nebel converted on 36 of his 41 extra-point attempts and drilled three field goals for the Dodgers.
“Ben’s value and dependability as a kicker was greatly appreciated,” Miller said. “He did a nice job for us and gave us a true weapon on special teams.”
Halligan “was always around the ball and really gave us a fire and an edge on defense,” Miller said.
“Shane made some big plays at key moments, and we’ll need him to be a leader even more moving forward (as a senior),” Miller added.
Twenty-six of the Dodgers’ 48 varsity players carried grade point averages of 3.25 or better for the fall semester.
Miller tied close friend Sam Moser on the FDSH tenure charts at 15 seasons, and also now ranks just five wins behind Forrest Marquis on the school’s coaching victory charts with 69. The Dodgers are 52-45 since 2009, and their 45 triumphs this decade are currently tied with the 1980s as the most successful decade of Fort Dodge football in the last 70 years.
The Dodgers won at least seven regular-season contests for only the seventh time since 1950. Four have happened in the last 10 years.
“Our best seasons always happen when the seniors and juniors work well together and accept what they are and what they aren’t,” Miller said. “Each class brings something unique to the table, and if they play to their strengths and set their personal egos aside for the good of the team, great things can and will happen.
“These seniors did that, and now it’s up to the (2019) seniors and juniors to do the same.”