Dodgers earn all-district gridiron status

Fort Dodge caught a glimpse of its future when the all-Class 4A, District 4 football honor roll was released recently.

Five of the six Dodgers on the first or second team were underclassmen – a number consistent with the youth movement on Matt Miller’s squad during the 2016 campaign.

Jonny Bowser was the lone senior recognized at the high end for Fort Dodge, which started the year with a 4-2 record before running out of steam and dropping its final three district games. Juniors Trey Mosley and Cayd Lara flanked Bowser on the first team, while juniors Damond Lockner and Aaron Porter joined sophomore Drake Miller on the second squad.

”Everyone was very deserving of their honors; of course I thought more of our kids had (all-district) type seasons, but we’re restricted in the number of players (based on final league record and standing),” Miller said. ”I’m proud of our guys and the effort they put into the season. We had new starters at 17 different positions on the field (from the Dodgers’ 7-3 campaign in 2015), yet we beat two (opponents) with winning records in Newton (6-3) and Ames (5-4).

”Injuries and lack of depth just caught up to us down the stretch.”

Bowser went from an understudy role a year ago to one of FDSH’s most reliable two-way athletes. He caught 49 passes for 585 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver, and became a defensive stalwart from his safety position as well.

”The growth and maturity Jonny showed was exactly what you’d hope for from a senior captain,” Miller said. ”He’s been the consummate team player. Jonny was asked to take on a lot of snaps and responsibilities, and his response was always, ‘whatever you need me to do.’

”I really appreciate what Jonny gave us. His main sport is tennis; he’s already a state champion there. He could’ve easily given up football a long time ago to concentrate on that. But he stuck with it and became a legitimate first team (all-district) talent.”

Mosley became the program’s career leader for receptions before the end of his junior year. He finished with 64 catches in just eight games, with 751 yards and seven touchdowns.

Mosley, who now has 88 receptions and 1,067 yards in 18 career starts, also stood out at cornerback. He was a second team all-district choice in 2015.

”Trey’s been a difference-maker for us since the time he first took the field as a sophomore (in 2015),” Miller said. ”We got the ball into his hands and let him do his thing. Moving forward, we’re going to have to do so even more, given his explosiveness and experience.

”He’s definitely a cornerstone for us into (2017), and we need him to take that next step physically and mentally to where he can become elite.”

Lara was the ”quarterback of the defense,” according to Miller. The wrestling standout was undersized as a linebacker at 160 pounds, but Lara still emerged as the Dodgers’ leading tackler and energized the defense with his all-in mentality.

”Cayd is our heart and soul,” Miller said of his co-captain. ”He works his tail off and does whatever it takes for the good of the program. You want guys like that. You need guys like that.

”Not to make excuses, but we really started to struggle after Cayd (suffered a knee injury). Of course he played through it, and even had a ton of tackles in our last game (at Southeast Polk). But he wasn’t anywhere close to 100 percent during the second half of the year. I’m just glad we have him back. Along with Trey and a few of the others, it’s their program from this point forward.”

Lockner tied a single-season FDSH record with five interceptions from his cornerback position. Despite being only 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds, the state wrestling qualifier had a knack for finding the ball at opportune times. Lockner also caught six passes for 101 yards and a pair of scores, and returned a kickoff 97 yards to paydirt at Southeast Polk.

”Damond is a sheer competitor,” Miller said. ”He’s an important four-sport athlete who can really perform at a high level despite not being the biggest guy out there, and he does so at critical junctures in games.

”I thought he was a first teamer, based on what he did throughout the course of the season. Like Trey and Cayd, we really need Damond to be a leader and have a great senior year (in 2017). From a consistency standpoint, there’s still room to improve, which isn’t at all uncommon for a junior.”

Porter earned high praise despite playing the entire season on a broken foot. The 280-pound center graded out as the squad’s best offensive lineman, and filled in on the defensive side of the ball as well while being significantly hobbled by his injury.

”Aaron really gutted it out for us, and we were better because of it – even though he was about as far from 100 percent as you can get,” Miller said. ”He’ll be a three-year regular at the varsity level now, which is pretty uncommon (up front).

”There’s a lot of potential for Aaron to have a breakout season as a senior, especially after the surgery (Porter will miss the entire basketball campaign to fix and heal the broken bone). He has good feet and overall athleticism.”

Miller shattered the sophomore school record for completions (172), passing yards (1,777) and touchdowns (14). The first team all-CIML baseball standout also completed 62 percent of his throws, and his passing yardage ranks as the fifth best single-season output in school history.

The left-hander did suffer an injury of his own in the early stages of Fort Dodge’s upset loss at Marshalltown in Week 7. He never fully healed, and the Dodgers never looked the same again.

”I think that, by and large, Drake had a terrific sophomore season,” Miller said in a rare moment of public praise for his son. ”In our system, the quarterback makes so many reads and decisions on his own at the line of scrimmage, depending on what the defense is giving him. Heading into the last week, he had only thrown six interceptions in 250 or so attempts, and I think four of them had been tipped.

”Drake really struggled to get the ball downfield in the last three games. The injury obviously affected his performance, and the way we functioned as an offense. But like all of the other guys who were banged up, he fought through it. I have a great deal of respect for all of our kids who were playing through what I know was a significant amount of pain.”

Miller also noted the overall diversity in his six top choices, as voted on by the district’s opposing coaches.

”The one common theme with our first- and second-team kids is that they’re all multi-sport athletes. Even three or four sports,” Miller said. ”That says something to me about their commitment not just to our football program, but the (athletic department) at Fort Dodge Senior High. They’re incredibly dedicated young men, and our community should celebrate their achievements and activity.”

Six Dodger seniors were honorable mention selections: linemen Austin Gehlhausen, Keaton Jones and Caden Stephan; linebackers Keaton Dornath and Colin Leonard; and kicker A.J. Ruge. Gehlhausen and Jones were repeat choices.

Junior receiver Tyrnan Lara, junior tailback Joe Artis, and sophomore lineman Triston Licht were also on the honorable mention all-district squad.

Fort Dodge will be slated to return 13 of its 22 starters in 2017, but Miller again ”thanked the senior class for everything they’ve done both on and off the field as Dodgers.”

”They were 15 loyal, hard-working student-athletes who have experienced a lot of success in their four years of high school football. We’ll certainly miss them.”