Rival Mason City visits Fort Dodge with Decker Sporting Goods Trophy at stake
Playoff qualifiers and school record-setters a year ago, the Fort Dodge football program carries a 15-game winning streak over Mason City into Friday’s season-opening contest against its arch rival.
The 2019 Fort Dodge football team is an entirely different story in the eyes of head coach Matt Miller, though.
While the Dodgers will look to ride a wave of confidence and momentum into a highly-anticipated debut versus the Mohawks, Miller knows this group must write its own story rather than relying on the accomplishments of its predecessors at FDSH.
“I tell our guys every year, what’s past is past. I know there’s this streak we’re trying to continue against Mason City, and I know we experienced a lot of success (last season),” Miller said. “But we’re wiping the slate clean now. Everyone’s 0-0. Even though we have a lot of kids who played last year (the Dodgers return 12 starters at 14 positions), that was an entirely different team.
“You can’t count on what happened yesterday to get you through today and (the weeks) to come. It’s time for these players to put their own stamp and leave their own mark on Fort Dodge football, because none of that stuff (the records and history) from before will matter once 7 o’clock rolls around (Friday).”
The Dodgers are a bit of a mystery as September arrives. On one hand, Miller’s squad appears to be as strong and deep as ever at positions like wide receiver and linebacker. They welcome three all-staters and five first team all-district selections back to their two-deeps from last fall.
Yet FDSH will be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since 2016, and a number of athletes will be adjusting to new roles either up front or in the secondary. The Dodgers aren’t particularly big in the trenches, and they’re not overly deep, either.
“We’re still rounding into form,” Miller said. “There will be some mistakes and some growing pains. We have a lot of playmakers, and we’ve been getting better (as the season draws near).
“We’ll be able to make some things happen on the edge and in open space on both sides of the ball. But we have to continue to progress up front. That’s the name of the game.”
Senior Asle Thorson, a first team all-district safety last season, steps into the lead signal-caller role to replace graduated Class 4A player of the year Drake Miller. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Thorson is the grandson of Dodger and Hawkeye legend Sherwyn Thorson and FDSH Hall of Fame coach Sam Moser. His father, Tjeran, was a first team all-state linebacker here in 1989, and his uncle, Nik, is a former Fort Dodge and Iowa State grid standout and Dodger Hall of Famer as well.
“Asle’s been handling (the pressures and requirements) well, really dating back to the end of last year,” Miller said. “He’s stepped his game up the way you’d hope a senior would. I know it looks like a lot of pressure, taking over for Drake and having (his lineage) here. But not only is he capable — I think he can fully embrace some things we’re going to do with this offense and take us to another level in different ways.”
First team all-state receiver Tysen Kershaw and junior tailback Dayson Clayton — a third teamer and 1,000-yard rusher — return to spearhead the offense. The 6-foot-4 Kershaw set a single-season program record and led all of 4A in receiving yards last year (1,206). The 210-pound Clayton racked up over 1,400 yards from the line of scrimmage. Both are three-year starters.
Receivers Russell Potratz, Nick Bice and Brycen Bell are also back as seniors, along with starting linemen Bryson Opande, Brandon Porter and Sawyer Springer.
First team all-district linebacker Austin Lee and second-team choice Levi Egli are flanked by senior classmate Shane Halligan in the veteran linebacker corps.
Linemen Colten Munter and Jace Ulrich saw the field on a relatively regular basis a year ago. Linemen Jace Yoder, Geoff Astor and Dalton Summers, linebacker Tyler Nichols, defensive backs Jerry Chada and Sam Daniel, and kicker Gavin Schillerstrom are slated to make the first starts of their respective varsity careers.
Miller is leery of Mason City, both because of the suppressed frustration from never having hoisted the Decker Sporting Goods Trophy — introduced to the series in 2005 — and the Mohawks’ size in the trenches.
“They go about 290 (pounds), 290, 270, 260 and 250 up front. We can’t match that kind of size,” Miller said. “They might be the biggest team we’ll face all season along the lines. Ben Pederson (son of 1985 FDSH graduate Mike Pederson) and JD Ward in particular are legit.
“I honestly think they’re going to be a lot better this season. We need to be ready. You know, the ‘better’ team on paper doesn’t always win a rivalry game — it’s the team that steps up to make a play or force a turnover and take advantage of their opportunities. And we’ve been fortunate enough to do that (in this series since 2004).”
The Dodgers and Mohawks have squared off annually since 1923. This is the 105th meeting all-time, with Fort Dodge holding a 55-41-8 advantage overall.